When I think of the ant, I am reminded of the movie Ant-Man. The hero, Scott Lang, is helped by hordes of ants of various sizes and hues to beat the villains. In one particular scene where Scott Lang is sliding down a water chute, the ants form a rope which he uses to climb out.
Our computing environment is shrinking in size. Mobiles are becoming smaller. More important, we today have numerous devices that are even smaller and use tiny power sources, some as low as 1.5 volts. How do you make these devices talk to each other? The answer is simple, is it not? Create a communication framework and protocol that is tiny in runtime. For development, continue with the existing coding scenarios, and, when your code is ready and tested, shrink it like the Scott Langs’s suit does to fit into the tiny runtime. This is exactly what ANT+ does.
The first obvious question is what is ANT+? In simple words, ANT+ is a wireless technology that enables devices to talk to each other. Oh God, one more wireless technology? That is a valid question. The difference is that ANT+ has been designed to work with very low power requirements, and fit into the tiniest of places.
For example, a smart watch on your wrist could transmit your heartbeat rate to your mobile phone. ANT+ is meant to collect data within a limited domain that includes sports, fitness and health activities. Since it needs very little power, ANT+ powered devices can transmit and receive data for a long time but over a limited distance.
- Most of the devices used in these activities have coin or button cells that deliver between 1.2 to 3 volts, with capacities ranging from 150 to 200mAh.
- These power sources supply stable power in the initial part of their life but drop very fast near the end of their life.
- Devices using these power cells are designed to run for a long time, typically a year, before needing a battery change or charge.
- It is in this environment that the ANT+ has been designed to operate
A Few Comparisons of Top Wireless Technologies
Before we plunge into understanding ANT+ more, let us do a few comparisons. As we said before, this is one more wireless technology. Conceptually ANT+ is similar to Bluetooth and Zigbee. Let us look at the differences:
||Point-to-point, start, tree, mesh
||Unlimited (in scatternet)
(Image courtesy www.gsm-modem.de)
ANT uses an adaptive isochronous network technology. An ANT radio transmits for less than 150 microseconds. ANT has been designed for low bit-rate, low power sensor networks.
The ANT History
Originally conceived in 2000, and launched in 2003, ANT+ is now an open source initiative managed by Dynastream, a Canadian subsidiary of Garmin Ltd, under what is called the ANT+Alliance. Today, ANT+ powers over a 100 million devices across the world.
The ANT+ Environment
To ensure interoperability, ANT+ has defined some parameters to be followed. In addition, they have provided a set of libraries for Windows and MacOSX. C++ is used in host development while C# is used in Client development.
The ANT+’s Flexible and Interoperable Data Transfer (FIT) has been designed for storing, sharing and processing data that originate from the devices. The FIT protocol has a set of templates that stores data on the user profile and his or her activities. These templates are transmitted as messages from the device (client) to the receiving station (host). A set of minimum requirements has been defined for seamless transfer.
ANT File Share (ANT-FS) is an extension of the ANT+ protocol that has the framework for transferring files between devices. This framework has been designed to use extremely low power and can be used in devices that display ANT+ data. Devices and processing stations that follow these requirements can carry the ANT+ icons and logos. Devices that have some storage space can download the ANT+ data to PCs at a later time as desired by the user.
The ANT+ environment consists of the following components.
- Sensors that measure data such as heartbeat, speed and other parameters. Remember, ANT+ sensors can also work on inanimate objects such as bicycles, scooters, etc.
- ANT+ data formats for broadcasting the data from the sensors in real time. Again, what has to be remembered here that the measuring devices may have very limited storage.
- Session protocols that store, display and transmit the activity data as FIT files.
- The ANT-FS protocol that is used for transferring to larger hosts such as PCs.
- The Internet (or cloud) where you can store and process data through ANT+ ready applications.
From the sensor to the Internet, ANT+ forces a consistent format enabling all devices in the chain to understand and use the data.
The FIT SDK
The ANT+Alliance have also provided a development environment for third-party development. The SDK has all the tools you need to develop ANT+ applications on multiple platforms including devices that work with sensors. The ANT+ SDK consists of the following:
- FitGen.exe – a code generation tool
- Config.csv – Configuration file for customizing generated C code
- C \ – C code
- CPP \ – C++ code
- Java \ – Java code
- Complete Documentation
(Image courtesy www.allbits.eu)
Now that we have understood what ANT+ is and how it can be used and programmed, let us look at some areas where it can be used.
Running / Jogging
A runner or a jogger wears a smart strip on his wrist. The device constantly monitors heart rate, calories burnt, foot speed or distance covered, audio usage, and temperature environment. During the run or jog, the data can be transmitted in real-time to your mobile device for processing. The data can also be downloaded onto your PC for storing and processing over a period of time.
The audio control can be used to understand the current status of your media player and to match the tempo of your music to your training. Temperature can be measured in Celsius or Fahrenheit to understand the environment under which training is being done.
ANT+ technology can also be used on a treadmill that can measure and make available the data for processing.
In cycling, ANT+ technology can measure heart rate, bike power, torque, bike speed/cadence, and audio usage. The bike cadence is used for measuring biking efficiency. The data collected can be stored for further analysis. Power sensors are today available mounted on the pedals of certain bicycles. This is used to measure the force applied, measured in watts.
In indoor fitness, ANT+ technology can provide multiple data including heart rate, and a large number of critical data from fitness equipment. These include:
- Cadence and vertical distance from treadmills
- Vertical distance, stride count, power and cadence from Elliptical
- Power and cadence from stationary bikes
- Power, stroke count, and stroke rate from rowers
- Power, cadence and number of cycles from climbers
- Cadence, stride count and power from Nordic Skiers
Wellness And Health
Multiple ANT+ devices give you data on weight, blood pressure, glucose, emergency response, audio usage, heartbeat, environment, and GPS. These data not only help a user monitor his health, they can also be used by doctors and healthcare people to provide quick response to emergency situations.
In swimming, waterproof ANT+ devices can see which stroke you are using, and measure and collate data on your lap lengths, distance, calories, and pace. These can be used to improve your swimming technique, and is extremely useful if you are into competitive swimming.
GPS is an important part of the ANT+ environment. ANT+ GPS devices enable the user to understand distance covered as well as speed. These devices can be used for navigation, safety, geocoaching, skiing, trekking, hunting, etc.
Wrapping It All Up
ANT+ devices in health and wellness give you the critical data to push yourself with safety limits, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. In addition, they enable you to participate in adventure sports with the knowledge that you are always safe and secure.
Don’t you agree it now the time to go out and have some fun?
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