This week’s EYE ON NPI (video) won’t have you singin’ the blues about Bluetooth stack development. It’s InPlay IN100 NanoBeacon™ Bluetooth® Low Energy Beacon SoC, an ultra-low cost way to make sensor beacons for data collection, with no coding required!
These flash-less chips are packed with peripherals that can be configured with a desktop tool and then burned into OTP EEPROM memory. That makes them both reliable and very inexpensive, so they’re great for distributed sensors that may end up getting damaged or lost.
They’re also great for when you want to get something into production super fast and don’t want to spend time learning Bluetooth SDKs or wireless stacks.
Bluetooth LE is a low-power 2.4 GHz protocol that has some nice ‘connection-less’ capabilities. Unlike WiFi and cellular, BLE has the ability to act like a ‘beacon‘ where data is blipped out for anyone to listen to. Note that in beacon mode, there’s no wireless reception happening – and because there’s no need to listen for packets, the beacon can go into very, very low power usage because it just has to wake up, send the beacon out, and go back to deep sleep. Receiving requires a lot more power because you have to be listening at all times. Beacons are what are used in “lost and found” tags, for asset or people tracking, as well as distributing URLs.
Normally, folks would use a common BLE chipset such as nRF, Dialog, or TI – often these come with a ARM Cortex chip inside that can run a BLE stack. The stack can either be the in-house brand such as the nRF SDK or a third-party like Zephyr, but either way you have to write some code and burn it into the chip. You also have to learn how to manage the low power modes and debug your code.
For many basic beacon projects, such as measuring a digital, analog, or I2C sensor – the IN100 is pretty amazing: all the low power and SDK stuff is done – you just have to configure each board and burn in the settings.
The good news is that you can deploy your beacons or sensor nodes super fast, and because the core is designed to only do this one thing, the chips are really really cheap. Like 40 cents per piece cheap! Your entire BOM for a beacon product could easily be under $1 including the coin battery. They’re available in 10-DFN IN100-D1 and 18-QFN IN100-Q1, depending on how many GPIO you need.
Since the trade-off for the ultra-simple design and low BOM cost is OTP memory, we recommend getting the IN100 evaluation kit which comes with a programming dongle and three beacon boards fitted with the QFN version of the IN100. Then download the cross-platform configuration tool and follow the YouTube video tutorials they’ve filmed to learn how to configure the beacons for different advertising modes.
Don’t worry about making mistakes: you can always run from RAM to iterate the design before finally burning it into the OTP! And even if there are errors, the InPlay IN100 NanoBeacon Eval Kits are inexpensive. Once you’re ready to go into production, the individual chips are plentiful and low cost, so you can get into production almost immediately.
The InPlay IN100 NanoBeacon Eval Kits, IN100-D1 and IN100-Q1 are all in stock right now for immediate shipment from Digi-Key – available nowhere else! If you’re curious to try this no-code BLE beacon chipset, order today and you can be Bluetooth Beacon’ing by tomorrow afternoon!