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Raspberry Pi CM3 based automation controller adds ESP32

Dec 22, 2017 — by Eric Brown 4,152 views

Techbase updated its ModBerry controllers with a model that mixes RPi CM3 and ESP32 modules, plus options like an expandable aluminum Modberry case, OLED display, and supercap backup.

Techbase announced several enhancements to its Linux-driven ModBerry family of automation controllers, which are based on a variety of open source boards. First, the company is introducing a new version of its ModBerry 500 to add an Espressif ESP32 module as a backup system for its Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 (CM3) computer-on-module. The Gdansk, Poland based company also announced options that can be added to other ModBerry models, including a more expandable aluminum case, an OLED display, and a supercapacitor battery backup system (see farther below).

ModBerry 500

In addition to the RPi CM3 based ModBerry 500 M3, Techbase offers a scaled back ModBerry 400 version based on the CM3. Other models that launched in July with the debut of the M3 and 400 models include a ModBerry M1000, based on the Intel Atom based UP board, and a ModBerry M700 built around FriendlyElec’s quad-A7 NanoPi M1 Plus SBC. Last month, Techbase followed up with a ModBerry M300 based on a NanoPi Neo SBC.


ModBerry 500 with ESP32

The new, unnamed version of the ModBerry 500 combines the existing 1.2GHz, quad-A53 Raspberry Pi CM3 module with Espressif’s open source, WiFi and Bluetooth enabled ESP32 SoC, essentially combining the abilities of the ModBerry 500 and Techbase’s lower end Moduino controller. Last month, the ESP32-equipped Moduino, which is available in X1 and larger X2 models, was updated with M-Bus and M-Bus Wireless support.

Conceptual diagram of ModBerry 500 with ESP32
(click image to enlarge)

Espressif’s open source ESP32 SoC design updates its original ESP8266 SoC with a faster MCU and enhanced wireless capability. The SoC is built on Cadence’s 32-bit Tensilica Xtensa LX6, a dual-core MCU with an 80MHz to 240MHz clock rate and 600 DMIPS performance. (Presumably, it’s deployed here on the same ESP32-WROVER module used on the Moduino.) Like the ESP8266 and ESP8285, the ESP32 supports either standalone operation, typically using a real-time operating system like FreeRTOS or Zephyr, or configuration as a slave device, for example as a subsystem incorporated into an Arduino board.


The ESP32 integrates a 150Mbps HT40 (40MHz channel width) 2.4GHz WiFi radio, as well as dual-mode Bluetooth 4.2 with classic and LE (low energy) support. The ModBerry 500 already includes WiFi and Bluetooth, along with optional 3G, LTE, ZigBee, and GPS. However, in the new CM3/ESP32 mashup, it appears that the ESP32’s radios can work independently.

This configuration is especially useful when combining a network of ModBerry and Moduino devices. The ESP32 enables simplified communication between with Moduino controllers, and “drastically shortens the time needed for the system implementation and the cost of maintaining the application,” says Techbase. In addition, the ESP32 also lets the new ModBerry connect via WiFi to ESP-NOW and ESP-MESH networks.

More commonly, the ESP32 will be used as a backup computer. If the ModBerry experiences power or wireless loss or some other failure, the ESP32 can step in and take over. The ESP32 can last much longer on battery power than the CM3, and it offers extended sleep modes. Presumably, the ESP32 configuration will ship with a standard battery option.

New ModBerry options: Expandable case, OLED, and supercap

New options available for all the ModBerry models include a modular aluminum case that allows the ModBerry to “expand in any dimension,” says Techbase. The case supports “additional extension cards (e.g. I/Os, modems, opto-isolation, accelerometer, etc.)” It also supports a DIN rail mount that can be retracted into case.

ModBerry 500 in new case (left) and standard chassis
(click images to enlarge)

Like the Moduino, ModBerry controllers can now be bought with a 1-inch, 128 x 64-pixel OLED display. Since the I2C-connected display uses OLED technology, there’s no need for backlighting.

Finally, Techbase has added a supercapacitor UPS option available only on the ModBerry 500. In case of power drop or loss, the device switches to supercap, which “ensures safe system shutdown and protects memory from fragmenting,” says Techbase. The system logs the recently acquired data and sends the user notifications about the event.

Further information

No pricing was provided for the new ESP32 version of the ModBerry 500 or the case, OLED, and supercap options. More information may be found at Techbase’s ModBerry product page.

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