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Using the Web to save lives—tiny lives


Aquarium WebCams abound on the Internet. Apart from providing a nice picture, WebCams aren't an important part of the hobby. But a Web-enabled aquarium that monitors itself and reports serious problems to its owner is a big help to aquarium aficionados. I used a tiny, self-contained Web server with temperature probes and remote control switches to build a system that lets me monitor—and manipulate—my ocean reef aquarium from anywhere in the world. Saltwater aquariums in particular require constant vigilance to maintain the narrow temperature range compatible with sea life. It can take months to establish a complete ecology in the simulated ocean reef—the most challenging saltwater environment. You can lose that time investment in a single day if water temperature strays.

I used Dallas Semiconductor's teeny Tiny InterNet Interface (TINI) micro-Web server and digital sensors to put my tank on the Web. By itself, the TINI is the size of a standard SIMM memory module, and when it's plugged into its Systronix TINI Initial Learning Tool (TILT) chassis, it's only slightly larger than a paperback novel. The TINI is a completely self-contained Web server that runs Java servlets, and it can communicate with sensors and controls by using Dallas Semiconductor's one-wire interface and iButton devices.

The Web-enabled system lets me remotely view temperature graphs and other status sensors, as well as remotely turn on and off support devices such as lights, chillers, heaters, and pumps. For example, if the temperature gets high, I can turn off the lights and activate a backup chiller. Already, this system has twice saved my micro-ecology from virtual extinction.