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Have robot, will travel

When people ask me what my company, KITS IT, does I often reply with "anything with a flashing light on it". We love technology and how technology can help our customers' businesses run smoother - thus KITS being an abbreviation of "Keep I.T. Simple".

One such adventure with "flashing lights" was with a Christiaens mushroom filling head robot at a large mushroom farm in County Monaghan. The issue the owner was experiencing was that whenever the robot needed maintenance they had to unravel a hundred metre ethernet cable from the site office to the maintenance port on the robot. This also meant that someone had to visit the site to do the unraveling and plugging into the router on site, thus allowing the support team at Christiaens to connect to the robot to perform the diagnostics. Fine during normal working hours but not so fine at 3am on a wet winter's morning.

In case you're wondering what this robot looks like, look here:-

Enter the WiFi bridge...

Having previously ensured that every square inch of the 4 acre site had a WiFi signal the answer to this issue was to utilise the site WiFi. In essence what we decided to do was to present the WiFi as an ethernet cable and plug the ethernet cable into the maintenance port of the robot. It wasn't quite that simple though. First of all there wasn't a handy power supply to be had within the control panel enclosure but fortunately the electrician we work with soon had that sorted. The next issue was that the maintenance port (aka ethernet port) was behind a watertight stainless steel access panel and the robot, in keeping with food hygiene requirements, was power-washed every day. Steel panels aren't overly welcoming of a WiFi signal - they have an unfortunate habit of reflecting them rather than allowing them through. And, on account of the power washing our (in true Wallace & Gromit parlance) WiFi gadget box couldn't be anywhere near high pressure water. To get around this we decided to use a WiFi antenna extension lead (known as a pigtail) coupled with an external WiFi antenna. To get everything held in place was a selection of watertight rubber grommets and stainless steel nuts & washers. When everything was all in place the simple part was allowing everything through the site router's firewall and a test connection with Christiaens' support team.

Now whenever the robot is in need of a helping hand it just happens - what used to take up to an hour, takes literally seconds.

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