It is an understatement that there is a lot to see at Embedded World.
On my first day I met the Farnell team and it was a lot of fun catching up and hearing about everything in Farnell and element14 world. I was also lucky to meet up with colleagues and friends that we have interacted with in the past. It is a small world.
Here are some of the interesting finds from day 1, there will be more to follow but I wanted to space it out in a few blog posts since there is too much to cover.
Intel TinyTILE Demo and Atmosphere Development Environment
There was a cool demo featuring the – this is a very small microcontroller board based on Intel’s Curie module, containing two processing cores. It is possibly the smallest way to prototype with Curie given that the Curie is a BGA part; the TinyTILE has the usual 0.1 inch spaced headers to make life easier while prototyping.
The larger Arduino-sized Genuino 101 board also contains the Curie module but the TinyTILE is way more convenient when you don’t need to plug on Arduino shields.
Unlike the typical Arduino Uno, the TinyTile’s Curie module contains some capabilities beyond that of a typical microcontroller. In particular it features Bluetooth Smart (Bluetooth LE). This technology offers a low power way of communicating data to devices such as PCs, Raspberry Pi’s and mobile phones. A typical use of Bluetooth Smart is to use your mobile phone as a gateway to propel sensor data from a Bluetooth Smart device such as the TinyTile to a cloud platform using your mobile phone’s data connection.
One example could be in a vehicle; the TinyTile could collect up vehicle data such as speed and fault codes and transmit them to the cloud via your mobile phone.
The demo at the Farnell stand was very interesting; it models a real-life scenario where a valuable asset (solar cells) needs data collection (e.g. amount of power and solar cell status) as well as an element of security to prevent solar cell theft. The TinyTILE has (as well as Bluetooth Smart) built-in gyro and accelerometers (6-axis) and a ‘pattern matching engine’ (which I’ve still to investigate and read up on). This means that for basic asset protection it can identify if the solar cell is moved, and act as a Bluetooth Smart peripheral device and transmit the data to a nearby Bluetooth Smart central device, for onward alerting or data logging.
The demo platform was a 3D-printed enclosure with custom electronics inside featuring the TinyTile.
There are three ways to get started with TinyTILE. One method is to use the Arduino IDE, same as using the Arduino Uno. This would be the easiest way for beginners.
Another way is to use Intel’s software development kit (SDK). Yet another way is to use Atmosphere which is a cloud based development environment created by a firm called Anaren. Anaren create many wireless module and they developed Atmosphere for internal use to create applications for their customers. It has been maturing for the past few years and now they have opened it up for anyone to use. Anaren Atmosphere consists of the development environment and a cloud portal that is customizable for the end application. The cloud platform is free to use for up to five devices and offers a very reasonable 50MB of storage (i.e. for sensor data) per device for free.
There is the capability to graphically create flows (like Node-RED) but the actual code is C/C++ (i.e. just like the Arduino IDE) and the user can drop into the code view at any time to edit it. What is particularly nice is that the user can see the local code view and the cloud application code view within the same IDE, in separate tabs. Sending data from local code to the cloud application is as easy as dragging a cloud connection object into the graphical view, and doing a similar thing in the cloud view to collect the data.
Atmosphere offers great capability for processing in the cloud in two ways; code can be directly written in Atmosphere and it will run in the cloud because it relies on Amazon Web Services (AWS) Lambda in the background; this is a way of instantly running code on-demand as soon as a device sends data into the cloud. The other way is to use the API that Atmosphere offers in order to process the data in your own location (cloud or otherwise).
The benefit of the Curie module is that it has horsepower for sensor processing locally and then any heavyweight processing or data logging can occur in a cloud. The Curie module contains a 32-bit processor (Intel Quark) and 384kbytes Flash memory and 80kbytes RAM.
TinyTILE initially seems a little pricey here in the UK (£31) but for that cost it is really good value for money because it includes what would typically require separate modules; if an application needs wireless capability, motion sensors and significant sensor processing capability on-board then it becomes highly attractive. An easy-to-use development environment that includes the cloud connection makes it even more interesting. I’m keen to try out Atmosphere with TinyTILE as soon as I can.
