Since its introduction years ago, the ESP-8266 has taken over the world. It’s the chip inside thousands of different projects, and the basis for dozens of different IoT thingamadoos. The follow-up to the 8266, the ESP-32, is even more capable. It has a ton of peripherals inside, including an Ethernet MAC. What’s that? Yes, it’s possible to put Ethernet on an ESP-32, and give an IoT board PoE. That’s what [Patrick] is doing for his Hackaday Prize project, and it’s an awesome idea.
This build began as you would expect, with an ESP-32 module attached to one side of a board with some breakouts for the GPIOs and a USB to Serial chip. The tricky part here is the PoE part of the Ethernet, which requires MagJack Ethernet connectors, a flyback transformer, and a PoE-PD controller. These were expensive parts, and the design of such a board requires some thinking — you need isolation across the transformer, and proper ground planes for this mess.
There’s something slightly brilliant about using an ESP-32 in a wired configuration. Far too often, we see these modules used as wireless nodes in a sensor net. The battery consumption is significant, and all those makers are adding USB power input to their fancy WiFi sensor nets. If you’re running wires for power anyway, why not add Ethernet and do away with all that mucking around with WiFi setup. It’s a great project, and one of the better entries in this year’s Hackaday Prize.