Intel’s Tiny Curie Chip to Power $30 Arduino Board
Button-sized module from Intel will power development board for students.
Intel first showed off Curie at CES in January. The world first met Intel’s tiny Curie platform when it was a button on a sports jacket, but the reality of the tiny connected computer brain will, at least initially, be far more pedestrian and perhaps more tangible for millions of students around the world.This is the latest addition to Arduino’s line-up of budget-friendly development boards, and it uses Intel’s cute-as-a-button Curie chip to power itself along.
This year at CES, Intel introduced Curie — a button-sized system-on-chip module made for low-power wearables — but the company was mum on what would be the first products to use it. On Friday at Maker Faire Rome, Intel and partner Arduino will unveil Arduino 101, the first credit-card-sized development platform (a microcontroller board) to feature Intel’s low-powered 32-bit, 32 MHz Core-based Curie.
In fact, the Intel chip’s not far off the size of a button, either, yet somehow it manages to squeeze Bluetooth and a six-axis sensor with gyroscope and accelerometer into its frame, along with the 32-bit Quark micro-controller that actually make it run. Intel has partnered with Arduino before, most notably on open-source boards for Intel’s Edison and Galileo platforms, but this is their first co-branded product. The development board will help foster interest in programming, electronics and coding. “Empowering budding entrepreneurs and young students has always been a priority for Intel, and by partnering with Arduino, we are bringing the power of Intel to a new generation of makers”, Josh Walden, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s new technology group, said in a statement. It will also be incorporated into Arduino’s Creative Technologies in the Classroom computing course which is currently deployed in over 300 schools around the country. “Through our work with Intel, we’re able to reach a global community of entry-level makers and students with a comprehensive introduction to physical computing and now with a more advanced, powerful technology solution that will help them bring their creative visions to reality,” said Massimo Banzi, co-founder and CEO, Arduino.
The chip is built for wearable devices like a smart pendant or smart bracelet, but it could go into just about any small gadget that doesn’t need a lot of local processing power, such as a remote-controlled car. And while that may not be the flashy wearable technology that some expected — Intel CEO Brian Krzanich did bring the CEO of Oakley on stage when he announced Curie to tease an upcoming device — the new Curie-enabled Arduino board can still be a really important piece of technology.
Arduino 101 will go on sale during the first quarter of 2016 for a suggested retail price of $30, a price comparable to other similar boards such as Raspberry Pi. According to Jay Melican, Intel’s Maker Czar (yes, that’s a thing), those features mean that anything built on the new Arduino 1010 platform could include connectivity, as well as mobile awareness and interactivity. As Mike Bell, head of Intel’s new devices group told me in January, it gets you “pretty far along towards a product, you really just have to add your secret sauce on top of this and you’d have a pretty great wearable product.” Arduino, an Italian company, has spent most of the last decade making the go-to product for anyone looking to get started with programming, coding, or electronics, particularly in the DIY and maker communities.
Arduino 101 is physically smaller and less than half the price, and it runs a small real-time operating system that makes it more suitable for young students to work with, said Jay Melican, whose title at Intel is “maker czar”. Overall, it’s an eight-week course that Melican told me is “a great way for kids to learn to code through physical computing.” Arduino and Intel will sell the Arduino 101 kits directly to K-12 schools and in retail outlets, among them is Radio Shack, which Melican insisted is still in business (and it is, sort of). The board isn’t really small enough to build a decent wearable—it’s 7cm long and 5.5cm wide—but it’s OK for prototypes and getting familiar with Curie’s capabilities.
For both sides, it’s a no-brainer of a match. “[Curie] adds this level of connected interactivity to a simple microcontroller board that, we think at least, is something that’s expected for kids and makers these days,” says Jay Melican, a senior research scientist at Intel. Don’t too excited about cramming an Intel x86 processor into an Arduino though: You’re obviously not going to get an Intel Core i7 power or anything that comes close to a comparably priced Raspberry Pi.
It might not be cute as a button, but Intel’s button-sized Curie Compute Module (just a fancy name for a new SoC) promises to greatly advance the low-power wearables market. Adding Curie to the mix makes it easier to do things like control projects with your phone over Bluetooth, and access to accelerometer and gyroscope data adds totally new possibilities.
It’s announcing Arduino 101 at the Maker Faire in Rome on Friday, where Intel is a sponsor, and the board will be featured on an upcoming reality TV show, America’s Greatest Makers. Having missed out on the smartphone market, and with PC sales in decline, Intel wants to make sure it doesn’t miss the next wave in computing, which might turn out to be be wearables.
Asked why this was the first project to use Curie, as opposed to something like a Curie-powered smartwatch or sunglasses, he says it wasn’t really a decision. “Our team was first to market,” he says. “Not that we’re racing.”
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