I'm sure if you are an electronic geek, you might have heard about ESP32. It is a small yet quality microcontroller that will become handy for your projects. So, in this article, we will see briefly what ESP32 is and its features in short and more on the best ESP32 based development boards that are available right now.
You might find them useful for your IoT or any other microcontroller-based project, so keep on reading to know more about this!
What is ESP32?
First things first. For those who still do not know much about ESP32, it is a series of a low-cost, low-power system on a chip microcontroller. The predecessor of ESP32 is the ESP8266 microcontroller. ESP32 series indeed costs low, in fact, ESP32 Devkit is cheaper than Arduino Uno. ESP32 also contains some additional features for the same cost, which makes this the perfect tool for many of your IoT projects and experiments.
The microcontroller is created and developed by a Shanghai-based Chinese company named Espressif Systems. When it comes to the main features of the ESP32 microcontroller, it is integrated with WiFi and Dual-mode Bluetooth. The heart of ESP32 contains a Tensilica Xtensa LX6 microprocessor in both dual-core and single-core variations, it also has built-in antenna switches, RF balun, power amplifier, low-noise receive amplifier, filters, and power management modules. You can see more ESP32 features and specifications here.
As also mentioned above, ESP32 is small, low cost, and consumes less power. This is one of the main reasons why this microcontroller has gained popularity and wide usage over time. Today ESP32 is widely used mainly for IoT projects and related applications.
Common IoT devices built using ESP32 include; smart energy devices, smart security devices, and smart industrial devices. There are also 3 main different choices you can use ESP32.
The first one is as an ESP32 chip,
The second as ESP32 modules,
The third is ESP32 Development Boards.
The ESP32 chip is the bare bone product manufactured by Espressif. ESP32 Modules are surface mountable modules that contain the ESP32 chip. Then finally we have the ESP32 development board which consists of the modules with ESP32 preinstalled.
ESP32 Based Development Boards
Let’s now come to our main topic to see what are the best ESP32 based development boards available now.
Memory, WiFi communication capacity, Number of GPIO pins, ADC pins, LEDs are some important specs to consider when choosing a suitable ESP32 development board for your projects. Many development boards have been developed over time with the ESP32 module, however here are some of the best of the best in the list.
The Feather series of Adafruit is a line of development boards that are both standalone and stackable. Among this feather series, HUZZAH32 is an Adafruit ESP32-based Feather board. It is made with the official WROOM32 module and packed with other peripherals you love to have. The built-in USB-to-Serial converter, automatic bootloader reset, Lithium Ion/Polymer charger, and GPIOs are some of them.
What is more, the dual-core ESP32 chip at the end of the Feather consists of 4 MB of SPI Flash, tuned antenna, WiFi, and Bluetooth Classic/LE support making it easier to use them for any wireless or IoT project. The HUZZAH32 also has two powering methods. The first method is you can connect with a Micro USB cable and the Feather will regulate the 5V USB down to 3.3V. The second method is to connect a 4.2/3.7V Lithium Polymer (Lipo) or Lithium-Ion (LiIon) battery to the JST jack. Its pins are labeled at the top and bottom so it is easy to use as well.
This is also another ESP32 based development board with some cool features. The name ‘thing’ indicates that this will be a good ‘thing’ for your internet of things projects. This board utilizes SparkFun’s Qwiic Connect System which means you do not have to worry about soldering or shields to connect the board to the rest of the system. If you do not know yet, the SparkFun Qwiic Connect System is an ecosystem of I2C sensors, actuators, shields, and cables that make prototyping faster and less prone to error.
What is more, the ESP32 Thing plus consists of peripherals such as capacitive touch sensors, Hall sensors, SD card interface, Ethernet, high-speed SPI, UART, I2S, and I2C. And not to forget that onboard ESP32 WROOM module, which provides 16MB of flash memory, 520kB of internal SRAM, an integrated 802.11 BGN WiFi transceiver, and dual-mode Bluetooth capabilities, and a JST connector to plug in a LiPo battery.
The advantage of using this board for your projects is that you can easily program with the board. For instance, you can install the updated ESP32 Arduino Core and program the Thing via Arduino IDE. Good documentation is available for the board so that you can use the Thing without any trouble.
