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Tiny Intel “Joule” IoT module runs Ostro Linux on quad-core Atom

Aug 16, 2016 — by Rick Lehrbaum — 4,504 views

[Updated: Aug. 19] — Intel’s “Joule” IoT module integrates a 64-bit quad-core Atom SoC, up to 4GB RAM and 16GB eMMC, plus BT/WiFi, 4K video, CSI/DSI, GPIO, USB, and UART I/O.

At the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) 2016 in San Francisco today, Intel unveiled a tiny Joule computer-on-module that targets makers, innovators, and entrepreneurs developing Internet of Things devices. The module will be available in two versions, based on new Intel Atom T5700 and T5500 SoCs, and is supported by the Yocto Project-based Ostro Linux distribution, which similarly targets IoT apps. The Atom T5700 and T5500 appear to be the first “Broxton” SoCs using the same 14nm Goldmont cores that will be used in Apollo Lake Celeron and Pentium processors.

Intel Joule module
(click images to enlarge)

Intel describes the tiny (48 x 24 x 3.5mm) module as “a high-end compute platform capable of delivering human-like senses to a new generation of smart devices.” Based on rather preliminary-looking product brief, the Joule module “combines a 64-bit, quad-core compute engine with power management services, wireless connectivity, and high speed I/O.”

Joule module compared to a Quarter
(click image to enlarge)


Intel Edison
(click to enlarge)

Joule vs. Edison

Interestingly, the Joule module, which is essentially a second-generation version of Intel’s 35.5 x 25 x 3.9mm Edison module, appears to have initially been designated “Edison 2,” based on image filenames we discovered on Intel’s website (like this one). In comparison to the Edison module, the Joule is much more powerful and provides several significant additional features, as tabulated below:

Comparison of Joule and Edison key specs

Joule Edison
Processor 1.5GHz or 1.7GHz Intel Atom
(codename “Broxton-M”)
500MHz Intel Atom
(codename “Tangier”)
Storage 8GB or 16GB of eMMC flash 4GB of eMMC flash
WiFi 802.11ac WiFi with MIMO dual-band WiFi
Bluetooth yes yes
GPU Intel HD Graphics none

As stated in an Intel Developer Zone post, the Intel Joule module “includes a quad-core processor, giving it four usable executions threads. The Intel Edison module, on the other hand uses a dual-core Intel Atom processor, clocked at 500MHz. This means that you get half of the execution threads at less than one third of the processing speed of the Intel Joule module.” As a result of its significantly lower performance, the Edison platform might have to forward data that it gathers “to a Gateway or desktop in order for the data to be properly processed. An Intel Joule module on the other hand could process the data, and send the resulting information to wherever it needs to go.”

Joule on its Tuchuck carrier board
(click image to enlarge)

The Joule combined with a carrier board would also be more powerful than any of the current crop of quad-core x86 hacker board out there, such as the Up board or upcoming Udoo X86. It is more likely than not that Intel will also release a hacker SBC follow-on to the MinnowBoard Turbot based on the same Goldmont-based SoCs found on the Joule.

Joule details

The Joule module will be offered in 570x and 550x models, with slightly differing specs. Most of the module’s I/O is expressed on a pair of high density, 100-pin Hirose board-to-board connectors.

Joule module details, two sides
(click image to enlarge)

Features and specs listed for the the two modules include:
  • Processor — Intel 64-bit, quad-core “Apollo Lake” Atom SoC:
    • Joule 570x — Atom T5700 SoC (1.7GHz clock; 2.4GHz burst)
    • Joule 550x — Atom T5500 SoC (1.6GHz clock; tbd burst)
  • GPU — Intel HD Graphics with 4K video capture and display
  • Memory:
    • RAM — 4GB (model 570x) or 3GB (model 550x) LPDDR4 RAM
    • Storage — 16GB (model 570x) or 3GB (model 550x) eMMC flash
  • Wireless — Intel 8260 WiFi/BT module:
    • 802.11ac WiFi with MIMO (optional)
    • Bluetooth 4.1 BLE
    • MHF4 antenna connectors
  • Graphics:
    • HDMI 1.4b out at 1080p
    • MIPI CSI and DSI interface
    • 4K video I/O support
  • Other I/O:
    • USB — up to 2x USB 3.0; 1x USB 2.0 with OTG support
    • Serial — up to 3x UARTs
    • GPIO — up to 26x GPIOs (including 4x PWMs)
    • 2x digital mic inputs
  • Expansion– 2x PCIe 2.0 lanes (muxed with USB 3.0)
  • Other features — Intel RealSense compatible; I/O config. stored in EEPROM
  • Operating system — Ostro Linux; Linux 4.4 kernel support
  • Dimensions — 48 x 24 x 3.5mm
  • Weight — (unstated)
  • Operating temperature — (unstated)
  • Power — (unstated)

According to Intel, the module’s Intel RealSense support includes an API that “enables 3D scanning, object recognition, and person tracking.” In particular, Joule’s RealSense support “enables developers to build devices that capture rich depth of field (DOF) information, which can be processed to create a high level of computer intelligence about the environment and objects within it, making a ‘thing’ capable of autonomous behavior,” says the company.

The Yocto-based Ostro Linux distribution was designed from the start as an Internet of Things distribution and supports the OCF’s IoTivity standard. In June, Variscite said it would support its DAR-6UL COM with Ostro after porting Brillo to the module.
Tuchuck carrier board

To support the development of devices that incorporate the Joule module, Intel is offering a “Tuchuck” carrier board that’s intended to breakout all the I/O interfaces from the module to “easily accessible connectors.”

