Node.IT - What is it ?
Welcome to the world of node.IT
Welcome to the world of node.IT
The node.IT concept is based around an exciting micro controller called the ESP8266. The ESP8266 is according to the manufacturer EspressIf "a highly integrated chip designed for the needs of a new connected world" which says a lot what it can do but there is so much more to it. The ESP8266 is a truly innovative piece of engineering with a really attractive price tag that allows a number of new applications to incorporate Wifi. It wouldn't surprise me if we start seeing toys with Wifi connectivity very soon.
When we first encountered the ESP8266 we immediately started thinking about what cool Arduino based stuff we could do with it. "What about having the device on a Leonardo board so that you could deploy sketches over the air" or "Lets make a really tiny Cortex-M0 based board and stick the ESP8266 on there as well". We tried both solutions and although both of these attempts turned out great and would be great products we still felt there was something missing.
It wasn't until a colleague needed a very simple board with just the ESP8266 and 2.54mm (0.1") header for his lab that we felt that we were on to something.
We noticed that when laying the PCB out and routing all the GPIO's there were a lot of space left on the PCB and we thought why not include a small voltage regulator so you don't need to have one externally..... Still a lot of PCB space left...... Aha, why not put a USB transceiver on there as well....... Now not so much PCB space left =)
But now we had something that you could very easily build things around, and to flash it you just need a standard USB micro cable and you are good to go. At this point the ball was rolling and more ideas kept coming "Why not put a stackable header on there so you can add functionality as you need it", and so we did. We searched the web high and low and finally found a low profile stackable header that would fit boards that we made, making true stacking possible. The image to the left shows how the modules can be stacked on top of each other. In this example the ESP210 is in the bottom of the stack, the BatOne is in the middle and the EnvironOne is at the top. The distance between the board is 3.8 mm which also allows for having a sturdy JST connector between the boards if needed. This stack example is only 16.2 mm's from the bottom to the top.
At this point we had been working so long with it we decided to give the concept a name. A name that encloses all of the boards and that strongly connects to what it is all about. We decided to call it node.IT and should be read "Node it" as in make a node out of it.
node.IT Controller Modules
The node.IT stack is built around a master/slave concept. This means that each stack needs a master to be able to do anything. We call these master modules controller modules. The ESP210 is an example of such a module. The interface that most +One modules use to communicate is I2C. I2C is a low speed interface (up to 400KHz frequency) but it is a very flexible interface that allows you to connect multiple devices on the same bus. It is also only uses two pins to communicate which is good for the node.IT stack that has limited amount of GPIO's available.
Of course, the stack is not limited to using the I2C interface for communication. A good example of this is the SdOne +One module which uses an SPI interface to do the data transfers. This increases the data throughput but requires 3 more pins to do the transfers.
+One Modules and Workstation boards
While working on the different expansion modules we also felt the need to clearly differentiate the modules that was meant to stack on top of the ESP210 from the Carrier type boards that are meant to carry the ESP210 on them. We decided to call these small stackable modules +One modules and the carrier type boards was named Workstation boards.
As of today there are 8 different members of the node.IT family defined, and these are:
- ESP210 - This is the ESP8266 module with the integrated USB transceiver and antenna.
- Workstation40 - This is a carrier board for the ESP210 which turns it into a 40 pin DIP micro controller.
- BatOne - A +One module with a Li Ion battery charger and buck regulator board meant to aid your battery powered ESP210 applications.
- EnvironOne - A +One module with a light sensor, temperature sensor, humidity sensor and a barometric sensor.
- Io4One - A +One module with 4 extra fully programmable digital GPIO's
- AdcOne - A +One module with 4 extra 12 bit ADC channels
- MotorOne - A 2 channel DC motor driver
- RtcOne - A battery backed up real time clock
More module will follow shortly but at the moment these are the ones we are working at.
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