On October 30, at ENSCI-Les Ateliers in Paris, the Nodesign team introduced their new programmable circuit board for designers of smart objects: WeIO. Makery was there, and beta-tested it on site.
Words and photos by Quentin Chevrier, code by Aurélien Fache
For the past two years, Uroš Petrevski, Draško Drašković and Jean-Louis Frechin have been working on a programmable circuit board made especially for designers of household objects. Their recently ended Indiegogo campaign was 375 % successful. According to the team, designers have learned how to code and build simple electronic circuits, often with Arduino, but when they want to connect their objects to any kind of data, they are faced with the intimidatingly steep learning curve of the Internet of Things: data management, connections, servers…
“The Internet of Things should be as simple as the Internet of screens.” Uroš Petrevski
It’s this mountain that WeIO promises to conquer, so that designers can go directly from electronics to application: “It’s HTML5 in the real world.” Concretely, the circuit board integrates a wifi connection and a server. It can be coded directly from a web browser, so no need to use a dedicated software or master Linux (barely veiled attack on Arduino and Raspberry Pi).
Right away, you can connect your WeIO to your household wifi, smartphone, or any computer within reach of the network. Using this immediate integrated system, WeIO intends to refocus designers on their priority, which is using a connected object to solve a problem. Emphasis on connected. Uroš Petrevski reaffirmed this at ENSCI-Les Ateliers: “Without wifi, WeIO is useless.”
Makery Prototype: connected bike-sharing station
To give us an idea of just how easy it is to implement, the WeIO team let us beta-test one of 10 prototypes. Our office is located near a Vélib’ bike-sharing station in Paris, but the number of available bikes varies (and is often disappointing). Every night, it’s a dilemma: bike or subway? We take out our smartphone, select the app, wait for it to load, find our location… it’s long and repetitive. With our prototype for connected household objects and a Vélib counter, we know the number of available bikes at all times.
Basically, the prototype required a WeIO board, servomotor, cardboard, Scotch tape, marker, generating an API key to retrieve the data from our station, and hosting this data on a PHP page.
After a few initial bugs, the WeIO developers came to our rescue with a system update (no surprise, that’s what beta tests are for), and the code took only a few more minutes. Actually the cardboard and Scotch tape part took longer!
For a prototype built with a newly introduced board, the WeIO proved to be extremely simple (no software, no Linux, no server…). Although it’s worth noting that our test didn’t exactly push the board to its limits.
True open source, true open hardware
WeIO is not patented. The project code is available on Github (with 6 contributors to date), and the detailed list of components wil also be available online soon (“Everything can be bought separately!”) For Draško Drašković and Uroš Petrevski, this detail is important. “On Raspberry Pi, if you’ve made a good prototype and you want to make a dedicated electronic circuit, derived from the board, it’s complicated. Their components can’t be purchased separately.” For designers, saving space (and money) on the board by limiting the number of components is particularly appreciated. However, as the list is not yet available, we were not able to verify this promise.
The team admits that the manual is one thing that needs to be improved quickly. Nodesign will focus their efforts on making the WeIO board for “better performance at a lower price”. They are not planning on making 4G board or a miniWeIO.
Tornado Server, 1.4W… space for technology
The plain-looking WeIO board is nothing special in terms of form. It’s slightly bigger than an Arduino Yun, with pins lined up to plug in annex components, USB and micro-USB ports… Some original items are an integrated thermometer, an RGB LED and a microSD card slot, if you want to convert the WeIO into a local server.
Uroš emphasizes that WeIO is a European project. The board’s printed circuit design is by 8devices in Lithuania.
As for wifi, the WeIO integrates a Tornado server that can handle thousands of connections. The board can also interconnect with others like it. Once wifi is activated, it consumes 1.4W. In short, a WeIO plugged into a smartphone battery would last about two days, without sharing power with any other energy-consuming components.
WeIO should be available in 2015, for around 60 euros.