>> ARDUINO BLE SHOWDOWN - AND THE WINNER IS?
I have had the luxury of playing around with a few BLE kits for arduino.
A number of BLE kits exist for the arduino platform - but which one should
you consider when it comes to getting started with BLE? In this blog post
I post my thoughts and experiences with a number of kits that are available;
looking at the size, power options, connectivity and customizations, the
SDK (tools, usage, API coverage) and most importantly the price. The
results are close; but who will win overall?
I have given each kit a rating between 1 (worst) and 9 (best) - the results are:
The BLE shield is a conventional shield that can be connected to an
arduino UNO, Mega or Leonardo micro controller and can be programmed
Nordic nRF8001 and
RedBearLabs BLE Shield
library. It obtains its power from the arduino itself and provides complete
pass-through of the various analog, GPIO and PWM connectors.
For prototyping the BLE shield is the easiest and best option - applications
can be built with no special mainboard considerations which means no IDE
dependencies and the SDK provides a comprehensive API that makes working
with the device a breeze. Debugging is also a breeze via the traditional
debugging methods used for arduino.
If size is an issue then this wont be an option for you - a complete setup
can be quite bulky in nature however you can provide between 5V and 20V
of power to the mainboard which can make installing and deploying the device
easier in some circumstances. The RedBearLabs version provides additional
functionality and optionally an external antenna.
Since an arduino UNO is required at minimum, a complete working solution
can be pricy.
final score: 35
geeetech BLE shield - $28.80 USD
RedBearLabs BLE shield - $28.31 USD
Blend Micro (RedBearLabs)
The Blend Micro
by RedBearLabs is the first combined arduino and BLE device that was available
under the arduino atheart
program and offers the functionality of a BLE shield and arduino
(Atmel ATmega32U4) in a small package. The same SDK as the BLE
shield can be used; however compiling applications does require arduino
IDE 1.0.5 - it is possible to use the 1.5.7 beta with some fiddling and
minor changes to the configuration files.
The Blend Micro didn't skim down on connectability options as it still offers
six analog, eleven GPIO and a few GND pins by clever placement along the edges
of the board. With the integration of a micro USB connector debugging is
just as easy as it has always been which is critical for development using
the Serial Monitor.
It is a great size and can be powered by providing between 5V and 12V or
via the USB connector; it unfortunately doesn't have the option of using
a CR2032 battery even though it operates at 3.3V internally. Overall it
provides great functionality in a small package - the best of the series
of devices that were evaluated.
As a combined arduino and BLE micro controller - the pricing is good and
final score: 37
RedBearLabs Blend Micro - $36.13 USD
is by far the smallest integrated arduino and BLE device currently on the
market - "finger tip" sized is the marketing message from the creators. It
uses an ARM Cortex M0 16Mhz processor and even with its small size offers
seven GPIO pins, some of which can be mapped to be analog or PWM and eight
GND (seven are optional) pins.
A custom SDK is provided and there is a dependency on the arduino IDE 1.5.7
beta due to the use of the ARM CPU - which is limited to thumb instructions
so a number of built in libraries may not work
for example) and the documentation is poorly written at best. If you dig
around the header files you will however find a nice set of well defined
For prototyping and development a USB shield is a must however the team
obviously didn't consider that using it on thin laptops would be
cumbersome. Powering the device can be done by providing
between 2.1V and 3.6V - conveniently a CR2032 battery shield is available
but doing so loses the size benefit. However, if you are happy to perform
some soldiering - then you can maintain the size advantage .
With a numerous kits available, the pricing is competitive and definitely
final score: 34
RFduino SMT/BLE 4.0 RF Module RFD22301 - $14.99 USD
Starter Kit RFD90101 - $40.00 USD
Master Developmer Kit RFD90105 - $500.00 USD
The LightBlue Bean by PunchThrough Labs provides not only combined arduino
(Atmel ATmega328) and BLE functionality but it also offers offers a
number of integrated sensors and components (accelerometer, temperature, LED)
out of the box - in addition to two analog, six GPIO and two GND pins and
a small prototyping region of the board for connecting additional components.
An interesting feature is the ability to program the device wirelessly
over BLE - however this comes with unfortunate side effects; currently
you must have a relatively new Apple running Mac OSX 10.9.2 or newer.
There is no security for flashing the device so it is easy to highjack -
which means it will not be of much use for any security solutions. It uses
a custom SDK that is very limited and has a crazy installation dependency
on the arduino IDE 1.0.5 with Teensyduino extensions.
The lack of a USB connector also meant that debugging your BLE application
is not so easy (as the unit can only connect to one device at a time). You
could use the LED as a debugging tool - but only hardcore types would dare
to do that. It requires between 3.0V and 3.6V to operate but the team was
smart to provide a CR2032 battery slot on the underside.
With a few sensors integrated and the low price this one is cool but for
fun projects only.
Overall; it really comes down to what you want to do with these kits to
really decide which is best for your project. The Blend Micro and LightBlue
Bean are strong and relatively close - but if security is a concern then
the choice is going to be simple. I've had fun playing with all of these
kits with the
RC buggy hack
(yes, I have gotten every kit to work with the project).
I hope that some of the feedback here is useful to assist in your purchase