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Tiny Variscite DART joins growing list of Brillo-ready boards

Jun 10, 2016 — by Eric Brown — 1,334 views

Variscite’s tiny, i.MX6 UL based DART-6UL module now supports Brillo, adding to the momentum growing behind Google’s Android-based, IoT-focused OS.

Variscite announced its DART-6UL in December, as a follow-on to similarly tiny DART-MX6. The 50 x 25mm computer-on-module, which ships with Yocto Project Linux support, now supports Google’s lightweight, Android-based Brillo operating system as well. It’s one of several boards and embedded gizmos that support the open source, IoT-focused distro, with more on the way (see farther below).

(click images to enlarge)

The DART-6UL runs on NXP’s power-sipping, Cortex-A7 based i.MX6 UltraLite (UL) SoC, clocked to 528MHz. The IoT-focused i.MX6UL has a stripped down WXGA display interface, but it offers security, tamper detection, and power management features missing from the original i.MX6 chips.

Designed for battery-powered devices, the tiny COM sells for a low $27 in volume. The DART-6UL is equipped with up to 512MB DDR3L, 512MB NAND flash, and up to 32GB eMMC flash. WiFi and Bluetooth/BLE are onboard, as well as support for dual Fast Ethernet ports. Dual 90-pin expansion connectors are provided along with other I/O headers, and you can choose from one of two carrier board kits: the VAR-DVK-6UL and VAR-6ULCustomBoard.

Brillo advances onto hacker boards and more

Google’s Brillo, which was announced just over a year ago, is differentiated from Android by being aimed primarily at home automation devices that lack touchscreens. It was announced at the same time as the mesh-capable Weave IoT networking and communications protocol, which it integrates, as well as the related Thread wireless standard. Many developers are buying into Brillo because of its tight integration with Weave.

Brillo architecture (or at least some of it)
(click image to enlarge)

Brillo is claimed to be open source, but you still need to request an invitation to develop for it, and there are few publicly available technical details. The OS can run on as little as 32MB of RAM and 128MB of storage, and supports WiFi and Bluetooth. It does not currently offer Thread support, although Google has hinted that this would be added in the future.

Brillo is promoted for its easy setup and OTA updates, and the ability to collect and aggregate metrics from multiple devices. In March, posted a few additional details about Brillo.

Variscite’s DART-6UL COM follows a number of other new products that have launched with Brillo support, or added it later. Last year NXP/Freescale chose TechNexion’s i.MX6-based PICO-IMX6 COM and PICO-Dwarf carrier board as its official Brillo development platform.

Other COMs and SBCs that support Brillo (left to right): PICO-IMX6, Creator Ci40, HobbitBoard, Andromeda Box Edge

Several open-spec single board computers now support Brillo. For example, Imagination’s MIPS-based Creator Ci20 and newer Creator Ci40, which ships this month, are both supported with Brillo in addition to Linux.

Two other hacker boards support Brillo exclusively: Wandboard’s HobbitBoard sandwich-style SBC, which like the DART-6UL features a COM core that’s based on an i.MX6 UltraLite SoC; and Marvell’s Andromeda Box Edge, which runs Brillo on a much more powerful, quad-core Cortex-A53 Marvell IAP140 SoC. An upcoming Andromeda Box Connect version for IoT gateways will support Brillo, as will Marvell’s new IAP220 SoC, a dual-core, Cortex-A7 sibling to the IAP140 designed for wearables and other low-power IoT devices.

Edison Arduino Kit (left) and DragonBoard 410c

Intel is a member of the Brillo project, and has added Brillo support to the Intel Atom-based Edison module. The chipmaker is also working on an Edison Kit for Brillo based on its Edison Arduino kit. According to the barebones Brillo website, the 96Boards compatible DragonBoard 410c hacker board from Arrow and Qualcomm now supports Brillo. Like the Andromeda Box Edge, the DragonBoard 410c is a 96Boards compatible SBC.

Brillo and Weave heading for gizmos

In January, Android Headlines reported on several device makers that plan to ship Brillo-based products this year. Speaker manufacturer Harman will ship gear with Brillo and Weave, and Asus, which built Google’s Weave-ready, Gentoo Linux based OnHub router, will support Brillo and Weave in an unnamed new IoT product portfolio.

The story also mentioned Kwikset and LG as having Brillo and Weave plans, although possibly only for Weave. LG has its own relatively lightweight, Linux-based WebOS distribution, which is built into its smart TVs, but we have not seen much expansion into other LG consumer electronics.

Nest Labs, which belongs to Google parent company Alphabet, has bet heavily on Weave and the Thread wireless protocol that works hand in hand with it. However, its devices do not run Brillo, and with the recent unrest at the company and the departure of CEO Tony Fadell, the future direction of Nest is uncertain. In an early sign of the increasing disconnect between the Google and Nest efforts, back in October, a Nest spokesperson told EETimes that Brillo would use a different variant of Weave than Nest’s version.

Nest recently released an open source version of the Thread protocol called OpenThread. According to Motley Fool, the move was an attempt to better compete with Amazon’s popular Echo speaker. Meanwhile, Amazon open sourced the Echo’s Alexa virtual assistant so it can better interact with other IoT devices.

Ubuntu Snappy Core architecture

Brillo is just one of several new small-footprint Linux- and RTOS-based distributions going after the IoT market. Canonical has made similar progress with its Ubuntu Snappy Core, a lightweight version of Ubuntu with transactional and app marketplace capabilities. Samsung is aiming Tizen at higher-end consumer electronics, although its IoT-focused Artik boards ship with Fedora.

On the horizon is Ostro, an open source Linux distribution with built-in Iotivity support and pre-configured and validated sensor support. Meanwhile, the older, lightweight OpenWrt continues to find support on IoT boards and gizmos, and the even older and more stripped down uCLinux can run on some microcontrollers.

In the RTOS world, the open source Zephyr is an emerging option. There’s also ARM’s MCU-focused Mbed, among others.

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