u-blox produced ESP32 has FCC approvals

Update 15th May 2018 — Between writing the first draft of this article and pushing the big red “Publish” button, the prices for all of the items mentioned here have already changed (downwards), so please refer to the u-blox AG online site for the latest, up-to-date pricing for your area.

u-blox AG, the Swiss company famous in hobby circles mainly for their excellent (and cheap) little GPS modules, have started selling two new standalone WiFi modules, the NINA-W101 (external antenna connector) and the NINA-W102 (module mounted antenna).  u-blox AG's NINA-102 moduleThe W101 is priced at $US 8.75 and the W102 is $US 9.48, direct from u-blox in bulk (250, or more).  While that price is fairly competitive for an ESP32 module (assuming that the one-off price isn’t too far out of that particular ballpark), the cost of the development board is a bit excessive, at US$ 99 (again, available directly from u-blox AG’s on-line shop).

The antenna on the W102 model (shown above) is neither the older SMD-chip type nor the PCB trace type.  It seems to be a custom made planar inverted-F antenna (PIFA), distinct from the existing ESP modules in that it stands over 1mm higher than the RF shield on the module.  u-blox AG provide suggested sizing for orientation and ground-plane sizing in their datasheet.

The NINA-W10 series data-sheet makes interesting reading and, although the u-blox document doesn’t come right out and say “this is an ESP32”, it doesn’t keep it a secret, either (on a couple of the pages there’s a footnote reference saying “See the Espressif ESP32 Datasheet for…).

Although neither of these modules is particularly hobbyist friendly (ref the solder-side of the W102 module in the photo, above), many IOT designers will be excited to see that they are FCC approved for the U.S. (and RED/FCC-equivalent for many other countries, too) and that u-blox AG offer support for integrating the modules into an end product as a “grantee” (if you understand the FCC process that last part will hopefully make sense to you).

In the same “Short Range, WiFi” product category are the closely related NINA-W131 and W132 products which appear to be almost identical, except that Bluetooth isn’t available.  Details on these two modules are a little sparser than the W101/102 variants.

 

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ESP8266 GPS NTP Server in the making

Chris Liebman is my kind of maker.  His projects are interesting, practical and almost always have the words “work in progress” somewhere in the (usually brief) description.  I was led to the NTP-server project when following up on his (ESP8266-based) AnalogClock creation (a method of keeping el-cheapo analog clocks in perfect time, even across power outages and daylight-savings time changes, using an ESP8266 and NTP).

The NTP-server is another “work in progress” project, with very little information, Breadboard prototype NTP serverother than the code, available.  It does hit a couple of sweet spots for me, though:-  NTP from a GPS PPS (pulse-per-second) signal and being ESP based (although the breadboard picture shows an ESP32, rather than ESP8266).

Chris is using an Adafruit “Ultimate GPS Breakout” board to provide the PPS signal, as well as serial time and date information to the ESP (the GPS communicates with the ESP via the standard serial pins, while debug-terminal output goes to Serial1).

I have to admit that I haven’t managed to get Chris’ code to compile successfully, yet (you’ll need to download some of Chris’ modified versions of several required libraries to get even close), but this certainly looks like one to keep an eye on (and I’m wondering if a lead soldered to the ‘status’ LED on one of those cheap, USB, GPS dongles would work reliably as a PPS signal source in this case).

 

 

Adding an Ethernet Port to your ESP32

Frank Sautter has an interesting post on his blog on adding a physical ethernet connector to an ESP32 development board.  The board he chose was the Waveshare LAN8720 and, apart from Frank Sautter's LAN8720 Adapter Boardone gotcha with GPIO0 during resets, it appears to be a fairly simple build.  The LAN8720 already has (some!) support from Espressif, so this seems like a nice, easy and relatively cheap way to build yourself a WiFi-to-Ethernet gateway.

Frank has detailed the connections for his adapter board and included a nice bottom view (left), so that it should be fairly easy to duplicate his build.  The LAN8720 boards themselves are currently available on eBay for about $3 each.


If, on the other hand, you’re looking for information on how to add an ethernet port to your ESP8266, check out this more recent article…

Olimex ESP32 Development Board

Just in case you haven’t seen it elsewhere already, the good news for ESP aficionados today is that Olimex have announced an ESP32-based (WROOM-32) development board with a couple of novel features.

