Frame everything else you hear about Sony’s Spresense with this fact: It needs very little power to run. The board is built around the chipset Sony designed to run its smart earbuds. From the start, it needed to be able to run off a battery small enough to tuck behind your ear and forget.
That’s remarkable in light of the computing horsepower this little board brings to the table. Spresense hits performance benchmarks that almost compare to a single board computer, far outstripping what we expect out of a microcontroller. The most impressive demos of the Spresense to me were the neural nets running AI tasks, jobs that catered to the Spresense’s multicore strengths.
With hookups on-board for a camera, microphone, and speakers, Spresense has access to the rich media that demands this kind of computing power.
Sony took pains to polish Spresense and make it an easy-to-use board. It’s programmed through the familiar Arduino editor, and comes with example programs demonstrating its advanced features: A sample music player program and a sample neural net program that recognizes numbers in the camera feed.
Spresense gets access to Arduino’s suite of shields with an “extension board”. The extension board snaps onto the base Spresense, giving it the same shape, size, and voltage as the classic Arduino Uno.
There is one extra minute of setup with the Spresense that might catch experienced makers off guard: Aside from the usual installation of a new board profile in the Arduino editor, you’ll also need to upload fresh firmware onto the board before first use, to open it up to accepting new sketches.
Another feature built into Spresense that we don’t normally see is its GPS receiver. Spresense knows where it is in the world. Actually, it’s a bit more than a GPS receiver: It’s a GNSS receiver. Spresense can tap into the original GPS network to locate itself on the globe, or any of 4 other positioning networks.
All told, Spresense is a small board with the hookups to feed in the kind of data that demands computing muscle, and the horsepower to deliver on that promise. Paradoxically, it demands so little power that a pair of AA batteries could run it for days without sleep.