Kickstarting Router-Based Development Boards

[Squonk] is rather famous in the world of repurposed routers, having reverse engineered the TL-WR703N wireless router from TP-Link a few years ago. With that knowledge, he’s developed an open platform for Things on the Internet called Domino. It’s pretty much exactly what you would get by cracking open a router bought on AliBaba, only in a much more convenient package with many more pins broken out.

The Domino builds on [Squonk]’s reverse engineering efforts of the TP-Link TL-WR703N wireless router, the router that has stolen the thunder from the Linksys WRT54G for all those sweet, sweet, embedded hacks. Both the 703N and the Domino are built around the Atheros AR9331. While the router version of this chipset only breaks out a few GPIOs and other interesting pins, the Domino breaks out just about everything – GPIO, JTAG, I2S, UART, SPI, USB, and Ethernet can be found on the device.

The basic Domino can hopefully be had with a $25 pledge to the Kickstarter campaign. That’s a little less than the normal price for a WR-703N, and if you’re putting a router in a hat it might be worth your while. There are a few advanced versions that include an ATMega32u4 microcontroller, making it compatible with the Arduino Yun as well.

57 thoughts on “Kickstarting Router-Based Development Boards

  1. You can buy ten “cores” with 100$, which is as good or better than alibaba prices for ar9331 modules. It would be really cool if it could get some traction. Without community (buyers ;)) it will probably die with the kickstarter.

    This is not as good esp8266 price, but you have fully-fledged TCP/IP stack of Linux, which means it can be truly connected to the Internet, not just with some very dumb interface.

    Be aware there are many alternatives with very similar hardware, for example WeIO, but mostly with worse pricing. Most of them can be found on http://www.cnx-software.com/ by searching for ar9331 .

  2. Looks cool although to be honest it seems pretty heavyweight by comparison to the ESP 8266.

    When I think IOT I think lightweight endpoints with just enough computing capacity to be able to send status updates (gpio values etc etc) and do something meaningful with values it receives…

    IMO the last thing we need is tens or hundreds of Linux boxes (however small) at home or wherever running. Just think of the patching!

    Still, horses for courses, no doubt there are use cases that suit end point centric calculation/CPU intensive activities.

    1. But all of these ‘light-weight’ endpoints need to send their data to an access point. This product has the option to be an access point that does much more than your standard router. I don’t think anyone expects this to replace the EXP style modules, but rather work in unison with them.

  3. That’s fantastic. The early bird price for the Core is great : if they can hit close to that price for small qty e.g. 10) in production, this would be a gamechanger for me.

  4. Very similar to the already CE certified DPT-Module and the DPT-Board (www.dptechnics.com). While the DPT-Board is more expensive it has much more out-of-the box functionality. The DPTechnics products are also factory calibrated. Also with the DPT-Board you now get a BlueCherry IoT (www.bluecherry.io) platform account.

    1. Maker here,

      Yes 2.5x the price exactly, but what are the out-of-the-box functionality? I just see a couple of level shifters.

      Certification is ongoing for CE/FCC/IC, and the Domino Core is also factory calibrated individually, see the animated GIf on project page.

      We don’t want to trap anybody with captive Cloud service, but we nevertheless negotiated a Weaved MakerPro commercial plan absolutely free.

      1. Hello,

        Out-of-the box the DPT-Board can switch relays, read high-voltage outputs, and indeed has built-in level shifters to talk to all kinds of 3v3 and 5v sensors.

        We also don’t want to trap anyone and our Cloud service is in no way captive. You can program anything you want on the board and access your own API via the web. We are also very open and if you are open to it we are also very interested on connecting the Domino to the BlueCherry IoT cloud.

        This because we think that interconnecting different devices and clouds is the future. Please contact me on info at dptechnics dot com if you are interested, I think we can establish a great collaboration.

        Kind regards,
        Daan

    1. Yes, except:
      – Domino Core has 60 castellated pins (2 mm pitch) vs. 32 non SMT (through hole) pins
      – 28 GPIOs vs. 18
      – 3x Ethernet (one solder pads below module) vs. 1x only
      – external U-FL antenna and antenna pin vs. only internal PCB one
      – dimensions 41 x 25 mm vs. 42 x 28.2 mm
      – guaranteed unique RF calibration (ART partition) for optimal RF performance

      We also provide more advanced expansion boards, including:
      – 1x USB and 3x + microSD card combo
      – 1x and 2x Ethernet
      – I2S Digital Audio (the codec is ready and it plays high quality music, check video)
      – SPI+JTAG (save your board even when u-boot is damaged)

      The Arduino shield (Domino Qi) provides 1x Ethernet Jack and 3x USB 2.0 host ports, including 2x ports on standard PC front-panel USB connector and one on standard USB-A connector, vs. 1x Ethernet and 1x USB only for standard Arduino Yun.

