EYE on NPI – Espressif ESP32-C6 Series Modules #EYEonNPI #DigiKey @DigiKey @EspressifSystem

This week’s EYE ON NPI is more like an “EYE ON Ladyada’s Desk” because while the ESP32-C6 has not yet been featured by DigiKey on their New Products Page we’re starting to spend a little time checking out this new Espressif chip – the ESP32-C6 series – and the ready-to-use modules available from DigiKey, such as the ESP32-C6 WROOM.

We use the Espressif family of chips in tons of our designs: they’re inexpensive, powerful, have excellent low-power sleep modes, and all come with fast and secure WiFi functionality, so they make for excellent IoT devices.

Starting with the ESP32 in 2016, a follow-up to their ‘accidental microcontroller’ the ESP8266, Espressif has focused on Tensilica-based microcontrollers with built in WiFi and/or Bluetooth radio. By combining the silicon for radio and processor, they’ve been able to come in at disruptively-low pricing – with chips ranging from $1-$3 and modules from $2-$6. Compare this to historical pricing for ‘WiFi only’ co-processor modules that sold for $10~$20 – and you’d still need a microcontroller and networking stack.

Over the years they’ve branched out to include improved BLE, native USB, and many other peripherals like CAN and TFTs. They’ve also dabbled in RISC-V, adding a co-processor to the ESP-Sx series and finally going ‘full RISC-V’ in the ESP-Cx series.

Now, with the C6, they’re adding a new protocol to the mix: in addition to updating to WiFi 6 and BLE 5, the C6 also can talk 2.4GHz 802.15.4 which means it can communicate with Zigbee devices including Thread and… Matter, an open-source connectivity standard for smart home and Internet of Things devices from the Connectivity Standards Alliance, formerly the ZigBee Alliance.

Matter is, hopefully, not just the latest, but the last attempt at creating a unified standard for home/business/industrial IoT and automation.

It is a higher level protocol that runs on top of WiFi, BLE, or Thread – Thread being a replacement for Zigbee that also runs on 802.15.4 radios.

That means that if you want to create a Matter device, you can use any of the three transports supported by the ESP32-C6: WiFi is medium range, medium cost, high power, medium complexity and high data rate: once you set up the access point, and as long as it’s plugged into the wall, it tends to work very well. BLE is lower range, low cost, low power and medium complexity since you still need to pair to another device.

Thread/ZigBee is medium range, low power, low cost, and high complexity since you need a gateway to use. That gateway point is one of the things that is frustrating for folks who want to add multiple ‘families’ of IoT devices to their home: each company has their own gateway you need to purchase.

The concept being Matter is that any Matter device can use any Matter gateway.

Not only that, but the ESP32-C6 can also act as a gateway – bridging BLE, WiFi to 802.15.4!

As of this post/video, the Matter API for Espressif chips is only available through the ESP IDF SDK, and not in Arduino yet, although there is an open issue being worked on.

However, if you aren’t up for using the ESP-IDF for programming, you can check out ZeroCode Espressif in-browser code generation, compilation and uploading system.

At this time only ‘2-chip’ setups are available for code generation, the ‘bare’ ESP32-C6 support is coming soon, but we tried out the IoT ExpressLink configs which have UART commands for setting up and tearing down the Matter device.

After filtering for ExpressLink, we selected the C6 Mini module we have on our Feather prototype. A schematic is generated to show how the module will need to be wired for the UART access. Then you can program it directly in the browser.

The unique Matter identifier is turned into a QR code: you can scan this with your mobile phone to add the device to your home’s Matter-hub.

Finally – check out the AT command reference for how to start the Matter subsystem and send/receive data.

As Thread/Matter gets adopted as the next-gen IoT transport protocol, the Espressif ESP32-C6 is positioned to be the perfect module for fast integration and low cost. With pre-certified and encased modules, plus a ready-to-go SDK, you can spin up a prototype product in just a couple days.

We recommend starting with the ESP32-C6-WROOM-1-N8 module to start, with tons of flash memory, you can always downgrade if you end up only needing 4MB of Flash. There’s also an affordable ESP32-C6-DevKitC that has all the basics on already for instant bring-up. Order from DigiKey today to get your ESP32-C6’s by tomorrow afternoon so you can be ready for the future of IoT with WiFi, BLE 5 and Thread/Matter support baked in.

See Ladyada’s video below:

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