New Chip Alert: The ESP8266 WiFi Module (It’s $5)

NewChip

Every so often we run across something in the Hackaday tip line that sends us scurrying to Google, trying to source a component, part, or assembly. The ESP8266 WiFi module is the latest, made interesting because it pretty much doesn’t exist outside China.

Why is it cool? It’s a WiFi module with an SOC, making it somewhat similar to TI’s CC300 in conception (A.K.A. the thing that makes the Spark Core so appealing), in that a microcontroller on the module takes care of all the WiFi, TCP/IP stack, and the overhead found in an 802.11 network. It’s addressable over SPI and UART, making this an exceptionally easy choice for anyone wanting to build an Internet of Things thing; you can simply connect any microcontroller to this module and start pushing data up to the Internet. Oh, it’s also being sold for $5 in quantity one. Yes, for five dollars you can blink a LED from the Internet. That’s about half the price as the CC3000 itself, and a quarter of the price if you were to build a CC3000 breakout board.

There’s a catch, right, there’s always a catch. Yep. About two hours after this post is published it will be the number one English language Google result for “ESP8266.” As far as the English-speaking world is concerned, there is absolutely nothing to be found anywhere on the Internet on this module.

Seeed Studio recently sold a few of these modules for $7 and has some documentation, including a full datasheet and an AT command set. All the documentation is in Chinese. There’s also an “ESP8266 IoT SDK”, but from a quick glance at the code, this appears to be an SDK for the SOC on the module, not a simple way to connect the module to a microcontroller.

Anyone wanting to grab one of these modules can do so on Ali Express. Anyone wanting to do something with one of these modules will have a much more difficult time, most likely poking and prodding bits randomly with the help of Google translate. Should someone, or even a group of people, want to take up the task of creating a translation of the datasheet and possibly a library, we have a pretty collaborative project hosting site where you can do that. You may organize in the comments below; we’ll also be taking bets as to when a product using the ESP8266 will be found on Kickstarter. My guess is under a month.

EDIT: Here’s a translation of the datasheet and AT command set.

Edit two: [bafeigum] is writing a library go help him out.

Thanks [Liam] for the tip.

Finding the cheapest board house

PCB

The prices for custom made circuit boards has never been cheaper, but surprisingly we’ve never seen a comparison of prices between the major board houses. [Brad] took the time to dig in to the price of 10 boards manufactured by Seeed Studios, OHS Park, and BatchPCB. He made some pretty graphs and also answered the question of where you can get your circuits made cheaply.

[Brad] got the prices for boards up to 20 cm x 20 cm from Seeed Studio’s Fusion PCB service, OSH Park, and BatchPCB. These results were graphed with Octave and showed some rather surprising results.

For boards over 20 cm2, the cheapest option is Seeed Studios. In fact, the price difference between Seeed and the other board houses for the maximum sized board is impressive; a 400 cm2 board from Seeed costs $150, while the same board from OSH Park is close to $1000.

Of course most boards are much smaller, so the bottom line is  for boards less than 20 cm2, your best bet is to go with OHS Park. If you don’t care when your boards arrive, or you need more than 10 or so, Seeed is the way to go. As far as the quality of the boards go, OSH Park is up there at the top as well.

Seeed Studio shows off their wares

Everyone’s favorite Open Hardware store – Seeed Studio – was at Maker Faire this last weekend. They showed off a bunch of cool toys, oscilloscopes, Arduino shields and other hardware goodness, but one of the more interesting products was from their B Squares line.

As [Colin] from Seeed showed us, each B Square is a small plastic enclosure about the size of a drink coaster. The corners of these squares are clad in metal, and each one has magnets inside. The idea behind the B Squares system is to provide power to other B Square boards via magnetic connections.

So far, Seeed has released an Arduino square, battery, solar, and LED squares, as well as iPod docks and prototyping boards. These boards can also be orthogonally, meaning it’s entirely possible to turn six B Squares into a B Cube.

These magnetic connections only provide power connections; there is currently no way to transfer data between different B Squares. We suspect, though, that anyone wanting to replicate the Apple MagSafe power adapter and invent a magnetic I2C bus would find these boards perfectly suited to the task.

Video after the break.

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