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Posts Tagged ‘Intel’

Intel Edison

Intel Edison

As some of you that follows me on Twitter may already know, I was at MakerFaireRome a few weeks back, and I couldn’t resist to buy the new Intel Edison board, the follow-up of Intel Galileo. Now, the board promises to be a lot of fun: it has a dual core Atom CPU (!), plus an Intel Quark microcontroller, 1 GB of RAM, 4 GB of disk, WiFi and Bluetooth: basically, everything in a really small form factor. There are some interesting things that I would really like to try, for example SparkFun sells a LiPo battery, and I am really curious how long it could last while powering up all the good stuff that I cited above, but that’s not the main topic for this post.

What I really wanted to try actually is the Intel XDK: for some reason, Intel decided to develop its own SDK for mobile applications, that uses open source frameworks such as Apache Cordova (that I didn’t know about, and which I am quite curious about now!) to allow developers to create their applications using HTML5, CSS and JavaScript and deploy them on all the OSes (Android, iOS, Windows Phone). At some point they also decided to extend their SDK to support their IoT efforts (XDK IoT Edition), and that’s what I was finally able to try yesterday: attach some hardware, deploy an app on the Edison and its companion app on Android, and see how the two of them react together (of course, you can develop apps for the Edison using the Android IDE, but there are more powerful ways to do that…).

The hardware

Edison and a couple of sensors and actuators

Edison and a couple of sensors and actuators

I have to admit that I put together a very simple experiment very quickly, so nothing fancy here: I dug up a proto shield for Arduino that I prepared some time ago, with just a couple of LEDs and a couple of buttons, and I put them together on the Intel Edison and Arduino breakout board, which is basically a board that exposes some USB ports, a slot for the Edison itself, and a set of headers to connect Arduino shields.

The thing that took more time was updating the Edison firmware: it is as simple as download the files from the Intel Website and put them in a partition that appears when you connect the board to a computer, except for the fact that noone tells you that the partition should be formatted in FAT32 before doing that (by default it is FAT): if you don’t, when you connect to the board through the serial port and execute the update, Linux is not able to read the files and fails (by the way, they use Yocto, of course!).

XDK, IoT Edition

XDK IoT

XDK IoT

Anyway, once done that, I fired up the XDK: what Intel did was put together a C/C++ library that supports the usual hardware protocols (digital and analog I/O, SPI, PWM…), and they made a wrapper in Python and one in JavaScript, and this one is the one that the IDE uses: basically, you write an app using Node.JS, using any of the Node.JS libraries plus the one interfacing with the hardware, and then the IDE builds up the dependencies (whenever they need to be built) and packages them on the board. It supports deployment, start and stop from the IDE, and remote debugging (“remote” because the computer and the Edison communicate through a LAN, not through serial).

Now, I am quite new to Node.JS (i.e., it was the first time that I used it, since it is known that I consider JavaScript to be one of the worst languages ever), so what I did was take an existing template and play with it: the code that you see up there simply reads the status of the two buttons and updates the two LEDs according to which button is pressed (a standalone application, if you wish, that you can write as easily with the Arduino IDE). The “new” part is that it also fires up a Web server and creates a Websocket that periodically publishes the status of the buttons to whoever is connected to it. Starting the app, thus, means starting the standalone job and the Web server, that waits for anyone to connect to it.

The standalone part of the application was working (I did not make a video: it is too stupid as code to be worth it 🙂 ): it was time to find out how the smartphone counterpart works.

XDK, the smartphone counterpart

XDK smartphone

XDK smartphone

I started another existing template for smartphones, that was designed as a counterpart for another IoT template: basically, it shows a big grey circle and a text field, and it connects to the server that you specify on bootup, listening to the Websocket and updating the circle color and the text field whenever an update message arrives. The code is quite simple, and I made almost no modifications to the template: I maintained the same graphical layout and simply changed the message content that it receives from the Websocket (according to what I developed previously for the IoT app).

Bootup in the emulator

Bootup in the emulator

The editor part of the SDK is basically the same between the IoT and the smartphone parts: you are editing JavaScript in both cases. The smartphone part has several more tabs apart from the editor: first of all, the emulator. I am not sure but I think it uses the Intel virtualized capabilities of the hardware if available, or maybe it is only an emulator with HTML5 support: it was really fast to bootup (I am not sure because I was using it on Windows*, and I have no idea whether the virtualized capabilities are automatically started. I have not read much of the documentation for the XDK yet…); once started, it allows you to execute and debug an application, and see it using different graphical dispositions (the one in the screenshot is Nexus 4, but you have some Apple models and some Windows ones, plus others).

The IDE allows you to upload the app to the cloud and test it somehow: this is something I have to tried yet, so I cannot tell you much about it. If you don’t what to follow that route, you can simply test it on your devices: you need to install an Intel companion app that handles the communication with the XDK, and after that you can launch the execution on the device.

The app waiting for something to happen...