Check out the video discussion here about how to use Atmosphere (direct link to the video):
A very interesting product in the area of home automation was the Futurehome hub (direct link).
The hub has a Pi Compute module inside, and Zigbee and EnOcean compatibility which allows it to interwork with many third party devices.
The demo allowed for control from a browser running on a tablet. The third party mains socket had the capability for remote control and for monitoring power usage. The smaller-than-golf-ball sized passive infra red (PIR) sensor was manufactured by Fibaro.
In the video below the hub was used to control a lamp using the wall-mounted iPad (direct link):
BeagleBone Blue and Robotics
The new was launched at Embedded Word, and it is primarily designed for robotics. It consists of the BeagleBone system-on-module (SOM) from Octavo Systems as well as built-in wireless capability and a lots of support for robotics; this includes built-in DC motor driver outputs, rotary encoder inputs, servo control and on-board sensors to assist with navigation or motion sensing. It also can be powered directly from a rechargeable battery and includes charging support.
There was a small battery-powered, wheeled robot implementation with BeagleBone Blue at the show, and it looked really great for experimentation. A Logitech webcam provides vision for the robot. As can be seen, the entire electronics is packed onto the BeagleBone Blue with no additional boards attached. It is still in the usual Altoids tin form-factor as with the original BeagleBone Black.
The BeagleBone Blue is now the fourth BeagleBone Black iteration manufactured by Farnell (the others include the original BeagleBone Black, and the BeagleBone Black Industrial variant and the BeagleBone Black Wireless model).
The could be considered a beast. It has a quad core Intel Atom CPU, 16GB of Flash and 4GB RAM, memory bandwidth of more than 25GB/sec and appears to be a heavyweight for high performance processing especially for video. It features a PCI Express interface, USB 3.0 capability and high performance wireless (802.11ac) and Bluetooth. With this incredible spec, this is the board to use when you want to future-proof a design for several years.
I'm super-keen to experiment with this board too. Lots of exciting stuff at Embedded World..
The Matrix Creator ( and variants) is an interesting board that up-converts a Raspberry Pi into an Amazon Echo-type device. It overall costs more, but has the major advantage that you are in control of the code you decide to run on the Pi. The hardware consists of eight microphones (one more than the Echo as I understand), a Spartan 6 FPGA and an ARM Cortex-M3. The Pi is plugged underneath (not visible in the photo).
Different to the Echo, there are many integrated sensors including accelerometer, gyro and magnetometer, as well as Zigbee for peripheral interfacing , and NFC (near field communications) capability. The Matrix Creator has approximately triple the amount of LEDs around the edge compared to the Echo (it is also larger in diameter than the Echo).
For those unaware, the Echo provides Siri-like natural language assistance; you can talk to the Echo box and it responds (sometimes) intelligently, and it can be interfaced to systems for home automation as an example. It relies on the Amazon cloud for the majority of the processing.
For voice activated systems and natural language processing either locally or in the cloud, the Matrix Creator could be a good option but I’ve not seen it in action yet. It is likely to be far more usable than other options like Mycroft which appears to have just one or two microphones and could struggle when there are multiple sources of sound in a room.
IoT Boards and Kits
Already covered a few months ago (see the reviews here and here), the and the kits were on display too. The mangOH Green is a development kit for Sierra Wireless modules that combine 3G data connectivity and applications processing in a single module and there is a cloud platform for it too. The kit doesn’t come with the case but it fits a Hammond case shown here.
Wireless modules and other interfaces can be inserted in the three ports on the board. The metal can contains the Sierra Wireless module.
The Raspberry Pi 3 IoT Learner Kit is highly useful for taking a reasonably intensive online training course in IoT for free. I learned a lot from the course.
And in the evening I saw a little bit of Nuremberg and we managed to find the Irish pub in the evening.