A Low-Cost Connection to the IoT

In Circuit Cellar’s March issue, columnist Jeff Bachiochi tests the services of a company he says is “poised to make a big impact” on the Internet of Things (IoT).

This shows the I2C interface Bachiochi designed to enable available clamp-on current sensors to be monitored. He added four of these circuits to a PCB, which includes the circuitry for an imp card.

This shows the I2C interface Bachiochi designed to enable available clamp-on current sensors to be monitored. He added four of these circuits to a PCB, which includes the circuitry for an imp card.

Established in 2011, Electric Imp offers a flexible connectivity platform meant to enable any device to be connected to the IoT. The platform, called the “imp,” provides an SD-card sized module (including an 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi radio package) that can be installed on any electronic device to go online. A powerful processor runs the imp OS.

“You only need to supply an SD card socket (and a few other components) to your product to give it connectivity,” Bachiochi says. “The imp’s processor has the power to run your entire product if you wish, or it can be connected via one of the supported serial protocols. The imp OS provides secure connectivity to the imp cloud. The imp cloud keeps your imp updated with the latest firmware, features online development tools, and provides cloud-side services for every imp in the field.”

“As with many cloud service organizations, development is generally free,” Bachiochi adds. “Once you’ve committed and have product rollout, the service will charge for its use. This could be a flat fee, a per-connection or data throughput fee, or a combination of fees. Basically you (or your customer) will have to pay to have access to the information, which pays for the support framework that keeps it all working.”

In his article, Bachiochi dives into a straightforward data-collection project to demonstrate how to use the imp in a product. The goal of his application was to log the activity of 220-V water pump and twin water softeners.  The project is the launching point for his comprehensive and detailed look at the imp’s hardware, software, and costs.

“It’s easy to design product hardware to use the imp,” he says. “There are two imp models, a card that can be inserted into an SD-type socket or an on-board module that is soldered into your product. Each version has advantages and disadvantages.”

Regarding software, Bachiochi says:

“Developing an imp application requires two parts to provide Wi-Fi access to your project: the device code (running in the imp) and the agent code (running on the imp cloud). The imp cloud, which is your connection to your device via the imp APIs, provides you with a development IDE. Web-based development means there is nothing else you need to purchase or install on your PC. Everything you need is available through your browser anytime and anywhere.”

Bachiochi also discusses the Electric Imp platform’s broader goals. While an individual can use the imp for device connectivity, a bigger purpose is to enable manufacturers to provide convenient Internet access as part of their product, Bachiochi says.

“The imp has two costs: The hardware is simple, it currently costs approximately $25 for an imp card or module. If you are using this in your own circuit within your own network, then you’re done,” he says. “If you want to roll out a product for sale to the world, you must take the next step and register for the BlinkUp SDK and Operations Console, which enable you to create and track factory-blessed products.”

BlinkUp, according to the Electric Imp website, integrates smoothly into apps and enables manufacturers and their customers to quickly connect products using a smartphone or tablet. The Operations Console enables tracking product activity and updating product firmware at any time, Bachiochi says.

The imp offers more than a low-cost way for DIYers and developers to connect devices to the Internet, Bachiochi says. A designer using the imp can save project costs by eliminating a microcontroller, he says. “Almost any peripheral can be easily connected to and serviced by the imp’s 32-bit Cortex M3 processor running the imp OS. All code is written in Squirrel.”

Bachiochi’s comprehensive article about his imp experience and insights can be found in the March issue, now available for membership download or single-issue purchase.

Bachiochi used the Electric IMP IDE to develop this code. Agent code on the top left runs on the imp cloud server. The device code on the top right is downloaded into the connected imp.

Bachiochi used the Electric IMP IDE to develop this code. Agent code on the top left runs on the imp cloud server. The device code on the top right is downloaded into the connected imp.

Internet of Things Challenge: WIZnet Connect the Magic 2014 Launches

Elektor International Media (EIM) and WIZnet Co, Ltd today officially launched the WIZnet Connect the Magic 2014 Design Challenge, which is a five-month-long contest for electrical engineers, students, and DIYers to develop innovative, ’Net-connected electronic systems around a WIZNet WIZ550io Ethernet controller module or W5500 chip.

According to the Challenge’s rules, entrants must use at least one WIZnet WIZ550io or W5500 chip in a project. Entries will be judged on their technical merit, originality, usefulness, cost-effectiveness, and design optimization. Winners will receive a share of $15,000 in prizes and recognition in Elektor and Circuit Cellar magazines. The entry submission deadline is August 3, 2014.

WIZnet's WIZ550io auto configurable Ethernet controller module includes a W5500, transformer, & RJ-45.

WIZnet’s WIZ550io auto configurable Ethernet controller module includes a W5500, transformer, & RJ-45.

The WIZ550io is an auto-configurable Ethernet controller module that includes the W5500 (TCP/IP-hard-wired chip and PHY embedded), transformer, and an RJ-45 connector. The module has a unique, embedded real MAC address and auto network configuration capability. The W5500 chip is a Hardwired TCP/IP embedded Ethernet controller that enables Internet connection for embedded systems using Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI).

“The WIZnet Connect the Magic 2014 Design Challenge is an excellent opportunity for engineers, designers, and students to build ’Net-connected systems with WIZnet’s WIZ550io auto-configurable Ethernet controller module and W5500 chip,” said C. J. Abate, Editor in Chief for EIM’s Circuit Cellar magazine.

The challenge is intended to engage more engineers and innovators in the Internet of Things revolution, which has become a major focus for electronics developers worldwide during the past several months.


