Kickstarting Even More Router-Based Dev Boards

The latest and greatest thing makers and IoT solutions is apparently router hacking. While most Hackaday readers lived through this interesting phase where Linksys routers were used to connect sensors and other such digital bits and bobs to the Internet a few years ago, SOCs have improved, and now there are router-based dev boards.

The latest is the Onion Omega, an exceptionally tiny board just under two inches square. Onboard is an Atheros AR9331 chipset – the same found in a number of cheap WiFi routers – attached to 32 pins breaking out GPIOs, SPI, I2C, and USB. With WiFi and Ethernet, this is a board designed to connect sensors, motors, actuators, and devices to the Internet.

This is not the only recent router-based dev board to make it to the crowdfunding sites. A week or so ago, the Domino hit Kickstarter, featuring the same AR9331 chipset found in the Onion Omega. The Onion does have a few things going for it – cloud integration, a web-based console, and an app store that make the Onion vastly more useful for the ‘maker’ market. The Domino has a boatload of pins available, and competition is always good, right?

41 thoughts on “Kickstarting Even More Router-Based Dev Boards

        1. Yes, unlike some other projects, GL Technology, part of the Domino Team, is an already experienced manufacturer and we are not relying on 3rd party for this part. We are working on this project for 1 year!

          We have gone thriugh the prototyping phase, and already launched a batch of boards, such that we can start delivering in May, unlike th Onion Omega which is supposed to be available in August for the core and kits in October.

          1. Well, we have already delivered more than 10,000 units of a modified version of the Omega for a few clients to include in their products. The reason we are shipping in August is because we are designing a few additional expansion modules that we want backers to be able to choose from as a part of their rewards. These expansions will enable the Omega to do a lot more. We also want to it absolutely sure that all the products we ship out will meet our internal quality standard. There is no point shipping a product out early if it it’s going to be returned later.

  1. @Brian: Yes, competition is always good!!

    We hope that the Domino with a 1/2 cheaper module price, more advanced expansion boards (I2s audio, 3x USB host / MicroSD Card combo…), more GPIOs, Arduino Yun compatibility and delivery starting in May will convince people to fund our project and thus allow us to launch our affordable full product life-cycle services for Makers!

    1. Is all this about cars here ? We are faster, accelerate better, have park assist etc, and the others don’t. bla bla bla… What really matters is all to often overlooked. What added value does a board create for the market? Does a company brings a new business model. Does the new technology brings new possibilities, does it simplify things, is the cloud architecture innovative? This is what realy matters.
      Some say there are to many boards already. I wonder why ? This technology is only beginning to develop, so lets welcome each new initiative with an open mind and look at it for what it is realy worth. Let’s not be satisfied to quickly. There are many initiatives from small companies that are all to often labeled “superfluous”, such as the DPT-Board from a small Belgian company.
      Their board does not come cheap and their cloud will not be free of charge. However it demonstrates a hole new approach of IoT. We’ve bought one and tested their BlueCherry.io cloud connectivity. I must admit it was a wonderfull experience. Although at first sight this board seems to be one of many, to me it is more innovative than the Domino. So, let’s not break down initiatives like Onion Omega and others, but give them a warm welcome, test them out and than strectly evaluate them. They could prove to be more surprising than they seem.
      Wishing Domino a warm welcome and succes.

      1. All these boards are basically offering the same kind of cloud service, but don’t be fooled: at one point, someone will have to pay the electricity bill. Cloud services already demonstrated their limits in terms of confidentiality and vulnerability in the past too.

        Like you, I am very happy to see today such a choice of original boards, I wish it was the case 3 years ago!

        I thus welcome all these new boards, like Onion Omega, BlackSwift (and of course Domino!) or older ones like Carambola 2, the more, the merrier!

        On a more philosophic level, I really think that the IoT revolution will not come from large corporate offers: with a few exceptions, they all try to promote their own private technology and try to lock you in.

        The future in IoT will come from the ability to set up a real “Internet” (as opposed to a simple “Net”) of Things coming from different horizons. And IMHO, because of the Bazaar they are used to work with, Makers are the most likely to bring a real interoperability among objects, because they will rely on open hardware, open software and open interchange formats for making things work together.

        Let’s all provide them with all the tools required to achieve this goal!

