Simple Clock from Tiny Chip

If you haven’t jumped on the ESP8266 bandwagon yet, it might be a good time to get started. If you can program an Arduino you have pretty much all of the skills you’ll need to get an ESP8266 up and running. And, if you need a good idea for a project to build with one of these WiFi miracle chips, look no further than [Ben Buxton]’s dated, but awesome, NTP clock.

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Intel Releases The Tiny Joule Compute Module

At the keynote for the Intel Developers Forum, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich introduced the Intel Joule compute module, a ‘maker board’ targeted at Internet of Things developers. The high-end board in the lineup features a quad-core Intel Atom running at 2.4 GHz, 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, 16GB of eMMC, 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1, USB 3.1, CSI and DSI interfaces, and multiple GPIO, I2C, and UART interfaces. According to the keynote, the Joule module will be useful for drones, robotics, and with support for Intel’s RealSense technology, it may find a use in VR and AR applications. The relevant specs can be found on the Intel News Fact Sheet (PDF).

This is not Intel’s first offering to the Internet of Things. A few years ago, Intel partnered up with Arduino (the Massimo one) to produce the Intel Galileo. This board featured the Intel Quark SoC, a 400MHz, 32-bit Intel Pentium ISA processor. It was x86 in an Arduino format. This was quickly followed by the Intel Edison based on the same Quark SoC, which was followed by the Intel Curie, found in the Arduino 101 and this year’s DEF CON badge.

We’ve seen plenty of Intel’s ‘maker’ and Internet of Things offerings, but we haven’t seen these platforms succeed. You could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in market research to determine why these platforms haven’t seen much success, but the Hackaday comments will tell you the same thing for free: the documentation for these platforms is sparse, and nobody knows how to make these boards work.

Perhaps because of the failures of Intel’s IoT market, the Joule differs significantly from previous offerings. Although it can be easily compared to the Raspberry Pi, Beaglebone, and a hundred other tiny single board computers, the official literature for the Joule makes a comparison between it and the Nvidia Jetson easy. The Nvidia Jetson is a high-power, credit card-sized ‘supercomputer’ meant to be a building block for high-performance applications, such as drones and anything that requires video or a very fast processor. The Joule fits into this market splendidly, with demonstrated applications including augmented reality safety glasses for Airbus employees and highway patrol motorcycle helmet displays. Here, the Joule might just find a market. This might even be the main focus of the Joule – it can be integrated onto Gumstix carrier boards, providing a custom single board computer with configurable displays, connectors, and sensors.

The Intel Joule lineup consists of the Joule 570x and 550x, with the 550x being a bit slower, a Gig less RAM, and half as much storage. They will be available in Q4 2016 from Mouser, Newegg, and other Intel reseller partners.

Makerville Knit: Industrial-Strength WiFi Breakout

If you need an industrial-strength IoT product, you need an industrial-strength WiFi chipset. For our own household hacks, we’re totally happy with the ESP8266 chip. But if you need to connect to the big, scary Internet you’ll probably want state-of-the-art encryption. In particular, Amazon insists on TLS 1.2 for their Web Services (AWS), and we don’t know how to get that working on the ESP.

[Anuj] designed a breakout board called the knit which includes a Marvell MW300 WiFi SOC. This chip has an onboard ARM Cortex M4F running at 200 MHz, which means you’ve got a lot of everything to play with: flash memory, RAM, a floating-point unit, you name it. And Marvell’s got an SDK for using AWS that includes things like an operating system and peripheral support and other niceties. TLS 1.2 is included.

Cd_tjKoWwAApnU9_thumbnailBest of all, a MW300 breakout is reasonably affordable (though more expensive than the mass-produced ESP8266 modules, naturally) and it’s an entirely open design. [Anuj] also seems to be setting up for a production run, if you don’t feel like making it yourself.

The MW300 is in all sorts of commercial IoT designs, and it’s a battle-tested go-to for interfacing with “the cloud” securely. The only hobbyist-friendly board that’s similar is the Adafruit WICED WiFi Feather, but it’s more expensive, less powerful, and out of stock at the moment, which just shows the demand for something like this.

Of course, if you need more integrated peripherals, you could just hack up a “Hello Barbie” toy which has the same chip as well as sweet audio codecs and a nice fat flash ROM.

