Computing stuff tied to the physical world

Interesting gateway

In Hardware on Sep 12, 2012 at 00:01

A while back, I came across this product, called the “mbed Internet of Things Gateway”:


It’s an ARM microcontroller with an Ethernet port, a µSD storage slot, and an RFM12B wireless transceiver. Very nicely packaged in an extruded-aluminium case with laser-cut front and back panels. Here’s what’s inside:

DSC 3833

Not that much circuitry, as you can see – because all the heavy-lifting is done by the MBED board on the left.

That’s a 32-bit microcontroller, with built-in Ethernet and USB, plenty of I/O pins, and lots of features to connect to SPI, I2C, CAN, and other types of devices. Not to mention the 512 KB flash and 32 KB RAM memory – plenty to implement some serious functionality.

MBED comes with an intriguing “cloud-based” compiler and build environment, which is surprisingly effective. Here’s how it works, out of the box:

  1. plug the MBED into USB and it’ll present itself as a memory disk with one HTML file on it
  2. double-click that file to go to the MBED web site
  3. you get a web-based equivalent of a standard Windows IDE, plus a large code sharing community
  4. create your project online, enter your own code, and hit the compile button
  5. if the code compiles successfully, you end up with a file in your download folder
  6. copy that file to the MBED’s USB drive
  7. press on the MBED’s reset button, and that’s it … uploaded and running!

This is a very elegant workflow. No need to install any software to develop for MBED. And you can continue work wherever you are, as long as internet works and you have your MBED with you. You do need to sign up and register a (free) account on that MBED site – in return, they’ll do all the compiles for you.

This board is an exciting development. The cost is higher than with just a JeeNode + EtherCard, but there is also a lot more possible when you don’t have to fight the ATmega328’s strict flash and RAM memory constraints.

I’ll have more to say about this hardware and software tomorrow – stay tuned…

  1. Too expensive, both the mBed, and the Gateway. If you want to get down and dirty with Arm have you seen the new TI Stellaris launchpad. A steal at $5.

    • I just ordered 2 (the max allowed). $9.98 inc free shipping. PS. I am not affiliated in any way with TI.

  2. I wasn’t mentioning this for the price… there are several alternatives, and there will be many more no doubt. More as an example of how to quickly get something going. But yeah, the Stellaris Launchpad is definitely an interesting very low-cost ARM board.

  3. It was fun for a while. It rebuilt ALL the project whenever you touched a file. Slow slow slow. But extremely cool hardware, indeed.

  4. If you’re interested in staying with the Arduino platform but breaking free from the memory limitations of a 328 take a look at MAX1284 an IoT gateway based on ATMEGA technology.

    • Ah, thanks – I had seen something, but couldn’t find it back. Interesting development, and indeed a much simpler way to avoid the memory limitations.

  5. Happy to take any questions on max1284 :)

  6. I’ve been using the mbed on a few projects at work and for simple setup and integration into test setups it is excellent. I’ve been using it as an Ethernet bridge to communicate with serial devices and other circuitry via a parallel bus. It is a little expensive but it is a nice enough package to be used on semi-production units without it looking like a large prototype board hacked on…

  7. I just built my own mbed lookalike using a Jeenode linked (serially) to a PortuxG20 Debian linux computer as the core of my wireless sensor network…

  8. What about Nanode , a whole lot cheaper. I am using as a pachube/cosm gateway

  9. In any case, Raspberry Pi looks cheaper and flexible. It have Ethernet port, serial and spi interface. Cost for RPi+RF12 and maybe arduno as second interface processor will cost twice cheaper…

    RPi have a full functional Debian for example. I successfully run OpenRemote server which use tomcat and java application. Connection RF12 or RF24 directly to SPI bus is not simple (trouble with IRQ handling in Linux ) but possible.

  10. While talking about little boards, Carambola might be another interesting option. The board has WiFi (including a chip antenna), two ethernet ports (excluding pulse transformers), USB, SPI, I²C, I²S, 8 MB Flash, 32 MB RAM for just EUR 22 (+VAT and shipping from Lithuania). It runs Linux and comes preinstalled with a customized version of OpenWRT.

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