Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Updates: Intel Joule, LoRa, Arduino and Protocase

Blog Break

It has been a while since I posted a blog entry.  I have been knee-deep in a challenging internal project and haven't had much time to come up for air.  Today, I've got a chance to reflect on some of the things that have been happening here at Gumstix and share my perspective with you.

First, there's the EOL announcement from Intel that blindsided the x86-focused IoT community:
 the Joule, Edison, and Curie modules are soon to be no more than a footnote in the history of embedded computing.

Also, Just recently, hardware support for LoRaWAN was added to the Geppetto module library and 3 LoRa boards were released.  I got to play with that quite a bit.  It also brought with it an ATmega32U4 Geppetto module, supplanting the Curie module as our primary Arduino-compatible MCU.

Finally, I've been talking a lot with Protocase.  These guys are cool.  They provide design and production services for custom small-run enclosures, rackmounts, brackets, and consolets. I'm very excited to see what they're making for me.

Intel EOL Announcements and Me

I'll admit it, I took the Intel Joule news harder than maybe I should have.  I spent a lot of time working with it and it's carrier boards.  I was looking forward to putting the GadgetDrone in the air with the AeroCore 2 for Joule, the Caspa HD and one of the RealSense point cloud cameras we have at the office.  I liked the idea of setting up my Workstation board in a 3D-printed enclosure as a Yocto build slave.  Oh and I still hope to test the Caspa 4K's "tone-mapping (Er, I mean HDR) Video" mode.

I was also sad to see the Curie go.  Working with our Radium 96Boards IE board is a lot of fun.  It had been a while since I'd worked at the MCU level.  Bare-wire programming on an 8051 and using a dual-Arduino Uno plus ZigBee robot controller were highlights of my academic career, but I haven't done anything of the sort since.  The Radium's nice and small, IE compliant and has all the cool features of the Curie, like Bluetooth, 6-axis IMU and Neuron pattern recognition nodes.

For whatever reason, Intel decided to terminate their IoT-targeted endeavors.  Maybe it was the slow - and sometimes negative - response from the community.  It's also possible that the challenges in providing software support for their hardware were more monolithic than anticipated.  Either way, the Joule, Curie and Edison are gone.

For all of you who jumped on board with Intel's IoT hardware just over a year ago, I empathize with your plight.


If you're into IoT, you may have heard of LoRa, LoRaWAN and the LoRa Alliance.  It's a communication protocol for sub-GHz long range LPWANs, and it's sweeping Europe and North America's IIoT industry.  It works like this:  

You set up a Gateway. This is the equivalent of a WiFi router in your home, but the difference is these things can have a range of up to 15 km, depending on the quality of your antenna.

You deploy nodes.  These are your data acquisition points - temperature, presence detection, air quality, etc.  Whatever you need to know.  Put them where they need to be and hook them up to a battery, solar panel or hamster wheel (No hamsters were harmed in the writing of this blog post).  The idea is that they require very little power to run and can last anywhere from a week to several months on a single charge, or indefinitely with solar.  These tend to have a range of 2-5 km.

You monitor the data and use it as you see fit.

Gumstix released a gateway/concentrator and a transciever module in Geppetto, as well as a gateway dev board for both the Overo and the Raspberry Pi Compute Modules (Overo Conduit and Gumstix Pi Conduit boards), and a weather station sensor board (Strata Node).  They're in the store and available in both North American and European frequency bands.

Once I had my Gumstix Overo Conduit gateway and an RHF0M301 gateway/concentrator module in hand, I was impressed with how quick and easy it was to set up on thethingsnetwork.org.  The Strata node I recieved was pre-release and hadn't had the bootloader flashed yet (they come pre-flashed now), so it took a little longer, but writing a sketch and setting up a project on TTN and cayenne.mydevices.com went super-smoothly.  It just so happens that I made a bit of a quick-start video:

Arduino Stuff

Arduino is a great thing.  For artists, makers, inventors, amateur developers, and teachers, it's a great way to avoid the challenges of bare-wire programming and get physical objects doing what you want them to do.  For professionals, it's a good prototyping tool, delivering your proof of concept to the project manager in hours or days instead of weeks (or worse).

Adding the ATmega32U4 to the Geppetto library means I'll get a lot more time to play with Arduino hardware, projects, board support, and the IDE.  It also means that there will likely be more Arduino boards coming to the store and hardware modules coming to the Geppetto library.

I'm also going to have to find a quick and easy way to set up my 'arduino_pins.h' file.

Discovering Protocase

If you've seen my previous posts, chances are you've seen my low-tech enclosures, mounting brackets and test environments.  My indoor quadcopter test flight had a paracord tether tied to the rafters so that I didn't give my co-workers a hair cut.  I like to think of it as ISRU (In Situ Resource Utilization).  However, in some cases, a solid, well-made case is more than just a good idea.  When I went shopping for enclosures for my Overo Conduit board so that I could deploy it outside, my boss pointed me to protocase.com.  I think he just wanted me to stop asking for a 3D printer for the office.

These guys are awesome.  They're working on something for me and I can't wait to show it off.  They have a huge variety of custom products: L-shape, U-shape 5-sided, milled aluminum, and more!  They'll build from your CAD drawings and have free templates to help get started.  They even have their own design software for you to use.  If all else fails, they will work with you and design a fully customized enclosure for your device.

If you've got a prototype, an invention or a first-run for a kickstarter campaign, Protocase might be for you.  Just check out their page and see for yourself.

To Summarize:

I've been busy.  From grinding away at that internal project to working on LoRa and Arduino board support to designing enclosures to recovering from the Intel IoT fallout, I've hardly had enough time to catch my breath.  Now that things are settling down a bit, I am looking forward to spending more time telling you all about the cool stuff I'm working on.