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Lower the entry bar to IOT Development as much as possible

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UPDATE (6.June.2016) : This project has been moved to a new project, to reflect the new state! I will only publish here major updates. For all details, please follow the new one: https://hackaday.io/project/12063-vesprino-esp8266-dongle


The goal of this project is to lower the bar to IOT Development as much as possible and allow a wider group of people to feel the joy of "physical" computing.

Currently I am missing a sub-10$ device, that i can plug to my computer and do some very simple things with Wifi. E.g. IFTTT-Button functionality. Changing colors of a RGB Led or measuring the temperature.

IMO such an integrated and affordable device would help many wanna-be IOT fans join the club. It could even help more children and students that feel intimidated by wires and soldering to start their journey in the world of programming.

The goal of this project is to lower the bar to IOT Development as much as possible and allow a wider group of people to feel the joy of "physical" computing.

Recently i've been asked in my company to deliver a training on IOT Development. I announced that I'll explain how people would learn how to join the IOT Stream using a simple 4$ device (for myself I meant, buying few NodeMCUs or Wemos.cc's, and letting the people connect some stuff ona breadboard). 200 out of 500 people enrolled. This surprised me quite a lot. Apparently everybody wants be part of IOT (whatever that means for any of them).

Yet, after doing some talks to align expectations - it turned out that a handful of those people know about Soldering, what is Voltage, etc.. So i needed a device / kit that would allow them to jump across this burden and start coding. Browsing the current offerings, I realized that there is a gap in the marker - and that is - having a Simple, Integrated and Cheap gadget that would let you do something very basic. E.g. play with a Button, have some Light, measure Temperature (my notion of Basic of course) and do that for <10$. It should not allow too much other stuff (As there are already better alternatives). But it should have good documentation, examples and be as open as possible - that is integrate with various existing cloud IOT services.

What we currently have is:

  • 4$ - NodeMCU, Wemos.CC - nice boards, that are cheap, yet require some additional knowledge in electronics to do some stuff more
  • 20+$ - The Wio Link from seedstudio, Riots Kickstarter, and some others. They are quite versatile yet at 20+$, i really see them as a next level gadget, for the ones that see they have interest in IOT
  • 50-100-200$ - E2E Integrated Systems, where everything is very simple and one could integrate a vast variety of sensors and devices, mostly w/o coding at all. I see this rather as devices for Consumers, that want to use the technology and not so much extend it.

So looking at a BOM for creating a simplistic device:

  • < 2$ - ESP8266
  • < 1$ - USB to UART CP210x (there are cheaper alternatives, but you need to install chinese drivers)
  • < 1$ - WS2812b Led, Caps, resistor,s usb ports, vreg
  • < 0.6$ - PCB (200 pieces min, may come less with scale)
  • < 0.3$ - SMT Stencil (60$ / 200, cheaper with scale)
  • < 1.5 $ - PCB Assembly

Which totals to <7.5$.

Of course there are some ongoing costs, for doing the research, multiple prototypes, etc - but this is why i rely on the scale, so that the price can be kept well below 10$.

  • Project completed!

    Vladimir Savchenko06/03/2016 at 12:46 0 comments

    I have decided to complete this project portal, as i opened a new one that is based on the final device

    https://hackaday.io/project/12063-vesprino

    I am happy that in fact i have overachieved (in my opinon only of course :)) ) my initial goal

    • The cost of the device is kept as low as possible
    • I managed to streamline the extension ports and now they are all on one side of the board, making it extemely bread-board friendly. And also having them as female headers on the edge of the box, makes it very simple to really extend the device with additional sensors

    I really would like to productize this device so i am going to start a crowdfunding campaign as it needs to scale so that production costs can be.

    For anybody interested i've created a subcription list, where i would send notifications once the campaign is started (hopefully)

  • Enclosure Designed & Printed

    Vladimir Savchenko05/31/2016 at 03:24 2 comments

    After a few trials i managed to create a nice box for the device. Something i really hate and kind of frustrates me is having some breadboard with jumper wires, then some usb cable for connection to the pc and everything tangling up on my desk.

    This small box prints for about 15 min on my Felix 3.0 Printer, has a built in button plane, hole for the micro usb port.

