Track thunderstorms live on the web – with support by LUCOM devices
Monitoring lightning strikes in real time on the internet – the free community project Blitzortung.org and the website Lightningmaps.org are unique in this respect worldwide. Recently, LUCOM devices support the locating of thunderstorms – by classic remote service as well as some special device specific features.
The lightning strikes are detected by nearly 1000 receivers world wide, which are installed and operated by hobbyists, home amateur radio enthusiasts and other interested persons. These detectors have been developed specifically for this purpose. With their antennas they measure changes in the electromagnetic field caused by lightning discharges. The collected data gets transmitted directly via Internet to the servers of Blitzortung.org. Thus it takes just two to three seconds from the occurrence of a lightning strike until it will be shown on the interactive map.
"Observing a real storm from a short distance may be impressive, but following several thunderstorms on the whole globe simultaneously in real time is also very exciting – and less dangerous”, says Tobias Volgnandt. He is one of the developers at Blitzortung.org and responsible for hardware and software development as well as for the server infrastructure and community support. His main job is at LUCOM GmbH in Zirndorf (Germany) as developer for embedded systems, cellular routers and VPN solutions. Many LUCOM customers relay on these techniques and use them for easy and secure remote service of their devices and machines.
The same techniques can also be helpful for lightning locating. A lightning detector should be installed far away from electromagnetic “jammers” (like switching power supplies, IT equipment, induction cookers or power lines). While this works well at home in most times, a place far away from towns on a “green field” or even in the woods is even better. Here, however, an Internet connection is usually only possible via cellular connection.
The power consumption of a LUCOM mobile router together with the lightning detector is low and adds up to just 5 to 8 watts. Therefore, a small solar system with a battery is ideal for power supply. No expensive battery charger or inverter is needed, as LUCOM routers can be connected directly to 12V and thus the can even monitor that voltage. Other devices which may cause interference, like an inverter, are no longer needed.
In case the battery voltage drops under a minimum threshold, the router can also send a text message. Devices of the newest generation can put themselves into a sleep mode so that the power consumption stay at just a few milliwats. This prevents a deep discharge of the battery – with no additional hardware.
Volgnandt recently set up an off grid solar powered lightning detection station in a garden on the outskirts. The Internet connection is realized by a LUCOM router of the current generation – the SPECTRE v3 LTE. Additionally it provides the 5V power supply for the lightning detector via USB. A serial to USB converter is also connected, so debug messages of the detector will be converted to a TCP stream by the router. The remote access is realized by the VPN Digicluster of LUCOM. This allows developing and firmware testing on the detector. This remote connection is not essential during normal operation, but it makes handling much easier and also saves on-site maintenance. Here the size of the solar system is intentionally slightly larger than needed, so that the power also lasts during winter and other equipment for doing measurements can be connected. Therefore an inverter for 230V devices is installed as well, for doing on site changes and measurements. The complete solar system can be accessed and controlled remotely via the router.
The reception radius of a good lightning detection station is very large. Even lightning strikes with more than 10,000km distance can be received – at certain times in the summer thousands per minute. Although compressed, every lightning signal creates some amount of data so that several gigabytes of traffic data per month can be generated. When the traffic exceeds a defined threshold, the LUCOM router can send a warning via text message. An automatic or manual changeover to the second SIM card is possible too.
Worldwide there are already participants of Blitzortung.org who also established an autarkic solar powered lightning detection station whith data connection over cellular routers, for example in the North of Finland, South Africa, Namibia or Australia. As it is mainly a hobby project, of course mainly consumer or office devices like cellular routers are used. The LUCOM solution by Tobias Volgnandt exemplifies the advantages of industrial grade devices: supply voltage monitoring, SMS remote control, integrated VPN remote maintenance or extended temperature range of -40 to 75°C are just a few advantages over consumer products. A basic support for setting up and installation is included, as well as the possibility to participate in free VPN workshops.
Software Developer at LUCOM and one of the guys behind Blitzortung.org
Tobias Volgnandt | Software Developer