Christmas at Bedrock

Well it certainly feels like Christmas here at Bedrock (while I’m here, check out this unrelated item – the Ameba – looks interesting).

I got up this morning to a large bag of post – including a new battery for Maureen’s Samsung laptop (though why I mention that in the context of Christmas I don’t know as it is me that has to put it together!!). It’s our 31st anniversary today, incidentally!!

Anyway, there was a parcel for me from Bob Elmour.  He’s been working with ESP8266 boards and like Aidan and myself, making his own boards up. We had a chat a while ago and he said he would send me some samples to play with and write-up.

WELL, I’m very excited – so this morning the package turned up and inside were these VERY professionally packaged and assembled boards as well as some spare parts etc. They are called IoTBear and you’ll be seeing them on EBay and elsewhere soon. I urge you to take a closer look.

IoTBear

These (at least this version) are brand spanking new. There are two boards here – firstly the little IoTBear board with in this case an ESP-12F board – but as you can see they’ll handle everything from ESP-07 upwards.

Essentially the boards have little more than an ESP-12 with a regulator, a reset/programming circuit (on one button, short press to reset, long press to program),, a connector for an FTDI at the end (exactly the same as we would do – why waste putting a USB chip on the board) – and all the pins brought out at convenience 0.1” centres. On the underside, the relevant pin names are printed and there is a cut-able link to disable the one-button programming.

undersideThe other board is similar but with a micro-USB connector for power – and a nice prototyping area – AND though not using the USB pins other than power, he’s brought them out onto 0.1” holes – now THAT’s handy for experimenting.

So this is not a slick commercial operation, just a private individual as far as I’m aware who like use started doing this stuff for fun – his website www.iotBear.com is not up yet but I’m putting it here for future reference. You will find Rob on EBay as user Majikthi5e and if you are interested in any of this stuff I suggest you contact him from there. I’ll not put his email address in here but he’s welcome to share it if he wants in the comments. It is my understanding that he plans make everything from bare boards upwards available. There is some stuff on EBay already.

with FTDII’ve a fair experience of the ESPs and issues with boards and the 3v3 regulator he has used is a good one and the SMT parts are a reasonable size for hand-soldering (with a fine bit – none of yer gas soldering irons please). The only thing that would worry me assembling myself is that micro-USB adaptor but then my eyes are getting old.

The prototyping are is GREAT for all sorts – sticking displays on, relays – all sorts. From what I gather the cost will be reasonable so you could have a bunch of these lying around.

As you might imagine, the very first thing I did was to get out the soldering iron, solder up the 6-way connectors for FTDI programming and program up the boards. I held the little button down and flashed my software into them – no problem first time. I’m looking forward to doing some prototyping with the larger one in the coming days.

OH and there’s a nice 4-sided documentation comes with these board, simple and well presented.

My only gripe so far is that the board is relying on DTR and RTS for programming without pressing a button. TWO issues with that. DTR is fastened straight to GPIO0 – and that leaves me to wonder, what if someone is using GPIO0 as an output – conflicts?  Also – it is assuming two things – that you have control over RTS – and that RTS is available on your FTDI – and that leads to two things – firstly RTS is NOT available on all FTDIs and indeed many – on that matching 6 way connector, bring out CTS – which is an input – not an output. Indeed ALL the FTDIs that I’m aware out have CTS next to the ground pin.  For these reasons – I think I’ll be experimenting with these boards using the programming button and GND/VCC/TX and TX only connected to the board.

Anyway, over to you – if you’re interested get in touch with Rob.

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20 thoughts on “Christmas at Bedrock

  1. bought 3 full, without esp, i have some spare to solder onto... let's see, very interesting 🙂
    but... what about those bigger boards, with prototyping area? Not found on ebay.... already sold out? 🙁

  2. Hi Pete,

    Thanks for all the Tech tips and latest news, keep up the good work.

    Is there a small IoT proto board with rechargeable battery controls/connections that you know of please?

    Ian.

    1. No but if you look at this new board with prototyping area and look earlier in my blog where I talk about a cheap chinese power board running one lithium battery, I'm thinking they might make a great pair together.

      1. And that is fine - except these guys CLEARLY haven't the fogggiest interest in shipping outside of America Stefan and lots of us are outside of America. So I hope that link is ok for some of our USA friends - but I just went in there as Mr Tester in Spain - which is where I am right now. Most things that are free to the UK cost maybe 3-8 dollars extra for Spain so I expect a little...

