I recently purchased the (now discontinued) Intel Edison Breakout Board Kit from Fry’s Electronics. I’m guessing that I overpaid for this product offering by Intel since they’re only $23 at the time of this writing.
I assume that there was a moment a few years ago in which Intel must have thought that they needed to enter into this whole IoT business and rule the space, given their history. I’m sure they were made confident in the sheer volume of Raspberry Pi and Arduino boards being shipped each year. “How hard could this be?”, I’m sure they asked themselves before venturing out into terra incognita.
Setting it up
Setting up the board was a bit different from earlier attempts with either Raspberry Pi or Arduino boards. Intel decided that it would have you use a paired-down Linux customization called Yocto to generate the operating system. The result is a slim o/s with just enough breathing room for things to run.
Additionally, it uses not one but two micro-USB cables to your workstation for a fair bit of that setup which seems unique. The first connection powers the Edison and creates a virtual network adapter and can be used to flash the code. The second is strictly serial and can also be used to communicate with the board. From the specifications, it includes two UARTs, for what it’s worth. Once setup, you can power it from the single connection, however.
At times, this duality can lead to trouble as seen when attempting to connect the Edison within Intel’s System Studio software. It was unable to connect using the hostname alone since this would try to use the wi-fi connection rather than the (expected) serial connection within their own software.
The Edison comes equipped with both Bluetooth and wi-fi. I would like to say that setting up the networking was easy; it wasn’t. I found the labyrinth of documentation to be daunting at times. The initial suggestion to get the chip running simply failed. I then had to do enough research to chase an alternative path to setting it up by using their Platform Flash Tool Lite version. Having then successfully connected the wi-fi to my network, I then attempted to see what was under the hood.
I was pleased to see that their own configuration utility which boots by default runs as a Node service. Once configured, the web interface provides little information than you probably already knew by inspection. They call their implementation of Node Intel XDK which is of course discontinued as well now.
Intel provides an IDE for programming these devices. One needs to register in order to download the software. Having installed the interface, it’s easy to be impressed at how complicated the interface looks. It’s a lot like Microsoft Visual Studio with its number of panels and such.
Unfortunately, all this doesn’t work—we’re just talking about the “Hello World” example and it simply doesn’t work on the Edison. A single shell script called
device-detection.sh does not appear to include the code for the device and further, throws a fatal syntax error in the Yocto bash itself.
Unfortunately, this means that any code compiled for the Edison uses the wrong target and so won’t run. Searching within their user community forum doesn’t result in anything useful so I’ve decided to abandon System Studio for the moment.
Like a Raspberry Pi or an Arduino board, the Edison has GPIO pins. They’re just available on the back of the breakout board in this case. There is also a space for adding a barrel connector for power, should you want.
At a discounted price of $23, this falls into the middle range between a Raspberry Pi Zero W ($5 plus $6 for microSD) and the Raspberry Pi 3B ($35 plus $6 for microSD) price points. It can host a diminished Linux stack, serve up Node applications and appears to have two full UARTs at your disposal unlike the Raspberry which only has one full UART.
It’s probably okay for a few IoT projects but I doubt if I’d try to spin up a grand solution given its discontinued status. It was a good exercise in getting my feet wet with my first Yocto configuration at least.
I find myself disappointed with Intel’s inability to succeed within this product space. I could only guess how they failed at this; I have to assume that the right people skills were not included in the teams which contributed to this.