I'm working on a robotics project that requires what is probably a somewhat strange data exchange requirement. I was hoping someone would have ideas on what technologies would be best to implement it. The problem is as follows:
I have many separate embedded systems (nodes) that need to maintain an extremely accurate, coordinated clock. Absolute accuracy doesn't matter, but they must agree with each other to at least 10us (hopefully better). They also need to send and receive data to/from a central computer. The data requirement is very small. Something like a couple of bytes at around 100Hz. So a total of ~1KB/s per node.
I was thinking I would be able to do this by using the laptop to send clock coordination packets, and a small WiFi microprocessor (like the esp8266) on each node to receive the packets. Lets say every 10ms, the laptop broadcasts a UDP packet. If I configure all the nodes to have the same IP address, they will receive the packet at essentially the same time. The only uncertainty in the clock coordination ping arriving at the nodes at the same time will be the uncertainty in the amount of time it takes for the esp8266 to process the packet. However, I also need the esp8266 to send data back to the laptop. But my understanding is that this is problematic if all the devices have the same IP address...
Ideally I would be able do this all directly from the nodes to the laptop (ad-hoc network). If I have to I can use a wireless AP connected to the laptop.
I know there are clock coordination schemes out there that use TCP/IP. I just don't think any of them are good enough to get the kind of clock accuracy I want. I could be wrong about this (ok technically there is something called Wi-Fi TimeSync but it doesn't seem to be commercially available yet).
Although it wouldn't be very elegant, I could live with having 2 esp8266 modules on each embedded system. 1 could share the same IP address with all other nodes and use the UDP packet coordination scheme discussed above. The 2nd would use TCP/IP with a unique address to communicate with the laptop.
There are 433mhz and 900mhz modules like this: http://wiki.seeed.cc/433Mhz_RF_Link_Kit/ that would be very simple and fast. Just put a clock on the data line of the transmitter and read the clock off the receiver on all nodes. However, I don't think this is legal under FCC regulations: http://www.edn.com/electronics-blogs/eye-on-iot-/4437311/Using-433-MHz-for-wireless-connectivity-in-the-Internet-of-Things
Thanks all for the comments. GPS is actually a great solution. I wasn't aware that they had PPS clocks that are so accurate. I think I will use that in addition to the esp8266. @analogsystemsrf, you are correct. This is for an ultrasonic positioning system.