:: How does it work?
RockBLOCK uses the Iridium Satellite network. Specifically, it uses an Iridium service called ‘Short Burst Data’ (SBD). There’s some official info here.
At the heart of RockBLOCK is an Iridium 9602 modem. The RockBLOCK hosts the 9602 and provides it with an antenna, and its power supply requirements. It exposes the modem’s serial interface via USB (or directly – PCB assembly version only).
Full documentation for the 9602 modem can be found here: Iridium 9602 SBD Transceiver Product Developers Guide.
:: How is it powered?
RockBLOCK takes its power from a standard (100mA limited) USB port, or alternatively via its ‘direct’ interface header. If you’re using the PCB assembly version with a direct header, your host needs to supply a minimum of 100mA @ 5V.
:: How much data can I send/receive?
340 bytes FROM RockBLOCK.
270 bytes TO RockBLOCK.
:: How quickly can I send a message?
Testing shows that it generally takes around 20 seconds from power-up to successful transmission, with a perfect view of the sky. With a very restricted view, it may take several minutes.
:: How frequently can I send a message?
You should be able to complete an Iridium SBD session roughly every 10 seconds, assuming a perfect view of the sky.
:: Can I connect an external antenna?
No, but you can put the ruggedised version outside.
:: Do you have USB drivers for my XYZ platform?
Almost certainly. The RockBLOCK uses an FTDI USB to serial convertor. You can check on their website (http://www.ftdichip.com/FTDrivers.htm), where you’ll find drivers for Linux, Mac, Windows, Android and others.
:: Can I interface with the Iridium 9602 UART directly?
Yes, the ‘Naked’ version exposed the UART and other signals on its ‘direct’ header connector. The UART runs at 3.3V. In this mode, you must supply a minimum of 100mA at 5V. Supplying a higher current will (re)charge the module more quickly. It is possible that you could use a lower voltage, although this will reduce the amount of stored charge and increase the risk of unintentional resets.
Please see our high-level schematic diagram.
:: What about software?
The RockBLOCK appears as a serial interface, and you can talk to it using a simple set of AT commands. It is expected that you’ll be able to integrate it into your own software with minimal effort.
:: Could you give us some sample code to get started?
There is a Node.js library available - please see this post.
We’re working on publishing some samples for other languages soon.
:: How do my messages get back to me (on Earth)?
Messages sent from RockBLOCK can either be delivered to your chosen email address, or sent to your own web service as a simple HTTP POST. The message data will be hex encoded so there are no character set problems. Full details of our web service will be available here soon.
:: How do I send data to my RockBLOCK?
You can make a simple HTTP POST to our web service. The message is queued on the satellite network almost instantly, ready for RockBLOCK to download (on your command).
:: Does RockBLOCK get notification of a new message waiting?
Yes, as long as you configure it correctly. Check the 9602 documentation for the ‘Ring Alert’ feature.
:: How Rugged/Waterproof is it really?
Very! The RockBLOCK Rugged is a completely encapsulated design, so it is at least IP68 (submersible for extended periods). Just don’t expect it to send messages from under water!
:: Do I get positions with my messages?
The RockBLOCK does not have a GPS chip inside it. It’s invisaged that if you want position reports, you would use an off-the-shelf GPS module with your solution, and get position data from that. However, it is worth noting that with each Iridium transmission we do get an approximate position report – this varies in accuracy from 100km to 1km, and therefore cannot be relied upon for very accurate tracking, but we do provide this information for you (along with the approximate accuracy, ‘CEP’, in km) with your messages. If you are looking for a dedicated tracking satellite tracking device, then you might want to consider our RockSTAR product.
:: If I have a whole set of RockBLOCKs, how does billing work?
Our billing is flexible, and allows you to pay only when you are using your devices. Line rental is sold in one-month blocks, and credits are bought in packs. If you have several RockBLOCKs, credits are shared from a credit pool amongst all your devices – you don’t need to buy separate packs of credits for each device. Similarly, if only some of your devices are being used at any one time, you don’t need to pay for line-rental on those which aren’t in use.
:: Do you guys know what you’re doing?
Yes. Rock Seven Mobile Services have been an Iridium Partner since 2008. We’ve been developing all sorts of products, but most famously we’re the people behind Yellowbrick Tracking.
:: I have another question…
Great – drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org