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Tiny, stackable, Linux-based IoT module hits Kickstarter

Mar 31, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 5,118 views

On Kickstarter, Onion launched a tiny, Linux-based “Omega” IoT module, along with a dock, stackable expansion modules, a cloud service, and web app tools.

Onion’s Omega joins a growing number of single board computers and computer-on-modules for Internet of Things applications that have tapped Qualcomm’s MIPS-based, WiFi-enabled Atheros AR9331 system-on-chip. For a pledge of $25, Onion’s Kickstarter campaign offers the Omega computer-on-module combined with a “dock” that turns it into an sandwich-style single board computer.

Omega module (left), and on the standard dock along with stacked expansion modules

The Omega’s standard dock includes a USB port, power supply, LED, push buttons, and a 30-pin expansion bus that accommodates self-stacking Omega expansion modules. A $35 Kickstarter package lets you add one of the Omega’s stackable expansion modules (described farther below), or an Arduino Shield dock that enables you to “use your your existing Arduino shields with the Omega,” says Onion.

These packages, as well as other kits ranging up to $199, are similarly expected to ship in August. More advanced robot and drone kits are due in Oct. 2015 and Jan. 2016, respectively, says the project. Other open source kits shown on the site include a spy cam, LED matrix art array, ping pong blaster, and a tweet printer.

Standard dock (left) and Arduino Shield dock
(click images to enlarge)

Like most AR9331-based products, the Omega runs on the lightweight OpenWRT Linux distribution. The Omega is aimed primarily at web- and app developers who want to start prototyping devices without much embedded Linux experience.

Omega on dock

The Omega is backed up with a high-level application development environment, a browser- and mobile app-based console application, and a cloud service for monitoring remote Omega-based IoT devices. The Omega “aims to radically simplify and democratize the hardware prototyping and development process for the Internet of Things,” says Onion.

The MIPS 24k-based, 400MHz AR9331 furnishes the Omega with built-in WiFi (802.112b/g/n) and low power consumption. The module can run on just 0.6W using its 3.3V supply, says Onion.

Omega block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

The 58 x 28.2mm Omega is further equipped with 64MB DDR2 RAM at 400MHz, 16MB of flash, and a 10/100 Ethernet controller. Interfaces expressed via the 30-pin docking connectors include 18 GPIO, and a USB 2.0 interface that supports a USB hub connected to the standard dock’s real-world USB port. Additional I/O includes I2C, SPI, and I2S. A uFL antenna connector is available for WiFi.

As mentioned earlier, the standard Omega dock provides a 30-pin expansion header, into which self-stacking expansion modules can be plugged. These currently include Ethernet, relay, and OLED display modules. A servo expansion module that can control up to 16 servo motors simultaneously is also in the works, says Onion.

Ethernet (left), relay, and OLED expansion modules
(click images to enlarge)

The developers were inspired to create the Omega when they tried to build an Arduino shield application and realized that “as web developers, we weren’t terribly productive in C/C++.” The module supports high-level programming languages like Python, Node.js, Javascript, PHP, and Ruby. According to Onion, developers can do things like install OpenCV to add image recognition to a drone, use git to check out the latest changes made to a smart coffee brewer, or “use pip or npm to incorporate libraries that allow your thermostat to talk to Twitter.”

Omega terminal view (left) and Omega Console GUI interface
(click images to enlarge)

RESTful APIs enable communications between the Onion Cloud and Omega-based devices, as well as other third-party devices and services. An Onion Console app that runs in a web browser or as a smartphone app communicates with the cloud and provides a GUI environment and other applications for developing and monitoring Omega-based devices. An app store will also be made available to share Omega apps.

Applications enabled without hardware customization are said to include a router, a WiFi range extender, a NAS device, or a network security camera. Other more advanced gizmos include robots and drones, which will be available in kit form, as well as home automation devices.

Omega-based spider robot kit
(click image to enlarge)

All hardware schematics, board design, and bill of materials will be made available, says Onion. In addition, the OS and other system software, including an API compatible version of the Onion Cloud, will be open sourced.

Further information

The Onion Omega is available on Kickstarter through May 5, starting at $25, with the companion USB dock, with shipments due in August. More information may be found at the Onion Omega Kickstarter page, as well as the Onion website.

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