WIZnet W5500 chip

“The engineers, students, and academics that read our publications and comprise our community see the Internet of Things as more than a convenience. They see it as an opportunity—that is, an opportunity to create cutting-edged connected devices and bring them to market,” Abate said. “Thus, it’s our job to introduce our community members to the best components and tools to achieve their IoT-related design goals. We’re doing that by managing this challenge for our partner, WIZnet, whose W5500 chip and WIZ550io Ethernet module enable designers to quickly develop ’Net-connected systems.”

WIZnet has made available a limited number of free WIZ550io Ethernet controller modules for use in the WIZnet 2014 Connect the Magic Design Challenge. To submit a request for a free WIZ550io module, eligible participants can fill out an online sample request form at http://circuitcellar.com/wiznet2014/samplerequest/.

WIZnet is a private fabless semiconductor company founded in 1998 in Korea. WIZnet provides IOcP (Internet Offload co-Processors) and HW TCP/IP chips, best fitted for low-end Non-OS devices connecting to the Ethernet for the internet of things. Visit www.wiznet.co.kr/ for more information.

Elektor International Media (EIM) is the world’s leading source of essential technical information and electronics products for pro engineers, electronics designers, and the companies seeking to engage them. Each day, its international team develops and delivers high-quality content—via a variety of media channels (e.g., magazines, video, digital media, and social media) in several languages—relating to embedded systems, electronics design, DIY electronics, and hi-fi audio. EIM’s brands include Elektor, Circuit Cellar, audioXpress, and Voice Coil. Visit www.elektor.com for more information.

Design Challenge Contact
Challenge Administration
EIM/Circuit Cellar

WIZnet Support
Americas: support_team@wiznettechnology.com
Asia: support@wiznet.hk
China: support-bj@wiznet.hk
EU: support@wiznet.eu
Korea: support@wiznet.co.kr

Circuit Cellar Editorial
Mary Wilson
Managing Editor

Doing the Robot, 21st-Century Style

Growing up in the 1970s, the first robot I remember was Rosie from The Jetsons. In the 1980s, I discovered Transformers, which were touted as “robots in disguise,” I imitated Michael Jackson’s version of “the robot,” and (unbeknownst to me) the Arthrobot surgical robot was first developed. This was years before Honda debuted ASIMO, the first humanoid robot, in 2004.

“In the 1970s, microprocessors gave me hope that real robots would eventually become part of our future,” RobotBASIC codeveloper John Blankenship told me in a 2013 interview. It appears that the “future” may already be here.

Honda's ASIMO humanoid robot

Honda’s ASIMO humanoid robot

Welcome to the 21st century. Technology is becoming “smarter,“ as evidenced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2014, which took place in January. The show unveiled a variety of smartphone-controlled robots and drones as well as wireless tracking devices.

Circuit Cellar’s columnists and contributors have been busy with their own developments. Steve Lubbers wondered if robots could be programmed to influence each other’s behavior. He used Texas Instruments’s LaunchPad hardware and a low-cost radio link to build a group of robots to test his theory. The results are on p. 18.

RobotBASIC’s Blankenship wanted to program robots more quickly. His article explains how he uses robot simulation to decrease development time (p. 30).

The Internet of Things (IoT), which relies on embedded technology for communication, is also making advancements. According to information technology research and advisory company Gartner, by 2020, there will be close to 26 billion devices on the IoT.

With the IoT, nothing is out of the realm of a designer’s imagination. For instance, if you’re not at home, you can use IoT-based platforms (such as the one columnist Jeff Bachiochi writes about on p. 58) to preheat your oven or turn off your sprinklers when it starts to rain.

Meanwhile, I will program my crockpot and try to explain to my 8-year-old how I survived childhood without the Internet.

Dynamic Efficiency Microcontrollers

STMicroThe STM32F401 Dynamic Efficiency microcontrollers extend battery life and support innovative new features in mobile phones, tablets, and smart watches. They help manage MEMS sensors in smart-connected devices and are well suited for Internet-of-Things (IoT) applications and fieldbus-powered industrial equipment.

The STM32F401 microcontrollers include an ART accelerator, a prefetch queue, and a branch cache. This enables zero-wait-state execution from flash, which boosts performance to 105 DMIPS (285 CoreMark) at 84 MHz. The microcontrollers’ 90-nm process technology boosts performance and reduces dynamic power. Its dynamic voltage scaling optimizes the operating voltage to meet performance demands and minimize leakage.

The STM32F401 microcontrollers integrate up to 512 KB of flash and 96 KB SRAM in a 3.06-mm × 3.06-mm chip-scale package and feature a 9-µA at 1.8 V Stop mode current. The devices’ peripherals include three 1-Mbps I2C ports, three USARTs, four SPI ports, two full-duplex I2S audio interfaces, a USB 2.0 OTG full-speed interface, an SDIO interface, 12-bit 2.4-MSPS 16-channel ADC, and up to 10 timers.

Pricing for the STM32F401 microcontrollers starts at $2.88 in 10,000-unit quantities.


Next-Generation Wi-Fi Modules

eConaisThe EC19D family is small, easily integrated, low-standby power single chip 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi System In Package (SiP) modules for the Internet of Things (IoT).

The SiP modules help designers quickly and easily connect their devices to 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi networks. At 8-mm × 8-mm, the EC19D modules can be embedded in almost any product or application. The EC19D will also include FCC, IC, and EC certifications to further simplify and speed up product design and production for use with Wi-Fi networks.

The EC19D incorporates the newest Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n standards and features to provide designers with many options for embedding the module in their designs. The EC19D’s features include Wi-Fi Direct, ProbMeTM configuration, full TCP/IP stack, HTTPS/SSL, DHCP Client/Server, WPS, legacy Wi-Fi Client, and SoftAP modes with WPA/WPA2 support, serial to Wi-Fi, and Cloud service support.

Contact eConais for pricing.

eConais Inc.