The app waiting for something to happen…

... something happened!

… something happened!

These are two screenshots that I took on my Nexus 5: the messages assume that someone is “knocking” by pressing the buttons on the shield connected to the Edison board. So it works! 🙂

Get the apk

Get the apk

Finally, you can build the APK: the XDK produces an ARM and an Intel version of the app, and you can download them and install them wherever you please, or put the in the various online markets. Of course, you can get the equivalents for iOS and Windows Phone (I have not tried, since I have no devices to try them).

Conclusions

All in all, the XDK is quite nice: it allows you to develop apps for IoT and smartphones using the same IDE, which for me is a very big plus. I found out the IDE to be a little unstable when moving from one app to the other, but then I installed an update and now it may be more stable (I found out about the update when I already finished my tests, so I have not tried it yet). I really need to explore more the Node.JS libraries on the IoT side and the JavaScript client libraries on the smartphone side (the XDK presents you with libraries for Facebook, Dropbox, Flickr, iTunes and much more, but I have no idea what they do or how they work), and also the Cordova API, that should allow the Web code to interact with the sensors inside the smartphone.

I have to say that I am quite interested in the idea of developing apps for all the smartphone OSes in one shot (yeah, I know is not a new idea…): as of today, I have only written native Android code, and I want to see what you can do using the HTML5 + JavaScript pair…

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L’immagine qui sopra è tratta dal datasheet che potete trovare sul sito della board; la riporto qui perché trovo sia interessante il fatto che, rispetto a tanta concorrenza (da Arduino Yun a pcDuino), qui l’interfaccia hardware Arduino-compatibile è fornita direttamente dal chip, e non da un microcontrollore a parte.

Da un lato, temo che così si perda la parte real-time che il microcontrollore permette di raggiungere, dall’altro però accedere all’interfaccia hardware (e magari anche all’API software di Arduino) dovrebbe essere possibile senza librerie intermedie (tipo la Bridge per lo Yun). Mi interessa semplicemente per pensare di costruirne un wrapper in altri linguaggi (chessò, Erlang per dire…).

Spero di riuscire ad aprire presto l’immagine Linux che viene fornita con la board, così da capire che librerie ci sono e cosa ci si può linkare (l’architettura è .586).

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Saluti da Roma!

Sto seguendo la MakerFaire edizione europea, organizzata da Riccardo Luna e Massimo Banzi qui al centro congressi dell’EUR. Oggi c’è stata la conferenza d’apertura, decisamente interessante e con un sacco di ospiti che finalmente si sono potuti conoscere di persona (dagli organizzatori, a gente come Dale Dougherty, Bruce Sterling e tanti altri).

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Inutile dire che il clou della giornata è stato il breve panel con il CEO di Intel, che ha annunciato la volontà dell’azienda di entrare nel mondo dei makers, mondo che avevano (colpevolmente) ignorato finora, e per farlo hanno iniziato una partnership con Arduino ed annunciato (e distribuito ai partecipanti 😀 😀 😀 ) il primo Arduino Intel-based (e dicono di averne un altro paio in canna). Il tutto in pieno spirito open hardware, con quindi tutta la parte elettronica aperta (stanno cercando i canali giusti di distribuzione, dato che quelli che hanno sempre avuto finora trattavano partner industriali e quantità molto grosse; la distribuzione della board inizierà a novembre). Sul lato software, appena provo il tutto scriverò in proposito (no, non so manco le specifiche hardware: oggi sono stato impegnato fino a tardi, ed ora ho l’unico accesso alla WiFi dell’albergo in uso per backup delle foto, appena finisce andrò sul sito a vedere (suspense); posso dirvi che c’è un attacco che non conosco, ed oggi si ventilava l’ipotesi pci-express… E l’alimentatore è da 2 A).

Ora, eccitazione a manetta a parte, e detto che non ho ancora provato nulla (ho solo aperto la scatola e scoperto che tra le altre cose hanno installato un altoparlantino che suona il jingle di Intel quando ribalti la scatola -_- ), propongo la seguente riflessione: da un lato l’arrivo delle grandi aziende è indice secondo me di diverse cose, dal fatto che il movimento dei makers è qui per restare al fatto che Intel potrebbe far saltare il banco in un campo che era preda di altri produttori di hardware, al fatto che Intel, da sempre distributrice di ad es. driver open per PC, promette schematiche altrettanto open.

La mia domanda è: l’ingresso di una realtà così grossa cosa significa per le tante realtà più piccole? I mean, durante il panel si diceva che la collaborazione in oggetto è iniziata 2 mesi fa, ed Intel in quattro e quattr’otto ha messo in campo l’expertise del caso e prodotto una scheda funzionante in fase di distribuzione. Per dire che, se ci sono le competenze, la concorrenza non è banale. Più che altro, mi viene in mente il paragone con la figura della Disney nel romanzo “Makers” di Cory Doctorow…

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