Using Xbee and Configuring XCTU

Hello everyone,

In continuation from my earlier post, I will try to explain how to use XCTU with and without Arduino Boards. Using XCTU without Arduino boards mean that the user wont be flexible to add code to the Xbee. The users wont be able to process data and then send it across the network. The data received from different sensors, will be sent across in raw form. People usually prefer this option when we want to cut the costing of a particular sensor node. Not using micro-controllers will also enable us to save battery power on the sensor node, thus increasing the life of the node drastically.

First basic introduction of the XCTU software!

The software is freely available for download from the Internet. The software can be used in Windows as it is, or can be run under Wine for Linux users. The installation process is easy and within a few clicks you are ready to go!

Ok so when you start your XCTU, the first screen shall look something like this:

Whenever Xbee is attached to the pc, and XCTU is opened, there is a now COMPORT allotted to it. It is usually very much dependent on the host machine to allot com port numbers. Usually com port numbers 1 and 2 are reserved for internal usage. Once this stage is reached, we should make sure that the baud rate of the system is 9600 by default, unless set otherwise. We should compare the remaining settings with the shown image. The explanations for each of them can be found in the e-book. We then click on Test/Query. Clicking there sends a byte to the Xbee and in return gets an acknowledge signal, thus alerting us that communication between the pc and the Xbee is now possible.

Every Xbee has a unique 64-bit serial number given at the time of manufacturing. This serial number is basically identification marker for the particular Xbee. On pressing Test/Query, the serial number, the model and the make is flashed on-screen if the acknowledgement is proper, otherwise an error is thrown.

We can change/view the parameters and their settings in the “Terminal” tab or “Modem Configuration” tab. When in Terminal tab, we often have to enter some commands to change or view the parametric values. These commands are known as AT commands and can be easily found in the book. For the people who don’t like to work with commands can go in Modem Configuration tab and “Read” the current parameters. The parameters can then be changed by simple clicks. Note that the Serial number can never be changed for any of the Xbees. We can use Xbee in two distinct modes, one being the API mode and the other as AT mode. The AT mode is used when you work with the commands directly. For using AT mode , you enter a command on the terminal in command mode ( +++ ) and get the output on the terminal itself. Using API mode can be a bit tricky sometimes. We use this mode when we want to configure the Xbee without going again and again in command mode. When Xbee is set up in API mode, we can always send a query packet and retrieve information. The specially designed packet can also be used to change the value of the parameters if necessary. This mode is very helpful when we plan to use it in remote configuration of different Xbees.

Let us consider the scenario where cost and power is not an issue. In such a case we can definitely go ahead using a micro-controller with it. The micro-controller gives us great deal of advantage and may even help us in reducing the traffic drastically without using any external hardware.

As we are discussing the power consumption, it would be apt for you to know that if a normal Xbee is powered by a 9 Volt battery, then the life time of the node will be not more than 4 hours. Say if we woke up the Xbee for one second, and slept again for one second, the battery life could be doubled! Cycling sleeping for 59 seconds and then waking up for one second, will make sure that the battery life is around 10 days! These facts are taken from Robert Faludi’s Building Wireless Sensor Networks book. The download link for the same can be found on this page.

So when we plan to use a Xbee radio, we should carefully understand the power issues. Using sleep mode in Xbee is easy!

This was the basic introduction on Xbees and XCTU software. Coming up next will be a simple 2 way wireless chat system!



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