    And another hole on the opposite side for the pin header for additional connections. Maybe this will change as it turns out 90 degree female headers are quite hard to find and expensive, so another option is to make the hole on the top/ Which would make the box ~ cm smaller

    I also tried creating a video, but it is hard with the low dynamic range of my camera

    I even soldered a small batch, to use on my next training event coming up in a couple of weeks. Now i need to print some boxes and design some nice stickers for the top

  • 3rd Version arrived and Working!

    Vladimir Savchenko05/05/2016 at 17:24 0 comments

    I am very pleased that the 3rd revision of the boards has arrived. Upon soldering it it turned out that (almost) everything is fine. So there will be perhaps a 4th revision, but this depends on how the project will move forward.

    The next step is to create a basic enclosure and print it on my 3d printer.

    But so far it looks pretty sleek

  • Waiting for 3rd board version

    Vladimir Savchenko04/15/2016 at 19:54 0 comments

    Unfortunately it turned out that there were some unrecoverable problems with the 2nd revision of the board (and i had ordered 200 of them :( ). So now i fixed them and now i am waiting for the next 200 (ahahha). This time i switched to bigger components so that i can at least have a chance to solder them myself to get faster some result.

  • Boards have arrived

    Vladimir Savchenko03/23/2016 at 04:32 0 comments

    First batch of boards has arrived!

    As expected - there are few issues that would complicate the assembly a bit. But hopefully there will be no functional issues once they are assembled.

    Here is how big the device is really going to be:

    and a photo of the first revision of the board panels:

    I hope the assembly factory will manage to assemble them in a week and it will work :)

  • Ordered 2nd revision PCB

    Vladimir Savchenko03/14/2016 at 14:13 0 comments

    I was quite busy in the last weeks - preparing the first batch of devices for the event. While doing this it turned out that i had done some mistakes in the initial PCB design of the prototype, which made the soldering very error prone (also the fact that soldering by hand was required). This is why i designed a second revision of the PCB.

    The new design is much closer to what is on the picture of the project. The main difference is that there is only 1 button and the size is 40mm length x 25 mm width.

    On the other hand i did few changes to make it a bit more portable:

    • Added a Micro USB port on the side
    • Added 2 mounting holes
    • Added one port with 2 GPIO, GND and 3.3 V
    • Added second port with 2 GPIO, GND and 5 V
    • Added a pad to the WS 2812B led, so that if desired - more LEDs can be attached

    The goal of those modifications is to allow the board to be a bit more reusable and embeddable into devices that do slightly more. E.g. I2C, Serial communication, LED Gauge indication, etc.

    I am not entirely sure that there isn't again some small mistake in this design as it will cost ~$ 150 to fix it :) But in any case i ordered 200 boards.

  • First Version Tested

    Vladimir Savchenko03/14/2016 at 13:59 0 comments

    I had a chance to test the viability of the project on a recent event. For this i produced 20 devices. Since i used an existing main board - they were a bit bigger than expected, but anyways it was nice to evaluate it. This is how the devices look like. There is a button and an RGB LED. The simple scenario I used was to let the participants connect the device to a HANA Clout Platform IOT Service and make use of the Button to trigger events, the LED to be controlled via a Web Application, and report the temperature online.

    It is all configured by connecting the device via USB to a computer and then using a Chrome Application to setup all necessary stuff.

    Next step for me is to build more examples also using other platforms like Thingspeak, Beebotte, Ubidots, etc.


  • Update on target price

    Vladimir Savchenko02/15/2016 at 07:41 0 comments

    After getting some specific quotes for PCB Fabrication and assembly, it turned out that the target price can be decreased even more.

    PCB price will be something like 0.3-0.15$ (200 - 1000 units).

    So if we take 500 units, than the pcb fabrication and stencil should be ~0.25$. Instead of the ~1$ that i initially planned.

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Vladimir Savchenko wrote 02/15/2016 at 04:18 point

Initially i thought they come without serial port and this is why i did not consider them. Now i see that in fact they have one, which is pretty cool!

What i do not like about them is that for them you need to install the Chinese USB drivers (not a problem for me, but some people could fear this). They are also a big bigger and techier than i considered and do not have temperature probe, which i think could be cool. And would like to try the approach with direct connection into a USB Port, and not having a cable.

On the other hand, they are really cheap! I doubt somebody not living in china and owning a PCB assembly factory could match this price :))) I think for quite a few people, to whom the above concerns are not an issue, this would be a perfect match. But i hope that there will be also others that would support my version of this, albeit it would cost more :))

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