        1. I agree on this point of view. This is exactly why the DPT-Board and its cloud are so innovating. As you say it so well, cheap and free may cost more than a fair price.

        2. Hello Squonk42,

          The DPT-Module is indeed manufactured by Gainstrong, it is our production partner. We have always been open about this and I don’t see why this makes us less innovating.

          1. Not only produced, but also designed by Gainstrong, this is what renders it less innovating. I still have some boards from them long before they were certified or even RF calibrated individually, at least 2 years ago. All other modules discussed here are original designs.

        3. Hello Squonk,

          Gainstrong started designing the module and you have some early testing designs from them. We also contacted them in that stage and since than have a good cooperation. It is actually just the same as you have a good cooperation with GL.inet manufacturer. I don’t see why that would make our boards less innovative.

          After all it’s the whole picture that counts, the software, the design, the cloud, … We give this information to whoever want’s to make the DPT-Board themselves. We also let them source the DPT-Module directly from our partner if they want.

          But when they source it from our partner the module doesn’t come preloaded with our software and is not quality checked by our european team.

          1. Actually, Gainstrong is not even the original designer of the GL OOlite board: their first board with only antenna changed (for no real gain) was based on EasyLink ML-150 board:
            http://wiki.openwrt.org/toh/easylink/el-m150

            For one reason, they manufactured this board and took over the design (typical of Chinese grey market). Some of my GS Oolite boards have an U-boot bootloader modified by Easylink and providing original board name and even website;)

            OTOH, GL Technology is the original designer and manufacturer of the Domino Core: I know that for sure: I designed it along with them.

          2. If so, what’s your point? The Domino core started from the Atheros example design, just like the DPT-Module. It is than changed to fit our design needs. Whoever made the first design, or produces the board doesn’t matter.

            The only thing that matters is quality and the end product. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m sure Domino will be of good quality, just as our DPT-Module and DPT-Board is of perfect quality.

            Compare it to cars: there are lot’s of cars that use engines they don’t produce themselves. Nevertheless they remain very good quality cars.

          3. There is a BIG difference between basing your design on a chip manufacturer’s reference design (this is basically the case for all electronic designs based on complex chips) and simply rebranding a board: we have been through 4 successive revisions of the Domino Core module to obtain the current version, and I am pretty sure that other genuine designers went the same hard path.

          4. Hello Squonk,

            We know it’s a lot of work to get a stable module, as we went through the same design process as you. We did not simply rebrand the module but in cooperation with Gainstrong have modified antenna design to pass CE/FCC, changed pinouts to our needs, etc.

            As you know it are these last steps, to get a stable and certified product, that are the hardest ones. I would prefer to stop this pointless discussion because this article should go about our collegues of Onion Omega, I almost feel sorry for them having this discussion here.

      2. “Although at first sight this board seems to be one of many, to me it is more innovative than the Domino.”

        It’s more expensive.

        I don’t understand why this isn’t a bigger reason to choose Domino over the Onion Omega to more people. It’s a factor of *two* in cost, and you’re essentially paying a per-unit price for software. Maybe that sounds good to some people, but I don’t get why the “maker” community would think that’s a good idea.

  2. Is the Onion Omega going to get FCC/CE certified?

    Sure, eventually someone will be able to make boards that are “substantially similar” enough that middle developers like me can throw in a device and not do FCC intentional emitter tests. The value-add, for me, is not putting a SOC on a board when there are 30 people all doing exactly that. For me the real value is in getting product I can put in a product and sell for myself; that’s where middle-ware makes sense.

      1. Hi Boken,

        There is a CE certification: actually, to have the right to sell products within the EEC, you need to comply with all applicable regulations, including EMC, RF and safety rules and standards in our case.

        However, unlike FCC/IC, a board integrator will still have to pass the whole certification again for the final product, independent of the fact that there is or not another RF on board. But having the RF module already certified make it easier, of course! Usually, it is just a matter of applying state of the art techniques in the EE field.

        I know, this is confusing, but European people are different;)

        1. Hi Michel That’s not what our attorney told us. Despite what many people believe, a manufacture does not “get” the CE mark from a third party certification body or a European or national authority. The manufacturer affixes the CE marking in his own right and is allowed to do so when all requirements are fulfilled. A test or certification body may be involved in the process merely as a service provider. However, the body will not take over responsibility for CE compliance. Responsibility for CE compliance will always remain with the manufacturer (or private labeler). This is very different from FCC of IC certification, which requires certification, and usually involves a third party service provider.

