By Anna Gerber | Updated November 19, 2018 - Published August 9, 2017
IoT developer kits are hardware kits that are designed for the rapid development of IoT solutions. Developer kits bundle a microcontroller or single-board computer and compatible components that you can use to prototype your IoT devices. IoT developer kits often include components such as breadboards, jumper wires, expansion boards, power supplies, batteries, sensors, and actuators.
This article is part of the IoT 201 learning path, a next-steps developer guide for IoT.
These IoT developer kits, however, are more than just an assortment of hardware components – these kits also provide development resources, sample projects, tools, and services to support developing applications using the hardware. Some of these kits are designed as platform-specific starter kits, so they provide instructions for several simple sample projects and guides for getting started with one or more IoT platforms. The more advanced kits provide a larger selection of sensors and actuators that are suitable for a range of applications, which you can draw upon to fast-track the development of your proof-of-concept IoT solutions.
For this blog, I have chosen 5 popular IoT developer kits to discuss and to get you started with prototyping for IoT applications:
This Bluetooth low energy (BLE) multi-standard Texas Instruments SimpleLink SensorTag Kit is based upon their CC2650 wireless microcontroller, and takes the form of a low-power wireless tag with onboard sensors. The SensorTag bundles temperature, movement, humidity, barometric pressure, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer/compass and battery/voltage sensors in an open source (hardware and software) design.
By default, the tag connects via low energy Bluetooth (BLE) to an app running on your iOS or Android smartphone within a range of 50 – 100 meters, so that it can send sensor data to the cloud. The tag can also be configured, however, to use other IEEE 802.15.4-compliant 2.4GHz networking protocols (like Zigbee or 6LoWPAN) to stream data via an IoT gateway device, by loading new images onto the tag over-the-air, allowing you to try out any of these networking standards.
The tag features a very long battery life. Even when sending data once every second, the tag will last for about a year on a single coin cell battery.
The Debug DevPack Kit adds debugging capability with the Code Composer Studio development environment, as well as Grove port expansion, so you can add additional custom sensors or actuators. The variety of embedded sensors built-in to the SensorTag, plus the ability to expand on these with the DevPack, makes it ideal for prototyping applications involving wireless sensors and tags, including smart cities, health and fitness, and industrial asset tracking.
Adafruit has developed a range of IoT developer kits based around their Feather platform, a lightweight platform featuring Arduino-compatible microcontroller boards and expansion boards, called FeatherWings. The Feather line of products includes boards with Bluetooth, cellular, wifi, and LoRa connectivity options.
The Feather HUZZAH ESP8266 is one of the most popular boards, which is based on Espressif’s ESP8266 microcontroller platform, with built in wifi wireless connectivity. The Feather HUZZAH features an 80MHz processor and 4MB of flash memory and includes breadboard-friendly GPIO headers with 9 GPIO pins, including I2C and SPI pins, and has an integrated 100mA lithium ion battery connector and charger, making it easy to switch between wired (via microUSB) power and battery power.
These boards are best suited to scenarios where there is a need to transmit a lot of data or integrate with existing networks, such as for a home automation application where the device can be connected to a wired power source and where the device needs to connect to an existing home wifi network.
For example, the Azure IoT Starter Kit includes a Feather Huzzah ESP8266 and USB power cable, PIR sensor, DHT22 temperature and humidity sensor, vibration switch, magnetic switch, LEDs, push buttons, slide switch, potentiometer, resistors, piezo buzzer, photo cell and micro servo as well as breadboard and jumper wires. And, the Advanced Internet of Things pack developed by Adafruit and Arrow electronics includes a Feather Huzzah ESP8266, and an even more comprehensive selection of components than the starter kit, including an expansion board with an OLED display.
Microcontrollers have a limited amount of memory and processing power, so for applications that require processing, filtering, or aggregating data at the point of collection, a developer kit that is based around a single-board computer (SBC) may be a better option.
The BeagleBone Green Wireless (BBGW) board is a low-power open source hardware SBC with built-in wifi and BLE. The BBGW comes with 512MB of RAM, a 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 processor, and 4GB of flash memory for storing the operating system (such as Linux or Windows) and programs, with optional expansion with a microSD card. Because it runs a complete OS, development options are broad: BBGW application development is supported through Cloud9 IDE or Code Composer Studio, as well as by using general-purpose programming languages with IoT platform SDKs and tools like Node-RED.
The BBGW board has two onboard grove connectors. The Grove modular system for sensors and other components makes it easy to connect modules using standard connectors and cables rather than having to use breadboards and wires or solder.
Traditional components can also be connected via the 65 digital GPIO pins, and the BBGW also supports expansion through BeagleBone Capes (expansion boards). The BBGW is great for industrial applications because of the integrated real-time co-processor and can also be used as an IoT gateway device in combination with other IoT devices.
The Seeed Studio kit contains a BeagleBone Green Wireless SBC and microUSB power cable, plus a Grove expansion board (cape) and cables, along with a range of sensors and actuators including an accelerometer, temperature sensor, angle sensor, light sensor, PIR sensor, button, buzzer, LED, OLED display. This kit was developed by Seeed Studio in collaboration with BeagleBoard.org and Google, tailored for the Google Cloud Platform, however Seeed has also developed an AWS version, and BeagleBoards are well supported on many of the major IoT platforms.
When it comes to Single-Board-Computers for IoT prototype development, the Raspberry Pi is one of the most popular choices. There are many guides and developer resources and tools available online thanks to its widespread community adoption. The Raspberry Pi 3 is the current flagship of the Raspberry Pi range, with 1GB RAM and a Quad Core 1.2GHz CPU. The BBGW and Raspberry Pi 3 have similar capabilities, both come with wifi and BLE built-in. The Raspberry Pi 3 runs Linux or Windows and features an extensive 40-pin GPIO header to allow expansion via hats that stack on these pins, as well as broad IDE and IoT platform support.
The element14 IoT learner Kit is tailored for use with the IBM Watson IoT platform. The kit includes a Raspberry Pi 3, power supply, case, SD card, plus a SenseHat expansion board which includes an accelerometer, air pressure sensor, gyroscope, temperature sensor, humidity sensor, LED matrix and a joystick.
For applications requiring Cellular connectivity, Avnet’s AT&T cellular IoT Starter Kit provides a solid prototyping foundation. This kit is based around the NXP K64F Freedom microcontroller board with a 120MHz processor with 1MB flash memory and 256Kb RAM. The MCU embeds built-in input and output components, including an accelerometer, magnometer, humidity sensor, LEDs and push buttons. The GPIO pinout is compatible with Arduino, and includes I2C pins for attaching additional hardware modules.
The kit also includes a cellular shield and accessories including USB cables, antennas, and a power supply. The kit comes with a LTE enabled SIM and a starter plan to make it useful out of the box. In addition to the hardware, this developer kit provides tutorials and guides for prototyping applications using AT&T Flow and the M2X timeseries data store.
These kits provide a cross-section of IoT developer kit capabilities. If you are planning to use an IoT platform for your application, select a developer kit that is compatible with your platform of choice – many general purpose IoT platform vendors including AWS IoT, Google Cloud IoT, Microsoft Azure IoT and IBM Watson IoT, have partnered with hardware manufacturers and electronics suppliers to produce developer kits that are tailored for use with the platform.
There are many excellent IoT developer kits on the market right now that you can leverage to accelerate your IoT development.
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