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Tiny Low Cost BLE

A tiny low cost Bluetooth Low Energy board for miniature and wearable projects.

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A Tiny Reasonably Low Cost Bluetooth Low Energy Board For Miniature And Wearable Projects.

The aim of this project was to create a low cost Bluetooth low energy (BLE) module to support my MiniWear (miniature and wearable) project, and allow me to easily create other great BLE projects.

The main design criteria was:

  1. Low cost (Comparable or cheaper than what is on the market)
  2. Small i.e. Wearable size
  3. Easy to use (i.e. Quick and easy to prototype with like Arduino code)

This project has now been upgraded to use the DA14580 Murata LBCA2HNZYZ module and Simblee (RFD77101 ) module, but still includes the previous RFduino (RFD22301 ) that was developed for the original Tiny Low Cost BLE project.

Tiny Low Cost BLE Module Comparison Table

Tiny Low Cost BLE Version Unit Cost For 1 & 1000 Main IC Size Easy to use (1 Easy -10 Hard)
V1 - RFduino £14.49 / £11.57 15mm X 15mm 1 - Arduino Programming
V2 - Simblee £15.43 / £9.46 7mm X 10mm 1 - Arduino Programming
V3 - DA14580 (Murata LBCA2HNZYZ)
£4.63 / £3.56 7.4mm X 7mm 7 - C++

The prices are based on the lowest price found on octopart.com

My original Tiny Low Cost BLE project used the RFduino RFD22301 module, which i came across when i was first started looking into easy to use Arduino based BLE chips. The original Rfduino breakout board wasn't small enough for what i needed, and the breakout board cost almost $30/£20. So i redesigned it using the RFD22301 module and broke out a few pins (Shown in the image below). In the end it cost about $18/£12 for the parts (when making 1), plus i added a few extras to make it easier to use.

I then wanted to upgrade my Tiny Low Cost BLE project, and so created the MiniWear Simblee BLE module (which you can see below). It has the same pinouts as the RFduino above, but just uses the better Simblee Chip.

The MiniWear Rfduino board is possibly the smallest RFduino board around, and the MiniWear Simblee is one of the first breakout boards to use the Simblee chip, both measure less than 2cm X 2cm, and i achieved this by only breaking out essential pins. There are 18 pins in total, but 6 of them are duplicates (to make it easier to connect other modules). The duplicated 6 pins are the 2 required for I2C, 1 Ground, 1 Power, 1 extra general purpose pin that i have labelled LPW in case of extra Low PoWer modes (but it can be used for anything). I also added a BAT pin, which batteries are attached to so that i can add multiple batteries, regulate their power centrally, switch them all on/off, and recharge them all at the same time. It also opens up the possibility for alternative power modules in the future. The remaining 6 pins are for programming the RFD22301 and Simblee via a FTDI programmer which is commonly used with Arduino's.

The RFD22301 and Simblee module are compatible with the Arduino IDE and programming language (but you do need to download some extra files). They also have a built in temperature sensor, and i added a 3.3V regulator so that they can be powered with up to a 5.5V max. I also added a red LED for easy notifications and to test that projects are working.

If you don't want to use I2C for communication, the pins can be reconfigured for GPIO i.e. digital or analogue use (ADC, PWM). The LPW pin is also GPIO which gives you extra options for projects.

Connects to many devices.

One of favourite features of BLE is that it can connect to many devices, such as your phone, tablet, laptop and computer. The RFD22301 and Simblee have the extra benefit that they can also connect to another RFD22301,or Simblee, and they can also be set up as a ibeacon (if your not sure what an ibeacon is checkout this video: (Explanation video can be found here)

Not every device is BLE compatible so it is good to check. A list of compatable BLE devices can be found here: http://www.bluetooth.com/Pages/Bluetooth-Smart-Devices-List.aspx. Generally most phones nowadays are supported, but you should be careful with older phones.

MiniWear RFDuino Specs Overview...

Read more »

  • 1 × RFD22301 RFduino
  • 1 × TPS73033DBVT Power Management ICs / Linear Voltage Regulators and LDOs
  • 1 × MC0402B104K160CT Capacitor
  • 2 × MC0402B103J160CT Capacitor
  • 1 × C1005X5R0J225K050BC Capacitors / Ceramic

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  • NRF51 Tiny Low Cost BLE V4

    JamesCannan06/14/2017 at 19:16 2 comments

    After many months, i have finally come across an option i really like. Each of the previous Tiny Low Cost BLE versions had their associated drawbacks. However, V4 meets all of my previously set criteria: Its Low cost, Small, and Easy to use.


    Board 3d Render

    Introducing the new Tiny Low Cost BLE V4 using the NRF51 chip from Nordic. It is a very popular chip, with a lot of community support, and great documentation. There are plenty of circuit reference designs in the datasheet, and many online too.