      And all the Domino boards are already tested for production and will be ready to start shipping in May.

      Last but not least, Domino aims to provide support for Makers by manufacturing ready Wi-Fi module, dev kit, but also offering full life-cycle services (schematics, layout, part provisioning, prototype, manufacturing, testing, storage and shipping) at the best possible price.

      1. Plus it’s, y’know, about half the price.

        I’d be even more thrilled if any one of the little modules ended up in an industrial temp version, but obviously they’re understandably limited to whatever the manufacturers spec, which is typically very limited.

        1. Industrial temp range is difficult, as all these WiSoC are limited down to 0°C because of component tolerances for RF. The AR9331 is no exception.

          On the upper side, the limitation is set by the DDR RAM, which is typically limited to +85°C, but it is possible to get +100°C grade chips for just a little more money.

          1. Yeah, I know. I just wish they specced different portions for different ranges: just because RF isn’t usable at low temp doesn’t mean the rest isn’t. But I know that it’s driven more by FCC regs than anything else. It’s just frustrating that subzero temps are so difficult, considering that’s what I tend to need.

          2. Below freezing temperature isn’t that big a problem as it is easy to heat things up than trying to keep heat away. Insulate the box to take advantage of the heat generated by the components. You can throw in an additional heater with a thermostat.

          3. Basically a sloppy version of the DIY crystal oven would do – you don’t care about precise temperature. You only need to turn it on when the temperature is below operating point of the electronics. Keeping it well insulated would reduce the average power needed for heating.

            As for temperature range, parts meant for commercial temperature (0-70C) range can be can be screened for industrial temp range.(-40C to 85C) if you are willing to pay for that.

          4. I have a $10 router that uses a watt or so and let’s say it is getting a bit too hot inside that plastic case. Even the bare PCB seems a bit hot to touch, which is easily 20C above ambient. So something like that well insulated would probably work to -20C or below ambient range just from its own heat.

          5. It’s really, really not that easy.

            Imagine if you’re coupled to a really, really big heat sink, which is well coupled to ~ground temperature, and you have no moving airflow. Now you don’t want to insulate yourself from that, because during the summer, it’s what keeps you cool. But during the winter, it similarly can keep you below freezing. A heater isn’t practical in that situation, because the heatsink is essentially infinite. The best solution is to just have the parts rated for that.

            And screening parts for low temperatures isn’t really practical for a high-level integration chip like an SoC or microcontroller. You can do it, sure, but I’ve been burned by it already, where the (screened) chips worked fine at low temp initially, and then started failing at low temp after a year of operation. There’s just too many things internal to an SoC/uC to check.

            That’s even assuming that the *design* of the chip works at low temp at all. If you have a commercial temp range chip that *doesn’t have* an industrial range counterpart (or worse, has an ‘odd’ temp range, like -20 to +60 or something) there’s often times a reason for that.

  5. Seriously? Another one. Tons of them already. Onion Omega, BlackSwift, Carambola1&2, WeIO, Arduino Yun, chinese boards, some recent ones like VoCore… IMO in the end it all boils down to community. A board is relatively easy to develop. A community is another thing, and sometimes just doesn’t happen.
    Personally, I’ll stick with BlackSwift, which’s soon to arrive. I know they’ll be supported by a community of Russian makers =)

    1. I hope there are plenty more to come. Like with cars, the biggest and fastest can be good for the highway, but a small one can sometimes be more practical; lets not be to quickly satisfied !

  6. It feels like we are moving fast towards a post-Arduino world of IoT and microcontrollers. For less than a brand name Arduino Uno you can have really powerful and often even easier to use systems using the AR9331 mentioned above, the popular ESP8266, the CC3000, several Mediatek offerings (e.g. the 2502 and 7681), etc.

    With Arduino’s brand getting a serious hit right now, and some of the others providing (optional) compatibility with the Arduino IDE and programming style (which is awful, but many people seem to like it), it is going to be very difficult for Arduino to reestablish itself as the main provider of accessible microcontrollers.

    1. Yep. The Arduino community is what is keeping them around. The boards themselves are just over-priced and under performing compared to the rest of the market.

      That being said, it will be pretty hard to establish a community as large and active as the Arduino community, so they may still have a few years on top of the market.

    1. Hi Benik3, I am Raze from Domino team. Just as your wish,our next generation smarter router with 2×2 antenna version powered by AR9344 soc will be released in next month!

        1. No, AR9331 has been around for 3 at least years, and it will not become obsolete before at least the same duration. It is by far the lowest power-consumption WiSoC capable of running a Linux OS.

