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Raspberry Pi 3 add-on loads up on sensors, wireless radios

Jun 29, 2016 — by Eric Brown 5,435 views

Matrix Labs’s FPGA-driven “Matrix Creator” IoT daughter board for the Raspberry Pi 3 is loaded with sensors, 802.15.4 radios, and a mic array.

The disc-shaped Matrix Creator add-on for the Raspberry Pi is based on AdMobilize’s successfully Kickstartered Matrix home automation and surveillance hub. AdMobilize spun off Matrix Labs, which has now built this cheaper, board-level version of the product.

The Creator lacks the Matrix’s application processor, memory, camera, speaker, altitude sensor, GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, 3G radio, and enclosure. What’s left is a sensor-rich development board with a full suite of short-range wireless radios. New additions include IR, Thread mesh networking support, and an ultraviolet detector. The device is aimed at developers building “drones, robots, smart homes, security, retail, and other custom hardware builds.”

Matrix Creator, front and back
(click image to enlarge)

Whereas the Matrix ran Ubuntu Snappy on an NXP i.MX6 Quad, the Matrix Creator replaces the i.MX6 with a Xilinx Spartan 6 FPGA and an Atmel ATSAM3S2C Cortex-M3 MCU. It’s designed to work with the Raspberry Pi 3 SBC, although Matrix Labs informed us that it also works with the Raspberry Pi 2. “We already tested with RPi 2 too, probably the MATRIX Creator will work with any Pi inspired board with the 40 pins expansion connector,” said Matrix Labs’s Andres Calderon.


Matrix IoT hub

The NodeJS and Javascript based Matrix OS IoT stack, which runs on the earlier Matrix hub’s i.MX6 SoC, here runs in user space on the Raspberry Pi 3’s 1.2GHz, quad-core, Cortex-A53 Broadcom BCM2837. Matrix OS runs on Raspbian Linux instead of Snappy.

According to Matrix Labs, the Matrix Creator is the first Raspberry Pi add-on with support for NFC, as well as 802.15.4-compliant short-range wireless radios like Z-Wave, ZigBee, and Thread. It’s also the first RPi add-on with a microphone array, claims the company. The board is further touted for being the first RPi add-on with a IR remote receiver/transmitter, and the first with both an ARM MCU and a Xilinx FPGA.

Matrix Creator with Raspberry Pi 3
(click image to enlarge)

The device has motion detectors and a wide array of sensors, and like the Matrix provides an LED light array around the edge of the disc board. I/O is available such as 17x GPIOs, UARTs, and more.

Matrix OS includes Matrix CLI for device management, as well as Matrix CV, which lets Matrix Creator developers use “face, gesture, and other object detection libraries to integrate vision into your IoT applications.” In other words, you can still tap the CV capabilities of the Matrix via the Raspberry Pi’s optional cameras. In fact, the device includes an infrared ring for the Raspberry Pi NoIR camera.

Matrix Creator detail view
(click image to enlarge)

Although while Matrix Labs makes no mention of it, the Matrix’s voice recognition capabilities may well be accessible using the Creator’s microphone array. An app store is said to be available, but there are no indications this is an open source hardware project. When the Matrix launched, Matrix OS was said to be “currently” open source.

Matrix Creator (left) and block diagram and
(click images to enlarge)

The $35 Raspberry Pi 3, which is not included in the $99 package, also adds WiFi, Bluetooth, USB ports, and other features. The board communicates with the RPi primarily via SPI, as well as “many GPIOs, the I2C, and the UART interface,” which are connected to the FPGA, according to Matrix Labs.

Specifications listed for the Matrix Creator include:

  • Processor — Xilinx Spartan 6 FPGA; Atmel ATSAM3S2C Cortex-M3 MCU
  • Wireless:
    • ZigBee
    • Thread
    • Z-Wave
    • NFC reader
  • Sensors:
    • Ultraviolet
    • Pressure
    • Humidity
    • Temperature
    • 3D accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer
  • Other features:
    • 8x MEMs microphone array
    • RGBW LED light array
    • IR RX/TX for remote controller compatibility
    • Infrared ring for the Raspberry Pi NoIR camera
  • Other I/O:
    • 2x ADC channels
    • 17x digital GPIOs
    • SPI, I2C, UART

“If you can use Javascript, you can start making Internet of Things applications on the Matrix OS platform,” stated Matrix Platform Architect, Sean Canton. “Apps can run in homes or businesses and developers can monetize installs, or build incredible service-based businesses implementing apps for clients. This is a brand new app economy anchored in the physical world.”

Further information

The Matrix Creator is available for pre-sale for $99 ($112 including shipping), with shipments due July 15. More information may be found at the Matrix Creator product page and Matrix Creator shopping page.

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