Hype or reality, market researchers are exceedingly bullish about the Internet of Things (IoT). Research and Markets forecast earlier this year that the IoT market will grow from $170.57 billion in 2017 to $561.04 billion by 2022, at a blistering CAGR of 26.9%.
So, if you are not already designing an IoT product, chances are you will be designing one soon. To make it easier for you to start the process, we surveyed a number of boards and selected 5 that are particularly worth your attention. Whether you are designing a powerful multi-sensor based device or looking for a quick start to simpler designs, you will find a board here that fits your needs.
If you prefer FPGAs…
FPGAs are good at time-critical signal processing because their dedicated hardware and memory ensure timing. However, the learning curve in programming them and a cost higher than that of MCUs are trade-offs you will need to consider.
But it doesn’t get any cheaper than Arrow’s MAX1000 board, which is based on the MAX10 Intel FPGA. If you are new to FPGA-based products, it’s a good board to start out with. The FPGA integrates ADC, 2-16k logic elements (LEs), internal Flash, PLL and memory interface. The chip also embeds a 32-bit MCU soft core, the Nios II. An Arrow USB Blaster provides plug-and-play connectivity and the open-standard PMOD connector gives you flexibility for peripherals. You can get the Arduino MKR standard 25x61.5mm2 board for just $29. Click here to download the datasheet.
Figure 1: The MAX1000 block diagram shows what you get in possibly the cheapest FPGA dev board out there. Image source: Arrow Electronics.
While the MAX1000 board offers a 3-axis accelerometer, you may want more sensors and interfaces, such as Ethernet and HDMI. Arrow Electronics’ DECA development kit fits the bill for the additional requirements.
To MAX1000’s accelerometer, the DECA kit adds sensors like those for gesture, proximity and ambient light, and humidity and temperature, and a power monitor. You also get DDR3 memory, the aforementioned 10/100 Ethernet and HDMI, USB2.0 OTG, SDHC, MIPI CSI-2, CapSense mechanical button replacement, and audio codec (Line in/Line out). The kit allows you to add wireless connectivity with compatible BLE/WiFi Beaglebone capes.
You pay $65 for that kind of functionality.
Figure 2: The DECA kit is a step up from the MAX1000 board and is based on the same Intel MAX10 FPGA. Image source: Arrow Electronics.
If smartwatches are what makes you tick, then here a couple of options you should consider.
The first is the eZ430-Chronos, a development system-in-a-watch. Based on the TI CC430F6137 <1 GHz RF SoC, it’s best suited to those who can use SimpliciTI and BM Innovations’ BlueRobin RF protocols to their advantage.
You get an on-board 3-axis accelerometer, pressure sensor, temperature sensor, battery voltage sensor and a 96-segment LCD driven by the CC430. A USB emulator connects the Chronos to a PC for in-system programming and debugging.
The Chronos is available with options for the 868 and 915 MHz bands; a previously available 433 MHz version has been discontinued. If you want to add Bluetooth, you can pair this with a suitable transceiver like TI’s SimpleLink CC2500 2.4 GHz RF chip but you may prefer the next solution for that.
For $59.38, an eZ430-Chronos-868 kit includes the IAR Kickstart and Code Composer Studio IDEs that offer an assembler, linker, simulator, source-level debugger and code limited C-compiler.
Figure 3: The kit includes the eZ430-Chronos wireless watch with a USB interface and the CC1111 USB RF access point as well as a mini Phillips screwdriver and 2 spare screws. Image source: TI eZ430-Chronos datasheet.
The second option not only gives you a whole lot more than a smartwatch development kit but opens up a wide ecosystem of expansion modules. The Mikroe-2026 from European company, MikroElectronika, is based on NXP Semiconductors’ Kinetis MCUs. The 2026 is the “smartwatch” part of the Hexiwear solution that provides versatile hardware, smartphone apps as well as cloud connectivity. The form factor is such that, without the straps, it easily passes for another IoT device, say a wall-mount intelligent environment sensor hub.
Kinetis K64x is the main MCU (ARM Cortex-M4, 120 MHz, 1MB Flash, 256K SRAM) with the Kinetis KW4x as the companion wireless MCU (Cortex-M0+, radio for BLE and IEEE 802.15.4 – the standard for low-rate WPAN). Its on-board sensor complement includes a 6-axis combo accelerometer and magnetometer, a 3-axis gyro, an absolute pressure sensor, an optical heart-rate sensor, an ambient-light sensor, and a humidity and temperature sensor. Plus, it has a 1.1” color OLED display, a haptic feedback engine and a capacitive touch interface.
If you add a Docking Station to your $49.68 purchase, you can connect up to 3 “click boards” to add various sensors, actuators and transceivers. The software environment is open-source: the Kinetis Design Studio source files, hardware layouts and schematics are freely available.
Figure 4: The Mikroe-2026 is part of the Hexiwear ecosystem comprising hundreds of “click boards” and comes with a Li-Ion/Li-Po battery charger and a 190 mAh 2C Li-Po battery. Image source: MikroElectronika.
The last board on this list is part of a hardware and software platform for smart sensing and IoT applications. Central to the Renesas Synergy platform is the software package that consists of a preemptive ThreadX RTOS, middleware, communications stacks and application frameworks. You can access all of those and the MCU functions through an API. That’s how, Renesas claims, you can shorten the time taken in the traditional process for driver development, middleware design, integration with RTOS and cloud connection.
The board, ARIS EDGE, is based on the company’s Synergy S1 MCU with a 32-MHz ARM Cortex-M0+ core. You also get a Silicon Labs multi-protocol radio module that supports BLE 4.1/4.2, Thread and ZigBee stacks. Its sensor portfolio includes a humidity and temperature sensor from Silicon Labs, a light-to-digital converter (for ambient light) from AMS and a 9-degrees-of-freedom inertial measurement unit (IMU) with sensor fusion capabilities from Bosch.
You pay more for the platform-based approach and the potential savings in design effort and time – the board costs $74.98 apiece. Download the hardware user guide here.
Figure 5: The ARIS EDGE board was developed by RELOC for Arrow Electronics. It gives you a further option to add the Bosch BME280 pressure, humidity and temperature sensor. Image source: Arrow Electronics.
All boards discussed here as well as other orders $20 or more qualify for free one-day shipping from Arrow. And, if you need further help choosing a board, visit Arrow.com.
Vivek Nanda has been a technical editor and content manager for over 20 years at B2B magazines in the electronics industry. He enjoys creating contextual content, crafting content strategy and working with online product development teams.
— Vivek Nanda has been a technical editor and content manager for over 20 years at B2B magazines in the electronics industry. He enjoys creating contextual content, crafting content strategy and working with online product development teams.