IDF 2014: Intel Starts Shipping Edison Compute Module

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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Intel reveals plans for the future of Edison development platform, ahead of its European launch in October

Intel has started shipping the Edison compute module – a tiny development board that features 1GB of RAM, 4GB of flash memory, built-in wireless and a dual-core Atom CPU capable of basic processing tasks – to customers in the US.

Edison was created to simplify hardware design process for the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable technology applications – developers can build new devices using the familiar Atom architecture, with all of the essentials included on a board that’s about half the size of a Raspberry Pi, but compatible with existing Arduino shields.

The module is priced at around $50 (£30), and will be coming to the UK sometime in October.

The company was showing off Edison-powered prototypes created by its own engineers at the annual Intel Developers Forum (IDF) in San Francisco. These included quad-copters, a braille printer and 3D-printed clothing that responds to the wearer’s emotional state.

Next year, Intel will work on expanding the Edison product range, Ed Ross, director of inventor platforms at Intel’s New Devices Group told TechWeekEurope.

Praise the maker

The low-power Edison development board was announced at CES in January. It was originally meant to be based on a Quark System-on-a-Chip (SoC), but the recipe has been tweaked and now includes two Atom-based ‘Tangier’ cores alongside a single Quark core, all built on the 22nm process. Other goodies on board include Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and USB headers.

Intel_Edison_with_stamp_nrWhile the opening keynote of IDF focused on Intel’s role in the adoption of commercial wearable technology, with examples including the MICA ‘smart’ bracelet and BioSport headphones from SMS Audio that can measure the user’s hear rate, the talk by Mike Bell, general manager of the New Devices Group, brought the spotlight to the maker movement and prototyping.

After the presentation, Ed Ross told the press that Edison was a niche product that was not aiming to compete with the established ‘hobbyist’ hardware like Arduino or Raspberry Pi. The story was somewhat different with Galileo – a development board certified by Arduino.

In a scenario outlined by Ross, a developer would start building products on the Galileo platform using their Arduino skills, and then transfer the result to the more compact, more powerful Edison for production runs.

“We feel that we have something completely different – forget about the software architecture, it’s the whole offering. It’s targeted towards the inventor – whether that’s start-up, an entrepreneur or a massive company,” Ross said.

idf14_mikebell_dressHe added that the board was named after the famous American inventor not just because he gave us the light bulb, but also due to his attitude to failure as an integral part of innovation. This held especially true in rapid prototyping – a process where you have to fail time and time again in order to arrive at a successful product.

Intel currently offers two expansion boards for Edison, aimed at enthusiasts and professionals. But the project is not limited to hardware – Edison includes a cloud-based platform for M2M communication, as well as online community-based support.

Ross revealed that the project will become a foundation for a whole family of devices, with more Edison variants coming next year. One of the possibilities is a SoC with even lower performance, power requirements and price-point. Another is a premium module for applications that require a lot of visual processing.

“We want to see what the market reaction is, to figure out what we’re doing next. We absolutely have things that we’re moving forward with now, that you will see next year. It’s just how we tweak those, based on how this thing [Edison] is being used,” Ross said.

The first generation of Edison boards will be launched in the UK next month, and is due to appear on sale in 65 countries before the end of the year.

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