Thursday, October 4, 2007
Vault System Architecture Is Evolving!
Things have changed a great deal since 1998 when I first finished a small 32 bit program that ran off the serial port of a 386 that would monitor sensors on an RS-485 hub and keep track of inventory in an ISAM database.
I have acquired a lot of embedded components and computers over the past four years and I am trying to frame an architecture in my mind that would be infinitely expandable and eventually mostly optical. In small progressive steps it could drift towards a fully integrated environment that would run from one end of the Hive to the other, through the permaculture lab, silos, every sensor and every required application all working off one big connected system.
The biggest development in the past few years has been the explosion in embedded ethernet. Using ethernet you can connect anything from a temperature probe to a radiation meter or water monitor all into one big system, using technologies as disparate as the BASIC Stamp, AVR, Pentium DOS 32 bit or Rabbit 2000 and a real PC can be jacked in at any point as a slave or master terminal. Cat 5 ethernet cable is ubiquitous and free - I've seen miles of this stuff in the garbage. Ethernet on Cat 5 wire is solid for transmission off jack power out to 100 meters (300+ feet) or more with no signal loss. Anything with an ethernet jack that has the brains to send and receive packets can submit information, a message or a control order/request at any hub. You'd be amazed what kind of computing power you can get for less than $30.00 nowadays.
Looking forward a few months, optical isolation for ethernet to protect against EMP is becoming dirt-cheap and affordable. Eventually given signal boosters nothing will be vulnerable to EMP because none of it will be connected to long lines anywhere. You could get started with real Cat 5 connectors, then graduate in time to all optical isolators. Until then you could just mark EMP breakpoints to pull jacks out as a pre-attack measure.
All hubs, even an aboveground weather station, could have mini-chat terminals to talk to any other hub. You could even have carriers alongside field phone lines for combinations of voice-data transfers using all the surplus AUTOVON accessories that NATO designed to work alongside their analog system.
Even better is the widespread proliferation of better and cheaper mini-screens, keyboard interfaces, mouse trackballs with serial lines that can make even the crappiest little microprocessor into a full fledged standalone system.
Five years ago, if you told me that soon small high color VGA displays controlled with serial commands would be cheap and reliable, I'd have thought you were talking science fiction.
Just two years ago, I was proud of getting a little rinky-dink serial LCD running with a BASIC Stamp for air quality management. I now plan to use that same system purely as an airlock security controller. I have advanced a lot since then in my general vision of what I want the Vault system to look and act like. Ideally, I should be able to control the entire Vault from nearly any point with the right security. From the smallest little device up to plugging in a laptop, I want everything to work together seamlessly.
The new Civil Defense Commander is being developed in .NET with the Firebird database using the ADO:NET provider. This means it will run anywhere with Ethernet as opposed to just locally like the former version. It will be able to function alone on your portable, or else hook into the ethernet LAN and immediately update your local inventory manager running on a smaller x86 PC-104 board inside your storage silos. It has powers running under .NET that I could only have dreamed of for my earliest version as a C++ Builder application. It has rotating, scaling vector diagrams complete with editor all stored in SVG XML. It has a visual query designer, report designer and even scriptable sensor layouts.
Of course, this will be portable to embedded .NET running on your PocketPC or Smartphone, which means with a Bluetooth connection you will be able to access anything inside (or outside) the Vault at any time no matter where you are. You could be working in the hydroponics lab and check the progress of your plants and permaculture whilst watching security CCD feeds in one corner of another part of the Vault or even communicating via VoiceIP with the communications center.
Finally, there is no point in building your own colossal sprawling underground complex if you can't have voice annunciator boards talking to you all the time. My dream from the beginning when I started work on the Hive was that quality synthesized female voices would constantly coach and update the shelter dwellers on all aspects of management and security at all times. You can now put high quality voice annunciators everywhere, even in a system with a tiny PICAXE chip, because of the arrival of embedded MP3 control boards.
I am planning now to make Ethernet the hub of everything in the Vault, with a decentralization of servers and fileshares so no one part of the system can bring the rest down with a failure. The great thing about Ethernet is that once it is in place you can reach out through an optical link to the entire world, whatever remains of it. This includes radio, amateur television and shortwave all managed through inexpensive plug-in boards that can have intelligent signal monitoring and scanning. The final frontier is the Vault-suit, with an interface that monitors human beings and gives them telepresence inside and outside the Vault wherever they are through wireless.
I think I am making great strides towards a vastly improved Vault information system in the coming year. I expect that I will have important systems online before December the way things are going. It's shaping up even better than I hoped when I first began on the Hive.