          1. That is partly right: although there exists a possibility to get a “Certified Body Opinion”, only the manufacturer or importer is taking the responsibility of compliance.

            However, you may get asked (by customers, legal action, customs, etc.) to provide proofs of compliance, and this is when having certifications performed by 3rd party service providers is important. IANAL, but I am European and working professionally in the EE field for years, both manufacturing and importing hardware within the EEC.

            Please harass your attorney and have them get advice from some European specialists!

          2. TLDR on CE: If you comply with all norms and regulations concerning your product, you can slap a CE sign on it yourself. Only when someone asks you to prove it you need to show proofs, most often provided by 3rd party.

      2. I wish that had been obvious on your kickstarter page. I’m glad it’s the case, and will probably pick up a module or two after funding since you guys seems to have passed your mark by a margin. I don’t mind paying retail for test modules, and like kickstarting the near-funded as opposed to the well-funded.

        Also, for your KS page, the Blynk and widgets aren’t well explained. Even on your web page the concepts aren’t hashed out anyplace that I could find on a quick look; I’ll dig more later. Doesn’t seem like that’s hurt your sales at all, but it’s something for others with a project in mind to keep in mind.

    1. Hello Quin,

      I think we from http://www.dptechnics.com have the ideal module for you. Our DPT-Module (https://dptechnics.com/shop/index.php?route=product/product&path=59&product_id=50) is perfect for you. It is fully CE, FCC and RoHS certified and mass production ready.

      The price in our webshop is for only 1 piece, but prices can drop significantly when ordered in larger quantities (>100pcs). We can deliver in trays, you can use the DPT-Board as a development platform and off course we are always available to help you make your design fit for mass production.

      Please contact us on info [at] dptechnics [dot] com if you want a bit more information.

  3. Funny how the comments got dominated by Domino. Seems like a good product and price. A shame the Domino Core GPIO is only 2.5V, and not 3.3V tolerant, so interfacing it will often require some extra complexity/cost. Presumably the Onion has the same GPIO voltage limitation, being based on the same chipset; but I don’t see it explicitly listed.

    1. The +2.5V tolerance will be the same for all the AR9331-based boards, this limitation comes from the chip itself.

      You now, P=U x I, thus one way to reduce power consumption is to reduce voltage ;)

      This GPIO voltage is not generally a problem for outputs, as if you check the thresholds, they are mostly compatible with +3.3V logic inputs. The inputs OTOH need to be adapted, this can be as simple as a resistor voltage divider. You only need complex voltage translators in-between for I/Os, i.e. when a GPIO can switch between between input and output.

      Also, be aware that all AR9331 GPIOs are not 3-state, they can only be input or output, not floating!

      1. I guess I’ve grown spoiled to not thinking about it, since I’ve worked almost exclusively with 3.3V for years, and MCUs that have 3.3V I/O even if Vcore is lower. But you’re right, most of the time the interface will be direct or simple, and i’s only stuff like I2C and USB that require some thought. Good tip on the AR9331 GPIO not being tristatable too. Thanks.

        1. You are welcome!

          I would say that the problem is only for pins that you want to drive as both inputs and outputs.

          I2C is usually taken care of with FETs used as bidirectional voltage translators, and USB signals can be routed straight to an USB connector with standard ESD/EMI protection and decoupling, no problem here.

          The AR9331 has a very good (the best?) RF section for a SoC, partly because the digital section has been reduced to the bare minimum: for example, the SPI bus is almost completely dedicated to access the Flash chip, not exactly as a GP SPI bus. There is also no hardware I2C controller or any kind of sophisticated peripheral on board, the overall result is less digital noise and better RF performance.

  4. This is probably not true for all the boards cited above, but you need to be careful when selecting random WiFi boards on the Internet: there are a lot of shortcuts that can be taken in order to cut the costs: no RF calibration as it takes time on the production line, refurbished components, out-of-spec components (RAM, Flash…), crystals with bad tolerances… Not everything is written into the specs, unfortunately!

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