    Here are the keys specs for the NRF51

    • 32-bit ARM® Cortex™ M0 32-bit CPU
    • Wide supply voltage range (1.8v to 3.6V) with On-chip DC/DC converter
    • 31 GPIO (Up to 4 PWM)
    • 8/9/10 bit ADC - 8 configurable channels
    • 256/128KB embedded flash
    • 32KB/16KB RAM
    • 3 x 16/24-bit timers with counter mode
    • 16 channel CPU independent Programmable Peripheral Interconnect (PPI)
    • 2 Mbps, 1 Mbps and 250kbs supported data rates
    • Encryption -128-bit AES ECB/CCM/AAR co-processor
    • Temperature sensor
    • Low power comparator

    It is very low power:

    • 600nA @ 3V OFF mode
    • 2.6µA @ 3V ON mode, all blocks in idle mode

    When transmitting/Receiving it is also low power:

    • 6.3mA - TX at -4dBm (3V using on-chip DC-DC)
    • 8.0mA - TX at 0dBm (3V using on-chip DC-DC)
    • 11.8mA – TX at +4dBm (3V using on-chip DC-DC)
    • 9.7mA – RX (3V using on-chip DC-DC)
    • 13mA – RX at 1Mbps (No DC-DC)
    • 10.5mA – TX at 0dBm (No DC-DC)
    • 2.6µA - SYSTEM-ON, All peripherals in idle mode

    There is also the NRF52, which is even better, but the NRF51 is currently cheaper, hence the reason i like and use the NRF51.

    Version 1 of the Tiny Low Cost BLE was using the RFduino, and inside the RFduino is a NRF51. I really liked the RFduino but it was a little expensive, and at the time the arduino bootloader was not open source, so developing a new board with the NRF51 makes sense. RedBear offer a open source arduino bootloader which i haven't tried yet, and there also seem to be one or two other bootloaders around, so that makes the NRF51 easy to program. However, i like to use mbed for easy programming. It is just as easy as Arduino coding, but gives you access to a lot more powerful processors. mbed also have a reasonable support team and user base that are happy to help. The one thing i really don't like is that it is a web based application, therefore no more quick and easy coding while on the road or train :( although if its online then maybe you can use you phone's browser, but that wouldn't be easy. Actually i also don't like the lack of debugging tools, but that's the same as with the arduino, and i can live with printf.

    At the moment i like to use the Keil IDE (there is a free version that allows you to program code up to 32k), however this is for the more advanced user, who wants complete control. However, as i have been coding the NRF51 directly, and haven't really been using it as an arduino, i haven't broken out the UART pins needed to program an arduino sketch. If i get more than 10 requests for an arduino version, then i will create a special version with the UART pins broken out.

    There are also loads of cheap NRF51 development boards around. Aliexpress has some of the cheapest, or ebay is another good option.

    It is also worth noting, that unlike the previous Tiny Low Cost BLE versions, this NRF51 version is not precertified. Meaning that if you want to sell your project, that you will need to get it certified before you can legally sell it. However, you can find certified modules on Aliexpress and ebay.

    I will upload the Eagle files to github once i have tested out the board to make sure it works. For the moment, here are images of the schematic and board layout.

    Board Schematics

  • DA14580 ( Murata LBCA2HNZYZ) Tiny Low Cost BLE V3

    JamesCannan09/28/2016 at 22:13 0 comments

    Hello,

    So after a few months of playing around with the RFduino and Simblee, i decided to try and make a DA14580 board. At first i considered doing it all from scratch, but realised that it would be a lot easier to use a pre-certified module, so i ended up designing a board with the Murata LBCA2HNZYZ which is a tiny 7.4mm by 7mm module with built in antenna.

    This board was actually made in KiCad, basically because i thought KiCad would be a nice improvement over Eagle, plus it would be s good opportunity to expand my skills. I do like KiCad and it has a lot of good features... but i still find myself going back to Eagle, and Eagle is very slowly getting better.

    The KiCad PCB files can be found on Github: https://github.com/Cannonball2134/MiniWear/tree/master/BLE Microcontrollers

    I was very impressed with the module and actually started developing another project with it. However, i felt it was missing something.... it wasn't super easy to understand the programming. I still wanted the module to be cheap which it was at roughly $6 for 1 (AVNET) but i still wanted something as easy to use as the Arduino programming language for prototyping.... so i have come up with an idea for Tiny Low Cost BLE V4 but this is still far away from being finished.