3. ESPduino 32
The ESPDUINO-32 development board is based on the ESP-32 WiFi module. With WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, Ethernet, real-time mapping, and other functions, ESPduino-32 is compatible with all versions of Arduino expansion boards. The control chip of this board is the Xtensa LX6 CPU.
Not only that, this development board takes the original format of the Arduino Uno rev.3. Hence, the board can be programmed directly from the Arduino or PlatformIO IDE using the micro-USB port. What is more, ESPduino-32 can be powered for the micro-USB port or by an external 5–12V DC power supply.
This board is another ESP WROOM 32 module-based mini development board. It also offers easy ways of connecting peripherals as you wish. Special features you might consider include, universal Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, MCU module, with powerful functions. This can also be used in low-power sensor networks. Since the core of this module is the ESP32-D0WDQ6 chip, it is scalable and adaptive.
This board is also yet another cool magic board in which the ESP32 module is the brain. The board is introduced as an all-in-one platform for coding, prototyping, electronics, robotics, IoT, and solution designing. One of the interesting and handy features of this board is its unique design. Magicbit’s unique design has pluggable modules and many onboard features, which means it consists of various sensors you can just plug and play according to your project application.
Another magic this board offers is its mobile application where you can use your mobile phone as an input or an output device. The board can also be used for a wide range of applications including a smart alarm clock, WiFi weather station, make a motion detector, make a tilt sensor, smart dustbin, Bluetooth car, snake game, self-balancing robot, smart sanitizer, remote plant watering, tank water level monitoring, etc. Good documentation and resources are available for this too so you can have a look at them for more details.
Pycom’s enterprise-grade IoT development platform is the WiPy 3.0. This is a tiny board that you can use MicroPython to program. The board also consists of a 1KM WiFi range, Bluetooth and Espressif ESP32 chipset, and dual processor. This tiny device is specially introduced as an IoT development platform therefore, with WiPy 3.0 you can take that project of yours to the next level.
The board is also of ultra-low-power usage when compared to other microcontrollers and easily fits in a standard breadboard. The main processor is entirely free to run the user application. Moreover, the Pycom ecosystem makes IoT development easy. The team has written a powerful Python API so that you can make the best out of that hardware.
Wemos LOLIN D32 Pro development board uses the ESP32-WROVER module. The board, therefore, has a built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, 4 MByte SPI RAM, TFT display interface, and a Micro-SD card interface. This tiny board is also compatible with Arduino and MicroPython and its default firmware is the latest MicroPython. This means you can learn to program it easily without any hassle. And do not forget that there is plenty of documentation available to learn this too. The Wemos LOLIN D32 Pro belongs to the class of general-purpose boards. This means where most ESP32 pins are broken out for easier access. The board is also breadboard friendly and has both side pin labeling, allowing you easy readability.
Another development board that has an ESP32 module is the Banana pi, BPI-UNO32 development board. So, it is an Xtensa 32bit LX6 single/dual-core processor-based embedded system.
This one is compatible with Webduino, Arduino, microPython, and Scratch.x. Moreover, the board can also be used with Visuino, which is a visual, graphical development environment for Arduino and similar boards.
Thanks to the ESP32 module it has the best power consumption, RF performance, stability, versatility, and reliability like the other boards. Two separate controlled CPU cores, the main frequency can be up to 240MHz, 448KB ROM, 520KB SRAM are some other cool features. The size of the BPI-UNO32 is the same as the Arduino UNO R3. One reason for you to buy this is that the board can be used for a wide range of application scenarios. Good documentation is also available for this one too so you won’t have much trouble learning it.
The Ai- Thinker ESP32-CAM is the Original ESP32 CAM WiFi+Bluetooth with OV2640 Camera Module based on the ESP32 chip. The specialty of this is the additional feature of using a camera. This makes it ideal for your projects and any IoT applications. Some of the applications include home smart devices, industrial wireless control, wireless monitoring, QR wireless identification, and wireless positioning system. The small-sized camera module of ESP32-CAM can operate independently as a minimum system.
ESP32-CAM is packaged in a dual in-line package and can be directly plugged into the backplane for quick production. This is therefore said to provide customers with a highly reliable connection method. This one too, a good set of documentation is available out there.
So, here we are! What is your choice out of these?
(Originally published on 5th May 2021)