Olimex ESP32 Dev Board

The most obvious is that prominent ethernet connector.  According to the specs it’s a “fast” ethernet port, so 10/100Mbs.  The two relays are rated at 10A/250V and it’s worth noting that, from the photograph of the bottom of the board, both the N/O (normally open) and N/C (normally closed) contacts are broken out to the screw terminals.

Olimex ESP32 Dev Board (bottom)

What makes that more useful than N/O only?  Well with two relays, you now have complete control over a switched device and the existing wall switch still works as normal if your ESP32 board is powered off:-

  • The N/C relay is in series with the existing wall switch and the N/O relay is in parallel.
  • If the light is switched on at the wall switch, you can switch it off remotely by activating the N/C relay to open the series contacts.
  • If the light is off at the wall switch, you can activate the N/O relay to close the parallel contacts, switching the light on.
  • Fail-safe operation. If the power to the ESP32 board fails, your wall switch still works as normal.
  • If the light isn’t being controlled by the ESP32 board, the relays are both off, so the relays don’t draw current and your wall switch, as above, still works normally.

This isn’t by any means novel, but a lot of the low-cost ESP relay control boards out there only have a single, normally-open relay contact pair available.

Moving on from the relays, there is also a micro-SD card slot available for on-board storage, two buttons, a decently sized barrel connector for an external +5V supply and a connector for a LiPo battery, with an on-board charger and step-up converter to enable battery powered operation.

There’s a 40-pin connector, which apparently gives access to all of the available GPIO pins (the pin map for the connector is silk-screened onto the bottom of the board) and, finally, a “UEXT” connector (the ten pin socket, next to the 40-pin connector).  If you’re not familiar with the UEXT connector (and I certainly wasn’t), it turns out that it’s something which Olimex developed, are already using on many of their boards and have made available to the community as an Open-Source (as in royalty-free) standard.  It consists of 3V3 and GND power pins, TX and RX serial pins, SDA and SCL I2C pins and MISO, MOSI, SCK and SSEL SPI pins.  Now before you get too excited and start pulling all of those 30-year-old floppy disk cables out of your junk box, you should note that there’s no special magic used here; the I2C and SPI busses are still basically short-haul, on-board interconnects and you won’t be connecting remote devices over miles of (ancient) ribbon cable.  On the other hand, it is quite a neat idea to be able to plug (for instance) an LCD display directly onto the board.  You can check Olimex’s UEXT documentation for a (surprisingly long) list of their boards which already have this connector built in.

Unfortunately, although they’ve announced the price, at €22, the board isn’t actually available for sale quite yet.  According to the Olimex blog, the prototypes are in and as soon as they’ve been tested and some example code has been written, it’ll be going into full production.

Thanks to CNXSoft for breaking the news on this one.

ESP32 Dev Boards @ CNX Software

CNX Software, a site definitely worth adding to your bookmarks, has just published a short list of ESP32 development boards, gleaned mainly from blogs and social media sites.  Some of them are work-in-progress and some of them appear to be vapourware, but it’s still an interesting article and a nice little teaser for those of us still searching for someone to throw a few dollars at for a real, live ESP32.

ESP32 Info

If you haven’t seen it already, I’d recommend you pop over to Hackaday and read through their latest “Hands On” article on the ESP32 …including the comments.  Both “igrr” (Ivan Grokhotkov, of ESP8266/Arduino fame) and “Sprite_tm” (Jeroen Domburg, of libesphttpd fame), who both actually work for Espressif nowadays, have joined in the conversation to answer the questions which the HaD crowd have and straighten out any misconceptions.  It’s turning into one of the longest, most interesting and on-topic threads that we’ve seen for quite a while.

The floodgates open …and then close again, rather quickly

Hot on the heels of the development board “presents” from Espressif, one of our other noted suppliers, Seeed Studio, has started selling their ESP3212 (“Wifi Bluetooth Combo Module”), which bears only the slightest similarity to the

ESP32 Module
via Seeed Studio

WROOM-32 picture which was aired a couple of weeks ago (it’s a castellated module with an ESP32 and Flash on-board, other than that, even the pin counts are different).  The Seeed module has the AI-Thinker logo on the RF shield, so it looks as though this is the real-world module which should be readily available from your favourite Middle Kingdom sellers any time now.

Which is just as well.  Seeed Studio sold out of their initial inventory somewhat quicker than instantly and the next batch aren’t expected to arrive until October.  Having said that, it’s definitely worthwhile taking a look at their page to see the specs laid out in a nice, uncluttered and understandable way.

ESP32 Module, Top
via Seeed Studio