back to article DIY IoT computer smaller than a square inch

A Chinese crowd-funded effort has produced what could be – for now, at least – the smallest Linux computer-on-module so far, and with its research effort oversubscribed, says it will be shipping its “VoCore” devices by October 2014. The 25 x 25mm embedded system isn't designed for fat compute loads, but at a list price of $US20 …

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Cute

It's sort of cute, but basically it's a little computer that seems to always need a bigger computer to talk to it. Unlike, say, a Raspberry Pi, which could do things on its own after a bigger computer was used to set it up.

Of course, once you add the docking station, it stops having that problem.

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Re: Cute

It's actually a little router, so it's entire purpose is to talk to other devices.

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Joke

Re: Cute

"To talk to other devices" about what?

Hi, I'm a router...

Oh, what were we talking about?

Hi, I'm a router...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cute

Does anybody want some toast?

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Re: Cute

It's a bit like 3D printing - everyone knows it's clever and clearly the future, but has yet to find a real use case for it in most circumstances. IOT will always be available RSN in my estimation.

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Boffin

Re: Cute

Unlike, say, a Raspberry Pi, which could do things on its own...

What makes you think this can't run arbitrary code equally well as any other embedded McGuffin, fruity-named or otherwise? Yes, this obviously runs OpenWRT instead of <insert Linux distribution>, but for a headless application that doesn't make much of a difference, as long as you can script / compile whatever you need to get done for OpenWRT. There's nothing preventing you hosting a web server on it to toggle your lights or set your thermostat directly if you wish. How exactly do you define "on its own"...?

Of course, once you add the docking station, it stops having that problem.

I'm sure you realise the "dock" is all of three connectors on a PCB, routed directly to the module's pins, yes?

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Pint

"Raspberry Pi, ...after a bigger computer was used to set it up."

"...a Raspberry Pi, which could do things on its own after a bigger computer was used to set it up."

Huh?

I don't recall ever needing a 'bigger' computer to set up the Raspberry Pi. I just turned it on and it's ready to take on the world.

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Looks promising

I think you lot should send S. Sharwood up to Taiyuan for a look-see when he's done in Taiwan.

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Linux on the postage stamp

> The 25 x 25mm embedded system

Electric motors revolutionarised (groan!) the world. They're in most powered appliances these days - but they're "invisible": just one of the components that we don't give a second thought to.

This little thingy, and its future generations could do the same.

While there are embedded microcontrollers that are just as ubiquitous as electric motors, they tend to be single operation, uncommunicative, non-networked, un(re)programmable devices that are indistinguishable from all the other chips, and are there simply to replace a handful of logic chips and keep costs lower.

However, these devices will be exposed to the outside world. They have networking capabilities and therefore can be accessed by anyone with a Wifi transceiver connected to a keyboard (whether you want them to connect, or not). Not only is that their strongest feature, it's also their biggest drawback. Apart from the hacking vulnerabilities, a dependency on a network link that can disappear, be reconfigured or suffer RFI is just another thing to go wrong. So while these could turn the IoT into reality (once the Mk 2 gets its power consumption down) I really hope that whoever is making these devices, or embedding them in their products, is gearing up to provide an extremely highly staffed help-desk.

Maybe that's where the real money is to be made?

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But...

Will it run CrysisHeartbleed?

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Re: But...

Absolutely, as long as you use one of the affected OpenWRT versions. Why would you do that is another matter...

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I can't be bothered to check the datasheet right now but if I'm guessing right this is the same SoC that a lot of cheap 3g router/bridge thingies are based on. It's not very powerful and is really built for being a router (like having the switch built in). I'm not sure this part is really great for IoT devices.

If it has to run linux one of the low end ARM9 SoCs from Freescale or Atmel would have been a better choice.

https://www.olimex.com/Products/OLinuXino/iMX233/iMX233-OLinuXino-NANO/open-source-hardware <-- This board is fairly small. I can imagine a BGA based board could be done in around the same size as this module and the chip would be a lot better supported, more suitable, actually have documentation etc.

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> It's not very powerful ... I'm not sure this part is really great for IoT devices.

Just how much processing power do you need to drive your 'thing'? More than reading a few sensors and flicking a few output lines?

> but if I'm guessing right this is the same SoC that a lot of cheap 3g router/bridge thingies are based on

So it is cheap and well-known?

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>More than reading a few sensors and flicking a few output lines?

If it's designed for a router the "few output lines" (guessing you mean GPIO), serial buses (SPI,I2C etc) will be suited for that application and not for general purpose hacking. If I remember correctly something like a quarter of the pins on that SoC are dedicated to router/switch functions and can't be repurposed. Something like the older generation Freescale imx chips or Atmel's SAM lines will give you more IO options, a faster CPU (and it'll be ARM which is a little bit better supported than MIPS), probably a ton more options to save power as they aren't designed to be always on driving multiple ethernet ports...

> but if I'm guessing right this is the same SoC that a lot of cheap

>3g router/bridge thingies are based on

>So it is cheap and well-known?

It's maybe well known to people that work with this stuff on a daily basis. These sorts of parts are the ones that you can't get docs for, can only get docs for them under NDA (good luck with that with a Chinese part if you don't have a contact in China that can negotiate for you) or only have docs available that are leaked from reference board bundles and probably aren't up to date or even worse pre-release advance info. The freescale and atmel parts on the other hand have full datasheets written in good to acceptable English you can grab from their sites and both companies have engineers that are paid to keep their stuff in the mainline kernel. But you know actually being able to work with the part is probably less important than "OOOOH SHINY!".

A small footnote:

Not sure why this is news of any sort really. Similar modules with this family of chips and similar ones from other vendors have been on Alibaba for ages now and the size is similar if not the same. I guess someone managing to crowdfund a run of their own take on this is slightly newsworthy...

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And here's a much more capable device for the same sort of money:

http://www.acmesystems.it/arietta

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It's news because it's actually available, with real support, instead of being something that you can't get docs for, can only get docs for them under NDA (good luck with that with a Chinese part if you don't have a contact in China that can negotiate for you) or only have docs available that are leaked from reference board bundles and probably aren't up to date or even worse pre-release advance info.

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@Gene Cash

Where are the docs? You mean the schematic on the indiegogo page?

The only datasheet for the SoC itself has "Ralink confidential" across all the pages and is a pre-release datasheet it seems. So you've reworded my comment to make it look like you know something I don't but all you've done is show that you don't actually understand what I wrote.

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Re: here's a much more capable device

No Ethernet, 3.3V only, so in at least two respects it's somewhat less capable.

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What is that? A linux computer for ants?

See title.

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Re: What is that? A linux computer for ants?

Why am I the first person to upvote this? Maybe the others are all kids who can't read good.

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PORN?

Anyone notice that one of this beastie's pins is designated PORN?

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Re: PORN?

Technically that's a zero, but have an upvote anyway (after all, this thing has one WiFi and two Ethernet connections which just screams "Internet", and we all know the Internet is for porn...)

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Unhappy

much like an Ardunio Yun, except...

instead of providing a Wifi interface for an Ardunio controller, it will turn up in internet cafe's for key logging and pubs, café, restaurants for phantom Wifi web-logging

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