          AR9344 is the new bleeding-edge chip that comes with more features like MIPS74kc @533MHz, PCI Express, 802.11ac with 2×2 antennas, 2.4/5GHz bands, but it is more appropriate for advanced WLAN platforms like high-end routers. Of course, it will be more expensive and consume more power too… So, not a direct replacement part.

  7. Okay this is pretty much exactly what I need and had to finally sign up to Kickstarter to back this. Only saw two ethernet ports in the expansion board…. wonder where the third ethernet ports pins are….

  8. Nice product, will definitely bang! (after KS fulfils and they start selling online, pure KS is for suckers)

    but why so shady? afaik Illinois is not in HK, and Michel Stempin never says his full name in the clip, nor on the KS/domino website. WTF? Whole campaign looks like typical crowdfunding scam run by nonames from whothefknowswhere.

    1. I am Michel, and I am part of the Domino Team, along with the nice people from GL Technology from HK/Schenzhen. KS only allows one single project owner, and I don’t really want to put myself in front. But we are working together on the Domino HW/SW for more than a year, so this is no crowdfunding scam.

      After KS fulfills, we will start selling on http://domino.io/

      1. > I don’t really want to put myself in front.

        Your 703n RE work makes you the only legitimate thing about this campaign. If you yourself dont want to be too associated with it personally then what are others to think about it? Thats why it looks like a scam. It might not be, but you dont want to put your name on it, so why should others put their money in it?
        Its like you dont trust your hk partners :) I trust you, so by proxy I dont trust them either :)

        1. Thanks:)

          It is also that I live in a country that is not eligible for KS, so it was more natural to do it this way. But for working with GL Technology for more than a year (and before on their GL.iNet pocket router), I can tell you that they can be trusted!

  9. I backed it with little reservation.

    Why? FCC. ESPs aren’t, most of the other little devices aren’t. Even if donating to a KS campaign got me nothing but helped them get FCC approval and cost me extra to buy later, they’d get it. FCC registration means that if I use it in a “for-sale” project, I just have to pass non-intentional emissions which is doable for a single person operation like me. Getting a full wireless chip past FCC regs? Not something I want to try.

    So thanks, Squonk42, for doing that hard part. And for the really good prices on the combo board packages.

    1. Yes, FCC/CE/IC certification is ongoing for the Domino Core module, such that end-product certification will be easy if you don’t add another RF in the same product. Having a pre-certified RF module is always nice, I see you already have experience with these problems!

      Domino is not trying to tie people to any IoT captive Cloud system or MarketPlace, instead we are focusing on bringing Makers both good hardware at the lowest possible price and affordable services for them to help them turn their ideas into real projects that they can sell, allowing them to focus entirely on their project.

    2. Hello Quin,

      Have you looked at our DPT-Module? https://dptechnics.com/shop/index.php?route=product/product&path=59&product_id=50 It is based on the same chipset and is fully CE/FCC/RoHS certified. Also the DPT-Board, based on the module, is CE certified.

      The price advertised in our shop is for 1 piece, but prices can drop if you order some larger quantities for production. The DPT-Module is ready and tested for SMT pick & place machines and SMT oven soldering and can be delivered in trays. We will also help you to make your DPT-Module/Board based product fully compliant and robust.

      1. Again, the DPT-Module is 2.5x the price of the Domino Core in single quantity. We can achieve this low price because we are an original manufacturer, not a reseller, so we will always be able to get a better price, whatever the quantities required.

        1. Hello Squonk42,

          Maybe you are indeed a few dollars cheaper. Nevertheless the DPT-Module has already proven it can be CE approved when used in other boards (such as DPT-Board) and there are some differences like an on-board antenna.

          As you know price is but one factor, there is also support, features, and other factors, … all depends on what you want to build. That’s what makes the IoT market so interesting.

    1. Yes, Domino Core and Carambola 2 are both (this also apply to other boards, like DPT-Module aka Gainstrong GS-Oolite) based on the same reference design from Qualcomm/Atheros AP-121: basically, the AR9331 CPU with maximized RAM and Flash capacities. The only differences come from the number of GPIOs, Ethernet ports, etc. that are actually broken out to the module pins, manufacturing quality, individual RF calibration, and price.

      OTOH, selecting this chip is logical: it is the best low-power (< 1W) Linux-capable WiFi solution around, for 3 consecutive years!

    2. From the aspect of aesthetics,it makes Domino Core look better that
      the dimension of Domino Core is more close to the golden section 0.618
      ( 25/41=0.609 ) than the Carambola’s 0.73 ( 28/38 ) :).

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