    Here are the key DA14580 specs from the Dialog website:

    • 32-bit ARM Cortex M0 microcontroller
    • Radio current consumption: 4.9 mA RX / TX at 3 V at 0 dBm output power
    • Under 600 nA sleep mode
    • -93 dBm Rx sensitivity
    • 0.9 – 3.6 V operating range
    • Single-pin antenna interface
    • Up to 32 GPIOs
    • Supporting software upgrades Over-The-Air (OTA)
    Benefits
    • World leading low power consumption
    • Smallest form factor
    • Lowest system BoM
    • Runs from coin cell, single or dual cell (alkaline or NiMH)
    • Best-in-class RF link budget

    I made this board quite a few months ago, so if you try it, let me know if everything works ok.

    I do remember it being a little annoying to solder, not as bad as BGA's but still annoying, so good luck :)


  • DA14580 Tiny Low Cost BLE V3

    JamesCannan03/08/2016 at 02:06 0 comments

    Hello everyone,

    I am in the process of creating V3 of my Tiny Low Cost BLE project. The previous designs have been easy to use, small, but are not low cost enough. Version 3 will hopefully be using the DA14580 chip, it will be even smaller than the Simblee, even more low power friendly, and be at least half the price. The only sacrifice is going to be easy of use, as this will not be Arduino compatible.... unless someone wants to join the project and take over the coding side of things?

    This version is going to take some time, probably a few months depending on my available time, but please feel free to ask for updates to help motivate me to get a move on :)

  • Simblee Design Files

    JamesCannan01/15/2016 at 22:02 0 comments

    As promised, here are the Eagle Design files for new Simblee Board: GITHUB

  • Simblee Arrived

    JamesCannan01/15/2016 at 20:58 0 comments

    My Simblee arrived along with my MiniWear Simblee PCB.

    The PCB labels need a bit of work, but other than that once i managed to hot plate solder everything, it worked!

    Here is my first test of the Simblee using the Blink sketch:

    I will upload the the eagle design files shortly.

  • Simblee Update

    JamesCannan12/22/2015 at 11:55 0 comments

    The RFD22301 is a great BLE Arduino microcontroller, but to make this project even better i would like to make it smaller, cheaper, lower power. Making it cheaper would be easy if i didn't want it to be Arduino compatible, so for the moment i would just like to make it smaller and lower power. This is why i have decided to make a new board with the Simblee BLE micrcontroller, which is actually made by the same company that makes the Rfduino. It is only 7mm by 10mm (compared to the 15.24mm by 15.24 mm of the RFD22301 ), and uses as low as 8mA for TX and 10mA for RX (compared to 12mA for RX and 12mA for TX )

    I will initially be putting the Simblee onto a MiniWear compatible board, so the acutally PCB size won't change very much. But in theory it could be a lot smaller.

    If you are interested, here are some Simblee specs copied from their website:

    • Bluetooth® Smart
    • Simblee interference immunity
    • 3ms latency
    • 10us accuracy (jitter)
    • Physical range adjustable from a few inches to hundreds of feet
    • Build iPhone and Android apps without Xcode or the Android SDK
    • FCC, IC, CE, TELEC compliance approved
    • Built in AES encryption engine
    • 7mm x 10mm x 2.2mm
    • 29 GPIOs (flexible pin configuration)
    • <3uA ULP with clock running (run for years on a coin cell)
    • 600nA ULP Sleep mode
    • 8mA TX @ 0dBm
    • 12mA TX @ +4dBm
    • 10mA RX
    • -93dBm receiver sensitivity
    • -55dBm to +4dBm TX power
    • ARM Cortex M0 processor
    • Flash code space available for user application (no need for external controller)
    • 6x ADC inputs, 4x PWM outputs, 2x SPI master/slave, 2x I2C, 1 x UART
    • Temperature sensor
    • Battery/Supply voltage monitoring
    • Onchip UART bootloader
    • OTA programming with hardware OTA disable
    • Integrated 16 MHz crystal and 32KHz precision crystal
    • Integrated antenna
    • Integrated shield

  • RFduino V5 Design Files Uploaded

    JamesCannan11/26/2015 at 16:01 0 comments

    I have now uploaded the Eagle and gerber files for V5 of the RFduino based Tiny Low Cost BLE board: https://github.com/Cannonball2134/MiniWear/tree/master/BLE Microcontrollers/RFduinoBLE

  • How to connect modules together

    JamesCannan11/22/2015 at 14:02 0 comments

    To give you a better understanding of how to connect this module to other boards, and how easy it can be. Here is a little video:

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Discussions

Machinehum (Ryan Walker) wrote 07/03/2017 at 18:01 point

Awesome project!

  Are you sure? yes | no

Emre Dur wrote 09/27/2016 at 16:09 point

Are you still designing DA14580 board? I hope you will finish it. DA14580 is already quite good. A good board design would be amazing. Thanks^^.

