Tag Archives: Single Board Computer

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:


Figure 2: Open Spark Core Box

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


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.

Another IoT Platform - WICED

Broadcom is also jumping on the IoT wagon with the WICED  platform.  The platform is targeting Bluetooth and WiFi applications. The WiFi modules feature the BCM43362 WiFi chip integrated into a System in a Package (SiP) module. The Image below shows a WiFI WICED PCB module with a Murata WiFi SiP Module and a STM32F205 microcontroller. Murata also offers SiP modules that have the ARM microcontroller built in.


On the software side the platform is supported by a feature rich SDK and support for OSs:

  • WICED Application Framework including bootloader, flash storage API, over-the-air (OTA) upgrades, factory reset, and system monitor.
  • An open source build system and toolchain based on GNU make (native IAR support coming soon!).
  • A GUI Development Environment based on Eclipse CDT that seamlessly integrates with a JTAG programmer and single-step, thread-aware debugger based on OpenOCD and gdb.
  • A software stack with a choice of several RTOS/TCP stack options including ThreadX/NetXThreadX/NetX Duo and FreeRTOS/LwIP.
  • Support for security and networking features such as SSL/TLS, IPv4/IPv6 networking, and mDNS (Bonjour) device discovery.
  • Simple out-of-box device setup using Apple-licensed MFi technology or via a web browser and softAP/web server.

Broadcom also make a set of software examples available that help getting started quickly:

  • Production ready sample applications.
  • Lots of application snippets demonstrating how to use the rich WICED API feature set.
  • Various test applications to aid manufacturing and certification.
  • All documentation included inside the WICED SDK.

The next Electric Imp

Yesterday evening Hugo Fiennes, CEO and Co-founder of Electric Imp gave a talk at the Mountain View Hacker Dojo.

Hugo did a great job explaining the Electric Imp platform to a packed room. Besides a M&M candy dispenser that he controlled over the internet he also brought a board with the next generation Electric Imp on it.


The Electric Imp is the silver module on the left. The tiny size gives an idea of how small of a form factor internet connectivity will be available. Hugo also shared his excitement about the reduction in power consumption and the ability to power IoT devices from batteries.

Cortino - Another STM32 based Arduino

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


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.

How does Galileo Stack up against Raspberry PI

I am interested is to compare Galileo and other DIY single board computers. In this post I want to analyze the Galileo board against the popular Rasberry PI. The first thing to note is that the Rasberry PI is not an Arduino compatible platform. However, there are now extension boards available that allow to use Arduino shields with Raspberry PI. Here are to examples: The first is the AlaMode for Raspberry Pi  the second is the GertDuino: Add-On Board for Raspberry PI . Both boards are priced in the range of a Rasberry PI. So the combination of a Raspberry PI with an Arduino shield extension puts this solution right where the Galileo board is.

Have a look at the table below. It compares the two single board computer's hardware. The technical data for the Raspberry PI are taken from WikiPedia.

Rasberry PI Model A Rasberry PI Model B Intel Galileo
Target price: US$ 25 US$ 35 US$69
SoC: Broadcom BCM2835 (CPU, GPU, DSP, SDRAM, and single USB port) Intel Quark X1000
CPU: 700 MHz ARM1176JZF-S CPU 400MHz 32-bit x86 Pentium Class CPU
GPU: Broadcom VideoCore IV @ 250 MHz none
Memory (DRAM): 256 MBytes (shared with GPU) 512 MBytes (shared with GPU) as of 15 October 2012 256 Mbyte
PCIe ports: none PCIe 2.0
USB 2.0 ports: 1 Host 2 Host (from LAN9512) 1 Host,
2 Device
Video input: A CSI input connector allows for the connection of a RPF designed camera module none
Video outputs: Composite RCA (PAL and NTSC), HDMI (rev 1.3 & 1.4), raw LCD Panels via DSI none
Audio outputs: 3.5 mm jack, HDMI, and, as of revision 2 boards, I²S audionull none
Onboard storage: SD/MMC/SDIO 3.3V card slot SD/MMC/SDIO 3.3V card slot
Onboard network: None 10/100 Ethernet (from LAN9512) 10/100 Ethernet
Low-level peripherals: 8 × GPIO, UART, I²C bus, SPI bus with two chip selects, I²S audio +3.3 V, +5 V, ground 16 × GPIO,
UART, I²C bus, SPI
Power ratings: 300 mA (1.5 W) 700 mA (3.5 W) 550 mA (1.9-2.2W)
Power source: 5 volt via MicroUSB or GPIO header 5 Volt
Size: 85.60 mm × 53.98 mm (3.370 in × 2.125 in) 106.68 mm x 71.12 mm (4.2 in x 2.8 in)

The Raspberry PI uses a SoC chip that was originally designed for the set-top box market. Therefore it shows a nice lineup of features on the video side. The integrated HDMI port and on-chip graphics accelerator are testimony to this. However for IoT applications the Quark X1000 SoC used by Galileo offers a really nice selection of interfaces.

Is Edison competing with Galileo

Last summer at the Maker Fair in Rome Intel announced the Galileo single board computer . This week at CES 2014 in Las Vegas Intel followed up with another initiative that carries an inventors name. This time it is Edison. The Edison board is more advanced take on the Quark System on a Chip (SoC) based single board. The board is only the size of an industry standard SD card. So don't expect to solder it yourself.


However the card is a full featured single board computer that will offer support for multiple operating systems (OS).  The integrated WiFi will turn any device equipped with an Edison into an IoT solution.

Intel also promised to release design files that will make it easy to  integrate Edison into your own project.  Among the tool vendors that will support Edison is Autodesk. The company just announced the  acquisition of circuit.io. This online PCB design tool is now a part of Autodesk's 123D design suite.

For those that cannot wait and want something today the Electric Imp Wireless SD-CARD is an interesting alternative. This card is clearly not as powerful as an Edison. However given the creativity that innovators have displayed around the meager Arduino 8-bit AVR CPU  it may still be plenty.