Right now almost every microcontroller board, or single-board computer, that launches claims to be the perfect platform to develop applications and devices for the Internet of Things. Most are what I call “kitchen sink” boards, because their approach is to just throw another radio at the problem. The new Wio Link from SeeedStudio is not one of these boards.
Instead the Wio Link takes a stab at putting together an ecosystem, rather than a platform. Based around the ESP8266 microcontroller, the board comes with connectors for Seeed’s now ubiquitous Grove System and is plug and play. You just plug your chosen Grove modules into the board, and open up Seeed’s iOS or Android application. From there you can connect to and configure the board, automatically generate firmware, and then upload it to the board over the air, directly from your phone.
But there’s a lot more here than an absence of breadboards and jumper wires, it commoditises both sensors and actuators. This is the first step towards sensors-as-a-service.
For people used to boards like the Arduino, or even the Raspberry Pi, this can seem like a strange model. All the “smarts” are elsewhere, like the MetaWear boards from MbientLabs, the real software development is done elsewhere, on phones, or in the cloud. As a result, the Wio Link is intended for software hacking rather than hardware hacking, for rapid prototyping, and product development. This is hardware development for software developers, or designers, and it’s making a real stab at commoditisation of something that (until now) has taken specialist knowledge.
The Wio Link launched on Kickstarter today, with a number of different backer tiers — from a single board costing just $9 (with early bird pricing), to a deluxe kit with two boards and a huge range of Grove modules at $89. The board is expected to ship in February next year.