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Tiny Linux SBC web-enables DIY IoT modules

Jul 28, 2014  |  Eric Brown
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LittleBits launched a tiny $59 ARM9-based “CloudBit” SBC that adds Internet access to the company’s collection of 60+ electronics modules for DIY projects.

The tiny, 15 x 10 x 5mm CloudBit single board computer adds Internet connectivity and a modest ARM9 brain to LittleBits Electronics’s popular, Lego-like platform, which is billed as an easier, plug-and-play alternative to Arduino for electronics prototyping. The LittleBits modules are available in $99 (10 modules), $149 (14 modules), and $199 (18 modules) kits, and include actuators, sensors, buzzers, dimmers, LEDs, DC motors, and other gizmos. The devices connect to each other in serial-bus fashion via magnets, enabling rapid project brainstorming without the need for soldering, wiring, or programming.



CloudBit
(click images to enlarge)

With the WiFi-enabled CloudbBit SBC, the 60+ LittleBit devices are given Internet access, enabling remote control over the web and via mobile apps to create an Internet of Things platform. A cloud API enables further services, and the CloudBit can also interface with the optional LittleBits Arduino module. The tiny SBC is available now for $59, or $99 for a Cloud Bundle that includes six LittleBits modules. The bundle comes with tutorials on making projects such as an SMS-connected doorbell and a remote controlled lamp.


CloudBit connected with LittleBits modules to create chicken-feeder device

LittleBits users can create new devices with the CloudBit or augment older designs, such as making a thermostat automatically activate at a certain temperature, or enabling a motion sensing alarm system to send alert texts to a smartphone. The platform supports the IFTTT IF-THEN scripting language for social networking connectivity. In this way, you can link LittleBits devices with web services including Facebook, Gmail, and Twitter, or IFTT-compatible hardware ecosystems like Nest and Phillips Hue. The CloudBit can also send sensor data from LittleBits devices to the mobile app.

 
CloudBit connectivity options

CloudBit based LittleBits devices offer three options for connectivity:

  • Bits to Web — Using hardware to communicate with web services and software, such as a button or motion sensor triggering a web action like an SMS message or a tweet, or logging sensor data in a spreadsheet
  • Web to Bits — Communicating events in the web to the CloudBit, including Facebook likes or Twitter follower stats
  • Bits to Bits — Communicating from CloudBit to Cloudbit over the web



CloudBit cloud architecture
(click image to enlarge)

The cloud API is built upon Node.js, along with a raw HTTP socket API for advanced users. Other components include the WebSocket streaming API, a REPL server for sys admin access, and a pub/sub messaging system. The cloud API is connected to the desktop or mobile app, which provides remote triggering or data reads from one or more CloudBits.


CloudBit mobile app (left) and CloudBit-based fish-feeder device
(click images to enlarge)

The CloudBit connects immediately to the Cloud platform, which helps it establish voltage inputs and outputs on the BitSnap connectors with 10-bit precision. Once connected to the cloud platform, the CloudBit can output any voltage between 0V and 5V or any interval of time between 0 and 32 seconds. An LED on the device turns different colors to show power, booting, WiFi connection, and connection to the cloud platform.


CloudBit Starter Bundle, with CloudBit on lower left
(click image to enlarge)

 
CloudBit hardware details

The CloudBit runs a “heavily modified” version of Arch Linux on a Freescale i.MX23 processor, also known as the i.MX233. Launched back in 2009, this ARM9-based, 454MHz SoC is notable for its variety of mixed-signal analog technology, including analog audio, A/D channels, and integrated power management.



CloudBit detail view
(click image to enlarge)

The CloudBit is equipped with 64MB of RAM and a microSD slot. A 4GB data card is loaded with the Arch Linux distro. The SBC has a built-in, USB-based WiFi radio, and offers a USB port for connecting to the included USB power module, cable, and wall adapter. I/O signals are exchanged with LittleBits modules via the two BitSnap connectors, and a UART connection on the bottom of the board provides for serial console access.

Specifications for the CloudBit include:

  • Processor — Freescale i.MX233 (1x ARM926EJ-S core @ 454MHz)
  • Memory — 64MB of RAM; microSD slot with 4GB SD card (includes Arch Linux distro)
  • Wireless — 802.11b/g (via USB)
  • I/O:
    • USB port (for power)
    • 2x BitSnap connectors for LittleBits connectivity, including ADC/DAC and GPIO signals
    • Serial console UART (3.3V, 8-N-1, 115,200 baud) on bottom of board
  • Other features — LED; setup button; optional Cloud Starter Bundle that adds button, sound trigger, long LED, servo, mounting, and power modules
  • Power — via USB (power module, wall adapter, and cable included)
  • Weight — 0.34 lbs (0.154 kg)
  • Dimensions — 15 x 10 x 5mm
  • Operating system — Arch Linux




CloudBit in action

 
Further information

The CloludBit is available now for $59, or $99 for a Cloud Bundle that includes six LittleBits modules. More information may be found at the CloudBit product page and the CloudBit announcement.
 

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