We think it’s neat that [Anuj] would make and test a breakout for this powerful little WiFi SOC. We don’t need one for our projects right now — we’re running in entirely insecure mode — but it’s good to know what your options are. (We’re also looking into esp-open-rtos for the ESP8266 — we know they’ve been working on TLS 1.2 encryption, but we don’t know what their status is at the moment. Anyone?)

ESP8266 Killer?

We’ve seen rumors floating around the Twittersphere about a new integrated microprocessor and WiFi SOC: the NL6621 from Nufront. Details are still scarce, but that doesn’t seem to be because the chip is vaporware: you could buy modules on and eBay right now for between two-and-a-half and three bucks, and Nufront’s website says they’ve produced a million modules since 2013.

The NL6621 WiFi SOC is powered by a 160 MHz ARM Cortex-M3 with 448 KB of RAM, and everything else is integrated in the SOC. The module has 32 GPIOs, SPI, I2C, I2S digital audio, and most of the peripherals that you’d expect. They say they have a completely open source SDK, but we can’t find a link to it anywhere. An English-language forum has sprung up in anticipation of the next new thing, and they say that they’ve contacted Nufront about the SDK, so that’s probably as good a place as any to lurk around if you’re interested. With an ARM core, it shouldn’t be long before someone gets GCC working on these things anyway.

It’s also worth noting that we’ve announced ESP8266 killers before, and it hasn’t come to pass. The mixture of community and official support that (eventually) came out of Espressif seems to be the main factor determining the ESP8266’s success, and we don’t see that yet with the NL6621. So take the question mark in the title seriously, but if this turns out to be the next big thing, remember where you heard it first, ok?

Thanks [David Hunt] for the tip!

Cheap Smartwatch Teardown

A proper smartwatch can cost quite a bit of money. However, there are some cheap Bluetooth-connected watches that offer basic functions like show your incoming calls, dial numbers and display the state of your phone battery. Not much, but these watches often sell for under $20, so you shouldn’t expect too much.

Because they’re so cheap, [Lee] bought one of these (a U8Plus) and within an hour he had the case opened up and his camera ready. As you might expect, the biggest piece within was the rechargeable battery. A MediaTek MT6261 system on a chip provides the smart part of the watch.

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Arietta G25 Has Us Wondering Where ARM Boards are Going


This tidy little ARM board is the Arietta G25. It’s based around an AT91SAM9G25 which is an ARM9 chip running at 400MHz. Paired with the DDR2 RAM (in 128 or 256 meg options) to the left, the board runs Linux and runs it well. After the break you can see the obligatory running of Doom. But in this case it doesn’t just run a demo, but is playable from momentary push buttons on a breadboard (props to the Arietta team for using wire wrap for that setup).

See the vertical row of pads between the processor and the SD card slot? That’s a breakout header designed to accept a WiFi module. In at €20-30 based on your RAM choice and just €7 for the WiFi module this board is certainly a contender for any embedded Linux projects. But it does have us wondering, should be thinking of these as ARM boards, or forget the low-level development and just think of them as a Linux machines with plenty of GPIO available?

The 20×2 pin header breaks out a lot of the SAM9’s features. We really like the interactive pinout posted for this device. For instance, there are three sets of USB host lines available. But you’ll want to click on each to see that one set is in use for the SD card, and another is used by the WiFi module. The documentation that has been posted for the Arietta G25 is one of its strongest point. Nice work there!

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Firmware For Cheap Bluetooth Modules

Ibluetoothf you’ve ever built anything with a microcontroller, some sort of sensor, and a connection to the outside world, you’re probably wondering how those places in China can pump out cheap electronics for a mere percentage of what it costs you to pull a DIY. It’s not just volume – it’s engineering; if something has Bluetooth, you find a Bluetooth module with a built-in microcontroller so you can write firmware to it.

The BC417 is the System on Chip found in the very popular BlueCore4-Ext Bluetooth module featuring 8Mbits of Flash (75% of which is used for Bluetooth related stuff), somewhere around 12 kB of RAM, with everything run in a virtual machine. [pfalcon] wrote an extremely experimental firmware for this device that allows anyone to create a wireless sensor node for peanuts. These devices are almost as cheap as a bare ATMega, so the possibilities are interesting, to say the least.

At this point, the hardest part of putting custom firmware on these devices is programming them. For that, [Elastic Sheep] comes to the rescue with a parallel port to SPI interface. There’s also a firmware dumper and some breakout boards available. These modules are pretty cheap, and the pitch isn’t too bad, so you might be able to etch your own boards should you want to experiment a little.

Thanks [Peter] for sending this in.