        But this makes for staggering reading. The board is $15.95 - which I think is excessive to start with and of course for Brits now more expensive than it was last week - but here's the thing - it is a tiny little board and the CHEAPEST delivery they offer is - wait for it... $59.30 - that isn't the total - that's the shipping - and so for one ESP-12 worth $1.50 and a handful of components _ board - total price a staggering $75.25. I can get two Raspberry PIs for that. 🙂

        1. Hmm, that shipping price is indeed idiotic. But the schematic and board files seem open source. So we have to wait for the Chinese board cloners to take it into production. And then the price might drop. Or at least the shipping price will reduce to zero 🙂
          I remember my first NodeMCU 1.0 board also cost ~$12.50. So there is hope.

          1. Well, of course if you're a dab hand with a soldering iron - bare boards from china are very cheap now... I think those little micro-usb connectors are beyond my skills but I can do the larger SMT parts with a normal iron...

      1. Good - but just too expensive - it completely defeats the object of a cheap chips. I know I sound like a broken record - but you could buy a complete, say FriendlyArm M1 or even a Pi for the money hey wants inc packaging..

        So - my thoughts (Aidan and I are thinking of having a crack at this - he reckons he can solder the chips with his reflow oven).. a board with FTDI connector at 0.1" - but smaller size for the rest of the pins to keep size down - a single button for reset/prog.... regulator of course and possibly a mosfet on there for driving a relay. The latter could be on the underside as hand-soldered... thoughts?

    2. Actually, I made this protoboard as a stepping stone to just such a board as you describe, which I will need for a solar - powered project that I have in mind.
      Meanwhile, you might like to take a look at the Sparkfun ESP8266 Thing (available from various resellers).

    1. The protoboards I sent to Pete were from a very small batch of prototype PCBs I had made up prior to committing to a bigger order. I've got about a dozen of them if anyone's interested. They do in fact have a missing track between RESET on the ESP module and its corresponding breakout pin but that's easily fixed with a wire jumper (I'll do that when I assemble the board - if you look carefully at Pete's photo, you'll see the jumper near the top left hand corner of the ESP-12F).

      I can make them up at any specification level that the smaller boards are available at the eBay price for the smaller boards plus £1. All being well, final version should be available on eBay in about 2 weeks at a slightly higher price. Contact me at protoboards@iotbear.com for details. Yours, Rob.

  3. Peter, I have been using some of Rob Elmour's boards for a while now. I spotted some on Ebay a while ago and contacted him. I am very happy to say all his boards work flawlessly and very reliably. Rob is also very quick to respond to queries.
    Totally agree with all you write about shipping from the USA. I ordered two NanoPi M1's based on your review DHL shipping $16.00, It wouldn't be worth ordering single units. Then, to cap it all the delivery driver couldn't find our house!

    1. Hi Brian. It's an AMS1117 3,3v low dropout. Nothing spectacular but robust, very widely used, good for up to 1A and above all very cost effective.

      1. Hi Rob, useful to know, thanks. I bought a bulk load (100 believe it or not) of HT7333 3.3V regs in SOT-89 package to fit the underside of ESP adapter plates - at the moment I have use for 13 and know idea if I'll ever use all 100. Oh well, they were cheap. 🙂

  4. Oh BTW, the reason for breaking out RTS and DTR on the 6 pin comms interface is to make it compatible with the Arduino IDE (and others, I think). It uses these 2x outputs to control RESET and GPIO0 to make programming automatic with the ESP8266 in the same way as it is with ATMEGA based Arduino boards. The similarity with standard FTDI header (5 out of 6 pins match, provided your USB-Serial adapter can supply 5V VCC and 3.3v data at the same time) is just to make connecting it up more straightforward.

    Of course, as Pete found, you might actually get away with plugging a standard FTDI connector in directly and using it to program in combination with the pushbutton. But, as he points out, leaving a FTDI board plugged direclty in *and* using GPIO0 as an output at the same time is a very bad idea as the ESP8266 GPIO0 and the FTDI DTR line could fight with each other, resulting in blue smoke.....

    So, you may ask, If the edge connector is not standard FTDI and it could actually be dangerous to use it as such, why have I labelled it "FTDI / Comms" on the protoboard? Well, this was only a prototype and it's corrected in the production version that will go on sale. Which is my way of saying I have no idea what I was thinking. I am an IoTBear of very little brain!

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