Tuchuck carrier board with Joule installed
(click images to enlarge)

As usual with module carrier boards, Intel is releasing the Tuchuck board as an open source design. Consequently, the board’s design files — including schematics, layout recommendations, and presumably BOM — will be available for free download and adaptation to meet application-specific requirements.

Tuchuck carrier board details
(click image to enlarge)

Features and specs currently listed for the Tuchuck carrier board, or visible on the details image below, include:
  • SoC, RAM, flash, wireless — based on Joule module
  • Joule module interface — 2x 100-pin Hirose connectors
  • 2x 40-pin CSI headers
  • 2x 40-pin breakout headers
  • Real-world connectors for 1x USB OTG, 2x USB 3.0, and micro-HDMI
  • “USB serial” header
  • SD card slot
  • RTC backup battery socket
  • “Fan header”
  • Dimensions — 67 x 56mm (estimated)
  • Power — 2.5V to 5V DC input (barrel jack)
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 70°C

Joule kit with module, carrier board, and accessories
(click image to enlarge)

Like the Joule module it supports, the Tuchuck carrier board is supported with Ostro Linux, as well as an Intel SDK that includes the Intel XDK IoT Edition, Intel System Studio IoT Edition, and Intel IoT Developer Kit (MRAA, UPM, Iotkit-comm).

IDF demos and third-party support

Following Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s unveiling of the Joule module during his IDF keynote talk this morning, there were a series of demonstrations and workshops that highlighted the Joule module’s capabilities and potential applications. Intel provided brief summaries of these six:

  • Industrial safety glasses with augmented reality — PivotHead created for Airbus, the glasses pair the tiny Intel Joule platform with a miniature built-in camera to monitor tasks performed by a factory operator and provide immediate audio feedback for real-time quality control. The glasses also provide remote visual assistance, enabled by the Intel Joule platform’s built-in WiFi.
  • Bartending robot — Intel and Japanese robotics company VStone, have collaborated on creating Sota II, a conversational bartending robot that that incorporates the Intel Joule module and the Joule’s reference Linux OS. Sota II includes an Intel RealSense camera for face tracking, plus Intel Intent Express and natural language processing, for discerning meaning in complex dialog and responding meaningfully.
  • Highway patrol motorcycle helmet display — EyeLights has developed a heads-up display for motorcycle helmets, to improve the safety of highway policemen in France. The device’s computer vision can autonomously read license plates and displaying relevant information on the helmet’s visor, and the Joule module’s small size enables the EyeLights device to be attached to “any motorcycle helmet,” says Intel.
  • Bamboo robotic companion — Intel partnered with Microsoft to create “Bamboo,” a companion robotic panda that lets parents set reminders remotely and reminds children to check their sugars. In this application, the Joule module runs Windows 10 IoT Core as its OS, and connects to cloud-based Microsoft Azure and Cognitive Services that provide sentiment analysis and translation. “You can speak to Bamboo in any language and it can translate into its native English and understand your mood,” says Intel. The Joule module, along with its Intel RealSense camera and embedded software, enable Bamboo to move about and build an understanding of its environment.
  • Ubuntu Core and Robot Operating System (ROS) demo — Canonical has developed two mobile robots that incorporate the Joule module. The robots take advantage of Intel RealSense cameras and middleware to help them move about the room, avoiding collisions and mapping the area using simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), says Intel.

    Canonical’s Joule-enabled robot IDF demo
    (click images to enlarge)
  • Gumstix DIY carrier boards — Embedded board-maker Gumstix has added support for the Joule module to its web-based, Geppetto DIY carrier board design tool, to enable rapid development and manufacturing of custom Joule carrier boards targeting specific application. Geppetto lets developers “easily design a board to meet their own specification by visually placing drag-and-drop modules such as displays, connectors and sensors.” Once the design in Geppetto is completed, Gumstix’s manufacturing service builds, tests, and ships a finished board within 15 days, says the company.

    Gumstix Joule Aerocore 2 carrier board
    (click image to enlarge)

Further information

Developer kits for the Intel Joule 570x, which presumably includes Joule module, carrier board, SDK, docs, are immediately available through Intel’s distribution channel and reseller partners, including Mouser and Newegg, says the company. The high-end Joule 570x kit is priced at $369, according to an Engadget post. The Joule 570x and 550x modules unbundled, as well as developer kits for the Joule 550x, are expected to be available during Q4. Further details are at Intel’s Joule product page.

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7 responses to “Tiny Intel “Joule” IoT module runs Ostro Linux on quad-core Atom”

  1. Fongang Dassi Jean says:

    What is the power consumption? Can fry an egg on it? How much is it?

    • HackerBoards says:

      According to an email from Gumstix, the module draws about 3.8VDC @ 220mA when idle, connected to a “peripheral-heavy” carrier board. So that would be around 0.84 Watts.

  2. macemoneta says:

    $370.00 targeting Iot?!? My IoT processing components range in price from $1.70 (if you don’t need Linux) to $6.40 if you do. I think Intel is on another planet.

    • HackerBoards says:

      Keep in mind that the $370 is for a development kit. Intel hasn’t disclosed pricing for details the Joule module itself at this point.

      • Vuffo says:

        Given that the kit contains basically a breakout board in addition to the SOM, either they are overcharging for it or the price of the module will be quite high.
        Either way, at $370 a kit they are cutting out the entire hobbyist market and undermining adoption for the majority of the developers, which have many other options at a much lower price.

  3. Tom N says:

    Thanks for all the great work. The dimensions of the Tuchuck carrier board don’t seem correct. I can’t find them myself anywhere online.

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