  Are you sure? yes | no

JamesCannan wrote 09/28/2016 at 11:52 point

I did make a DA14580 board but used the Murata LBCA2HNZYZ pre-certified module that uses the DA14580. It was tested and it did work, so i am happy to share those files if you want them? However i only have the KiCad files as i was attempting to learn KiCad while i developed the board. 

  Are you sure? yes | no

Emre Dur wrote 09/28/2016 at 18:18 point

You would make me so happy if you share the files, but i have not used KiCad before. I wanted to learn it. So there is another reason to start learning KiCad :)

  Are you sure? yes | no

JamesCannan wrote 09/28/2016 at 18:52 point

I have uploaded the files to github: https://github.com/Cannonball2134/MiniWear/tree/master/BLE Microcontrollers 

To program it i used the DA14580 development kit. 

  Are you sure? yes | no

Rishabh Berlia wrote 04/28/2016 at 13:03 point

I made the MiniWear Simblee Board. I am pretty sure the soldering is all fine. But I am not able to program the device. I am using a FTDI Basic 3.3V Programmer.  All I get is Timeout Error.

I have used the Lilypad Simblee before and have the required files for arduino. Your help would be really appreciated. 

  Are you sure? yes | no

JamesCannan wrote 04/28/2016 at 13:28 point

Did you change the PCB in any way? Or did not populate all the pieces? 

  Are you sure? yes | no

rberlia wrote 07/21/2016 at 21:44 point

I do not believe I did that. Soldering Simblee was tricky though. You think that was an issue.

  Are you sure? yes | no

rberlia wrote 07/21/2016 at 21:46 point

FDTI Basic 3.3V or 5V which are you using?

  Are you sure? yes | no

JamesCannan wrote 07/21/2016 at 22:16 point

i was using a 3.3v ftdi. Smd microcontrollers with small pads can be a pain. I have had to remove and resolder the simblee a few times before i got something working. Im assuming you used a stencil to apply solder paste and a reflow oven/hot plate for soldering? 

  Are you sure? yes | no

rberlia wrote 07/28/2016 at 04:40 point

I got it assembled but still the pcb is heating up. I think there is a short somewhere as the battery drains very quick. 

Can you send me your email?

I can send you the files I probably modified it a bit, please help! 

  Are you sure? yes | no

JamesCannan wrote 07/28/2016 at 10:21 point

I had the same issue with a few of the Simblees. The Simblee and FTDI board was really heating up. I couldn't find the issue, and even had someone else check the design. It was only when i replaced the Simblee chip that it seemed to resolve itself. I have sent you a PM if you want to send me more details.

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Blecky wrote 12/07/2015 at 02:38 point

[verified: no design files missing]

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alpha_ninja wrote 12/02/2015 at 00:42 point

This is your one-week reminder to upload design documents: https://hackaday.io/project/7813-the-square-inch-project/log/28566-design-deadline

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JamesCannan wrote 11/23/2015 at 00:14 point

Are the Chinese bluetooth modules Arduino compatible? I had to way up between low cost, easy to use and size, so ended up with the RFD22301 for the moment. 

If you have a link it might be useful for others to have a look at and compare.

  Are you sure? yes | no

K.C. Lee wrote 11/23/2015 at 00:54 point

$1.l9: HC-05 Wireless Bluetooth RF Transceiver Module serial RS232

http://www.aliexpress.com/item/HC-05-Wireless-Bluetooth-RF-Transceiver-Module-serial-RS232/32528110128.html?spm=2114.01020208.3.20.mgVsZc&ws_ab_test=searchweb201556_7_79_78_77_80,searchweb201644_5,searchweb201560_9

$2.72 bare module

http://www.aliexpress.com/item/30ft-Wireless-Bluetooth-RF-Transceiver-Module-serial-RS232-TTL-HC-05-for-arduino/32340929850.html

Note that I didn't argue about point 2 & 3...

One can mount Atmega chip on the back side of a breakout board to make something 100% Arduino hardware and firmware compatible.

  Are you sure? yes | no

JamesCannan wrote 11/23/2015 at 19:53 point

Thanks for sharing. There is not a lot of information on those links, but the modules do look massive so are not really suitable for miniature and wearable applications. They are also not bluetooth low energy. However you can't beat those prices :)

  Are you sure? yes | no

JamesCannan wrote 11/26/2015 at 14:44 point

Those first two BLE modules are pretty cheap, and if you combine them with a simple Atmega328 you could make quite a low cost BLE arduino board... but as you said: they are not small, and documentation is poor.

  Are you sure? yes | no

K.C. Lee wrote 11/22/2015 at 20:04 point

>Low cost (Comparable or cheaper than what is on the market)

Not sure if you can compare with any of the Chinese Bluetooth modules that starts from $4.

  Are you sure? yes | no

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