Arduino Alternative: Espressif ESP8266

2017-06-30 03:09:00 by

 

Introduction

 

For a while the go-to maker board has been the Arduino Uno and other Arduino alternatives. The ease of use of the Arduino programming language and community support has made it very popular. But the Arduino launched with no connectivity (Wi-Fi/Bluetooth) and these days with everything being an Internet of Thing (IoT) you need to be connected.

 

Introducing the ESP8266

 

There were some Wi-Fi shields produced for the Arduino boards that worked quite well but they were expensive and large so along comes Espressif with their Arduino compatible Wi-Fi chip for 5 bucks. These little devices worked great to add Wi-Fi to an Arduino project but everyone realized pretty quick that the Espressif ESP8266 chip had a 32 bit microcontroller and could replace the Arduino completely.

 

But what really made the ESP8266 take off is that the maker community added support for the ESP8266 in the Arduino IDE so now you could write the same code for either platform.

At first it was difficult to use the ESP8266 chipset but eventually the people from Sparkfun and Adafruit came out with development boards like the Adafruit Feather Huzzah featuring the ESP8266.

 

With these development boards you can get up and running just like you would an Arduino board in the same environment.

 

The Sparkfun ESP8266 Thing-Dev Board development board has an on-board USB programmer and Arduino IDE support as well:

 

If you look at the pinout you can get an idea of what’s available for analog/digital/GPIO pins:

 

 

Pros and Cons of ESP8266 vs. Arduino Uno

 

So let’s look at a few advantages/disadvantages of using the ESP8266 over the Arduino Uno:

+ built-in Wi-Fi

+ smaller size

+ Arduino IDE supported

— Not all Arduino libraries supported and work

— Not as many GPIO pins

— Only supports 3.3V power rail (5V devices would need level shifter)

 

The Upcoming ESP32

 

Espressif has released the next generation of their chips called the ESP32 that’s a 32 bit successor to the ESP8266.

 

 

This chip is going to add Bluetooth (with Wi-Fi) and 32 GPIO pins making it a real contender in the microcontroller market. Dev boards are available but the Arduino support is still in the works so we are still in beta territory but once this is out in the wild I think it will take a lot of design builds from the Arduino platform.

 

Final Thoughts on ESP8266

 

For prototyping and trying to build proof of concepts off of the Arduino platform I still like to have a basic Arduino like the UNO R3 to quickly get things started and leverage my existing hardware/software. Then when I want to start to get into the connectivity side of things I start to look at something like the ESP8266 – I can port my Arduino code over and then start adding in the connectivity that I want.

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