Automatically filling a SQLite database using AWS and RStudio Server

The R script used is a simple parser. To automate it, set up a SQLite database on AWS. The script parses a JSON file and writes it into the database using SQL.


For about two years now, I measure the air quality (more specifically: fine dust) on my balcony. Up to now, the data were stored by an Open Data project and displayed (more or less hidden) in the internet – at least you would need to know the name or ID of the sensor to access the data as very basic graphs. Here you could also find aggregated air quality data for all areas of Stuttgart. Recently, I began storing the data into a database myself to be able to do my own calculations (and eventually create a Shiny App that would display nicer, interactive graphs). Here, I wanted to very quickly write down what I did and what is going on.

The sensor

The sensor measuring fine dust is a very basic one. All its components cost around 30€ and can be shopped online. Honestly, I did not build the sensor myself; a colleague had a spare one and gave it to me. However, I was told it is not too hard to build such a sensor. In fact, here you can find a (German only) manual for doing so, including a list of stuff you need for the sensor itself. My sensor is located on my balcony, which in turn faces a highly frequented road, where quite a lot of buses are passing by during the day. The sensor delivers the data it measures every (more or less) five minutes via a JSON file to an API that is open for everyone to read. The sensor itself runs quite smoothly, only recently I run into problems where it ceases to send information – this is fixed after quickly removing it from its power source.

Amazon AWS with RStudio Server

When I came up with the idea of automatically storing the data into a database, I was initially thinking about setting up a Raspberry Pi to do the job. Yet, a friend recommended using Amazon AWS instead. Frankly, when I did this, I was new to cloud computing. However, there are a lot of tutorials out there on how to set up an Amazon AWS instance. I remember choosing the smallest one (EC2) which is also completely free of charge. That is useful since it is supposed to run 24/7. Whilst setting up the instance, I also installed RStudio Server and Shiny Server. That would later allow me to work on R scripts on the instance in order to do the parsing of the JSON file.

The script

The R script is nothing more than a simple parser for the JSON file that the API publishes. As a first step, I set up a SQLite database on my AWS instance using the R package sqldf. It contains only three variables: the timestamp of the measurement and the two fine dust measurements that the sensor gives us. The script parses the JSON file (using jsonlite) and writes it into the database using SQL. Here is some example code:

db <- dbConnect(SQLite(), dbname = "/home/user/database.sqlite")
query1 <- paste0("INSERT INTO database VALUES ('", time1, "',", PM_10_1, ",", PM_25_1, ")")
dbSendQuery(conn = db, query1)

Setting up the Crontab

The last step is to automate the R script that we have stored on the AWS instance, too. You can do this using a Crontab, which is an automation tool that is already present on the Linux of the EC2 instance. You can find a tutorial here.