New Part Day: Bouffalo Labs BL602 RISC-V Wi-Fi/Bluetooth SoC

We should all by now be used to microcontrollers with wireless hardware on board, with Espressif or Nordic Labs dominating the hacker scene. There have been several other contenders in this arena over the years that haven’t really caught the attention of our community, usually because of the opacity of their available information.

A new contender should be worth a second look though. The BL602 from Bouffalo Labs is a Wi-Fi- and Bluetooth LE-capable microcontroller with a 32-bit RISC-V derived core. If that doesn’t interest you much, perhaps news that the PINE64 folks are spearheading an effort to reverse engineer it for a fully open-source blob-free wireless implementation might sharpen your attention.

So where can you get your hands on one? Hold your horses, this chip is at an early stage in its gestation. We can see that there are some exciting possibilities in store, but we’re still figuring out the hardware interfaces and other software required to make it work. A community is hard at work reverse engineering it, which leads us back to the PINE64 story we mentioned earlier.

You can find BL602 modules from AliExpress vendors, but the PINE64 folks will offer you a free one if you join their blob reverse engineering effort. Take note though, this offer is for those prepared to show commitment to the project, so don’t spam them in the hope of free stuff if you won’t be helping deliver the goods.

We might see the BL602 gaining an open-source toolchain and internal blobs over the coming months thanks to the efforts of those working on it. Just as the ESP8266 did back in 2014, it’s starting as a black box with a relative scarcity of information. But if this hacking effort pays off, we’ll have a cheap RISC-V Wi-Fi and Bluetooth module with entirely open-source software from the silicon upwards. What a time to be alive!

Thanks [Renze] for the tip.

20 thoughts on “New Part Day: Bouffalo Labs BL602 RISC-V Wi-Fi/Bluetooth SoC

  1. Currently, the delivered code is horrible. There’re only .a library for linking with and no documentation. I’m not sure what is the added value compared to ESP32 (same price, it seems), but closed source, probably full of bugs. I don’t know how a company can expect getting the same success as Espressif without a minimum of open sourcing effort nowadays.

    1. The esp32 uses an uncommon (in the open source world) core. This is risc-v. Doesn’t really matter when you just wat to use it, but reverse engineering on risc-v is much easier with existing tools. With enough interest this may well become a truly blobless device.

  2. I read about the challenge already like a week or two ago. The chip itself looks very interesting, I love the idea of low-power WiFi-enabled chips like this. I just don’t know if I should be holding my breath for this to become useable anytime soon; it took Espressif fricking forever to finally embrace the open-source community and start to contribute to the efforts of making the ESP8266 actually useable and I don’t see any reason to believe Bouffalo will be any better.

  3. Looking at the data sheet… it seems there’s only 64KB RAM left after Wifi and other dedicated RAM is accounted for (look at the memory map table). That’s painfully small. Fuhget about TLS pretty much. The chip supports executing from external flash but I didn’t see any hint for external SDRAM support. I could be wrong, but if I’m right the chip dies right there for me…

  4. Six or seven years ago (c.2014) I think what “woke up” Espressif to the benefits of “opening up” the ESP8266 and embracing open development platforms like the Arduino IDE was their “lucky” inclusion of the fairly easy to reverse engineer AT command set (a.k.a. Hayes command set) over UART at boot on their ESP8266 WiFi modules. Espressif had to notice a significant number of their ESP8266 modules were being enthusiastically embraced to WiFi enable boards like the Arduino in nascent IoT projects.

    At that point it would have been obvious that ESP8266 modules would sell more and get wider exposure and adoption if Espressif would open up and make it easier for these communities to use the ESP8266’s on-module Tensilica Xtensa LX3 processor, and the hooks to/from the open lwIP stack, natively instead of having to use an external board like an Arduino connected to the ESP8266 via crude AT commands. Once that happened POOF!, the “ESP8266 Core” [1] appeared and people started writing code that ran directly on the ESP8266 via platforms like the Arduino IDE. This embracing of openness and clarity in documentation no doubt also greatly benefited Espressif’s own SDK, the “ESP-IDF”.[2]

    Perhaps Bouffalo needs to experience a similar “awakening”. Or maybe they already have? Hmmm… With all this reverse engineering going on, it sure doesn’t look like it. And where does SiFive fit in here? It is SiFive’s RISC-V processor Intellectual Property (IP) that Bouffalo is using on their module. SiFive is a U.S. based company (San Fransisco), so it would not surprise me if there is a stack of MBA’s and Lawyers you have to wade through before the IP becomes useable by a community; if ever. And who is making the physical RISC-V processor part itself and what part do they play? SiFive is a fabless company who just sells/licenses the RISC-V processor IP.

    When you look at how U.S. companies tried to enter this “everything is connected” market many years ago, you get a valuable lesson in how letting greedy MBA Marketing Goons run your product development usually results in a closed, hard to use, and over-priced SPoG (Smoldering Pile of Garbage) product line. For example, trace the history of the Texas Instruments SimpleLink CC3000 WiFi module [3], and their accompaying TI CC3000BOOST board.[4] What a mess – and that’s even before you (and your team of Lawyers) start looking at TI’s SDK.

    References:

    1. https://arduino-esp8266.readthedocs.io/en/latest/

    2. https://docs.espressif.com/projects/esp-idf/en/latest/esp32/

    3. https://www.digikey.com/en/products/detail/texas-instruments/CC3000MOD/3725883

    4. https://www.digikey.com/en/products/detail/texas-instruments/CC3000BOOST/3854678

    1. I’ll bet that SiFive’s to get their chips in production fast are licensing a bunch of IP from others and the restrictions are coming from third parties.

      Like if you look at their mini-ITX board landing in Q4 2020 for $665 US, the “HiFive Unmatched” the CPU has an Intergrated DDR4 Memory controller and an Intergrated PCIe Gen 3 x8 controller. I’m guessing they are not developing that in-house from scratch, that they bought in blocks developed by others and they are the ones stipulating what is allowed, or not allowed.

  5. Kind of surprised that there’s no 915MHz modules that are as easy to use as this. The trouble with WiFi is that someone will always have a fit about connecting anything that costs $3 from China to the network, since WiFi isn’t designed to sandbox.

    With a custom protocol that was specifically meant to allow cheap crap to only talk to the hub, we’d have more interest from security conscious people, who are the ones into this stuff, and they might be the early adopters you need to get to a truly IoT future where house fires and leaving the door unlocked stop being major things that happen.

  6. Just received a Wifi-RGB-LED-Controller with a BL602 inside.
    So, no way at all to flash it with tasmota for network integration.
    Hope the people from PINE64 will build something interesting for this chip.

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