Tag Archives: Cortex-M3

Encounter with a Spark

I have tested several IoT platforms over the last couple of weeks. So I was not too keen to checkout yet another one. However, when I got the annoucement that the Spark Core is shipping I could not resist and ordered one. It arrive in the mail today so I thought I will take it for a spin.

The Spark Core comes in a very stylish little box.

Spark Box

Figure1: Spark Box

To my surprise the box did even includes a breadboard:

spark2spark3

Figure 2: Open Spark Core Box

Overall, the box contains the Spark Core board, a breadboard, a micro-USB cable and Spark sticker.

spark4

Figure 3: Box Content

It is amazingly simple to get the board up and running. By following these few simple steps:

  1. Download the Spark App for iPhone or Android
  2. Setup an account by register at spark.io
  3. Power up the Spark Core over the USB cable
  4. Start Spark App and log into your wireless network

If everything works well you will get rewarded with the RGB-LED on the Spark board flashing in rainbow colors. Once the Spark Core is connected to you WiFi and paired with the Spark cloud, it took me only a few minutes to get an on-board blue LED blinking.

It very quickly becomes obvious that the Spark team has done a great job setting up an entire end-to-end IoT solution consisting of:

  1. Spark Hardware
  2. Cloud based IDE
  3. Arduino compatible API
  4. Free for life cloud back-end service with a RESTful API

All the Spark Core software is open source. The board uses a CC3000 WiFi Module from TI combined with a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M3 powered STM32F103 from ST Microelectronics. The Spark team has come up with a nice integration of this hardware and the cloud server back end. It is based on the CoAP protocol specification and allows for an easy and energy efficient integrated IoT solution.

The cloud API offers over-the-air (OTA) firmware updating where the input can either be c/c++ source code or binaries. For those that don't want to use Spark Builder, their cloud based IDE the web site also promises support for desktop IDEs like Eclipse.

So much for today, I will cover more details in future blogs.

Do you need WiFi Connectivity in your project?

There are a lot of WiFi solutions for Makers out there. However many are either expensive, big or outdated. So it is refreshing to look at the technical data of the little known WiFi module available by the name of RTX4100  from RTX Telecom. You may never have heard of RTX Telecom but this Danish design service company specialized in wireless has been around for many years.  The module is hardly bigger than a Bluetooth module.

RTX_BT1

Figure1: on the left a simple Bluetooth HC-5 module and on the right the RTX4100 WiFi Module.

The RTX41xx uses latest WiFi System in a Package (SiP) technology. It features a Nordic Semiconductors 32-bit ARM Cortex-M3  based low power microcontroller.  The WiFi is based on a AR41xx SiP from one of the leading WiFi chip manufacturer  Qualcomm - Atheros.

The 32-bit application processor is responsible for all the WiFi driver related duties. But an API allows to program custom application into the module. RTX calls the custom programs Co-Located Application or CoLA.  Besides the RTX4100 that offers 24 kBytes flash memory and 3 kBytes RAM for custom applications. RTX also offers a pin compatible RTX4140 that provides much more programmable memory for CoLA applications, 512 kBytes flash and 64 kBytes RAM.

CoLa

The SDK can be downloaded from RTX's web site together with a comprehensive set of documents and CoLA examples.

On the Hardware side the module offers 30 solder pins that support a variety of  I/O functionality:

  • ADC ports, DAC ports
  • GPIO ports
  • UART, SPI, I2C
  • Timers

RTX has also teamed up with some cloud services. The currently supported cloud partners are: 2lemetryExositeNabto and Sensinode.

For simple applications like WiFi sensors or actors that require a limited set of IOs and CPU/Memory resources RTX41xx modules can be used stand alone. They are also a great choice for embedded projects based on Arduino that need WiFi.  Similar to some of the popular Bluetooth modules you only need a spare UART or SPI interface to talk to the RTX4100.

Unlike Electric Imp that offers you a fully integrated platform form the module all the way up to the cloud, RTX is a much more open and flexible platform where you retain control. However this control also comes at the price that you have to do more software work. The good news is that you don't have to start from scratch, RTX supports you with quite a bit of Software.

Cortino - Another STM32 based Arduino

While searching for some STM32 related data I cam across the Cortino board by Bugblat.

Cortino

Like my Olimex featured in an earlier blog post this board uses a STM32F103 based 32-bit ARM Cortex-M3 CPU. The Cortino board looks like a nicely done Arduino variant. It even includes a FTDI chip. Although Bugblat does not provide support for the Arduino IDE software their product page offers a good overview of available 3rd Party IDEs.

Like for the Olimex, it should not be too difficult to adopt the Maple IDE from Leaflabs. However the Mable IDE is now getting a bit dated.  A more current Arduino 1.5.5 IDE can be created by using the instructions on Makerlab.me's web page . Note unless you are fluent in Chinese you have to use Goggle Translate. However the code is documented in English and available from Github. For those that want to learn more about the details of supporting a new board there is a good document available on Arduino.cc  Arduino IDE 1.5 3rd party Hardware specification. Another alternative for Mac users is the OS X native Xcode IDE as offered by embedXcode.