Three years ago, Chip McClelland learned that his park district in North Carolina had a challenge: they didn’t have an affordable way to measure park attendance. Chip is an engineer at Raleigh-based company RedHat, one of the original companies to take Linux mainstream, and loves spending his free time at his local park running, hiking, and mountain biking. Being a lover of local parks plus great at solving problems with technology, Chip saw an opportunity to make a positive impact.
Parks departments are required to report how many people visit their facilities each year to county and state officials to help determine proper fund allocation. Traditionally, parks pay someone to sit at an entrance and record how many people enter park grounds. It’s a manual task that Chip knew technology could make more accurate, less costly, and potentially help get more funding for his parks district. Using a Particle Photon, a collection of tracking sensors, and a waterproof enclosure, Chip had a working prototype ready to deploy.
Automating Data Collection with Solar-Powered IoT
After working closely with the Umstead State Park staff, Chip’s solar-powered tracker was ready to deploy at the park gates. The Photon-based units use sensors, including an accelerometer, to keep track of any walkers, joggers, bikers, or cars accessing the park. And the solar power battery ensure reliable, independent power to the unit. In an early design, retrieving data from the counter required manually removing memory cards from each location and needed human interaction. Chip’s next iteration added Bluetooth allowing for drive-by data downloads, but a person still had to be near the counters to retrieve data.
Today, the counters are built with Particle Electron and take advantage of its cellular connectivity to send data remotely. For the last six months, these Electron-based units have run with little maintenance and shuttle attendance data from the counters to the Particle Cloud. Park management can observe real-time information on a dashboard Chip built using Ubidots webhooks. Now there’s no more need to leave the office to check attendance numbers.
Chip credits the Particle community as a big part of getting the project to where it is today. He loves being a part of the community and sharing knowledge. As one way to give back for all their help, Chip’s park counters are totally open source; you can see the materials, source code, and building plans on Hackster.
Seeing the Impact
After about three years interaction and counting visitors, parks managers see success from Chip’s work. Umstead State Park has had Chip’s devices deployed for over two years with a device at every entrance. Currently, nearby Crabtree park is testing Chip’s devices to count their visitors. Chip is actively working with parks to help them best capture and leverage data. He is also working on producing these devices at scale to empower parks across the US.