Amber Pi Design Kit - Review

Table of contents

RoadTest: Amber Pi Design Kit

Author: xxbeefydjxx

Creation date:

Evaluation Type: Development Boards & Tools

Did you receive all parts the manufacturer stated would be included in the package?: True

What other parts do you consider comparable to this product?: Comparable Products: Arduino + Various Sensor Boards + RF Devices.

What were the biggest problems encountered?: Included Manual was out of date, Software was hidden behind a sign up wall. Included software was not reliable however could be fixed quite easily

Detailed Review:

Road Testing the Amber PI Design Kit

 

Overview:

As an avid tech enthusiast, I like to tinker with all kinds of electronics in my spare time, One of my main interests at the moment is Radio, Specifically Data Transmission

In a quest to get back into radio again, I started looking for products compatible with the Raspberry PI 3B and came across the road test for the Amber PI Design Kit, which perfectly

suits what I am looking for.

 

 

The AMBER PI is an expansion board for the Raspberry PI that equips the Pi with a sub-1-GHz RF interface as well as two I2C and two SPI sockets to connect other I2C and SPI slaves,

Allowing developers from many creative areas to create applications and collect data in real time.

Out of the box it is equipped with a variety of sensors, including a Humidity/Temperature Sensor, Pressure Sensor, and a 3-axis linear Accelerometer.

 

 

As part of my Road Test I will be going through the following:

1: A Traditional Unboxing/First Impressions - A Classic introduction to the Amber PI

2: A Tear down and Summary of the features of the Amber PI Expansion Board - What can it do?

3: Initial Setup Review - Following the Out of box setup guide, how easy is the device to use?

4: Potential use applications - How I plan to use the device within my projects + a demo of the device in action (Device Range)

5: Documentation - An overview of the documentation provided online, and links.

6: Conclusion

 

 

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Unboxing:

The Amber PI Expansion Board comes in a neat box with all the components needed to get started instantly.

(For Size Reference, I have pictured the included items alongside a Raspberry PI 3B+.)

 

In the box you will find:

The AMBER PI expansion board (868 or 915MHZ Radio Versions, Depending on the Region)

The included Sensor boards and SPI Prototype Board(attached to the relevant ports)

A Travos-III USB Radio Dongle

2x Dipole Antennas (SMA Connector)

Quick Start Guide

Optional:

Raspberry PI 3B

Power Supply for PI

(A Raspberry PI 3B + PSU was not included with the kit I was sent, however one was sent to me separately as part of the Road Test since I did not own a PI, Thanks Guys!)

 

 

 

 

At first glance, Everything is snugly packaged. The Amber PI feels a little fragile, especially around the SPI and I2C connectors, though that is expected due to the push pin style connection used.

You are immediately greeted with the GPIO Pass through, 3 sets of Pin-outs and Jumpers galore, This might look tedious to users that are not used to this kind of configuration,

however it is all neatly labelled and there is a Default Pin-out Configuration printed on the back, should you tinker and something go wrong.

Full details on the board and jumper settings can be found in the data sheet, "here"

https://www.we-online.de/web/en/index.php/show/media/07_electronic_components/eismart/eismart_handbuecher/AmberPi_260901…

 

 

The Antennas are neatly stacked inside to save on space. These are a little finicky to install, but are fairly tight once installed.

We then see the Travos-III USB Radio Dongle, Which is used to interface with the board from a PC.

The Datasheet for the Tarvos III Radio can be found here:

https://www.we-online.de/web/en/index.php/show/media/07_electronic_components/eismart/eismart_handbuecher/TarvosIII_2609…

 

Physical installation is as simple as checking the jumpers are set to the default configuration, and then attaching to the GPIO slot as below.

(Note: You should not install the Amber PI until the software drivers have been installed and the PI configured as per the manual)

 

 

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Teardown/Summary of the Amber PI Board:

 

 

The Amber PI has a Tarvos-III Module which operates on the 868MHZ Range. It offers half-duplex communications and acts as a slave that can be fully controlled

by the Raspberry PI. Configuration and operations are managed by sending commands as "Telegrams".

Further details and documentation can be found here:

https://www.we-online.de/web/en/index.php/show/media/07_electronic_components/eismart/eismart_handbuecher/TarvosIII_2609…

 

 

Included with the Amber PI are 3 sensors and a SPI Prototype Board.

The Temperature/Humidity sensor is a ST Microelectronics HTS221TR. This is an ultra-compact sensor for relative humidity and temperature.

Documentation on this chip can be found here:

https://www.st.com/resource/en/datasheet/hts221.pdf

 

 

This is a ST Microelectronics LPS22HB, which is an ultra-compact piezoresistive absolute pressure sensor which functions as a digital output barometer.

Documentation on this chip can be found here:

https://www.st.com/resource/en/datasheet/lps22hb.pdf

 

This is a ST Microelectronics LIS2DW12 which is an ultra-low-power high-performance three-axis linear accelerometer belonging to the "femto" family.

The LIS2DW12 has user-selectable full scales of ±2g/±4g/±8g/±16g and is capable of measuring accelerations with output data rates from 1.6 Hz to 1600 Hz.

Documentation on this chip can be found here:

https://www.st.com/resource/en/datasheet/lis2dw12.pdf

 

 

This is an empty board which allows you to install your own SPI Sensors to the Amber PI.

You can then build up your projects as normal, developing applications and interfacing with the sensors through the Board as well as sending and receiving data through

the Radio Interface. (This can be achieved using the pre built application provided or by using your own software)

 

 

The functionality of the sensors and Radio are all combined into the Amber PI Drivers for the PI, and basic commands can be found in the source code for the drivers.

You will find everything is neatly laid out, so if you're planning to create an application with the kit, you can refer to both the provided code snippets and the manual.

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Initial Setup Review

 

 

The initial setup is detailed in the booklet that comes with the Amber PI Kit. In this Test I will be following the guide to ensure it is 100% correct.

This process is also described in the Manual, which can be found here:

I am using a Integral Class 10 16GB Micro SD Card with the latest Raspbian + Gui (Buster, July 2019)

The initial setup process takes no longer than 30-45 minutes on a clean build of Raspbian, This includes updating the installed image.

 

 

The Guide first explains how to set up the Raspberry PI, I already know this and would expect those who purchase this kit also know how to do so.

The guide then outlines Setup of the PI Image, enabling the correct Protocols (SPI, I2C and Serial must be enabled) and installing the software and drivers to work

on the Amber PI. (Codeblocks, Driver download and build processes). The guide also explains briefly how to receive data using the Tarvos-III USB Receiver and "HTerm".

 

 

The process involves using the Terminal to ensure the device is Up to date, and then downloading a few prerequisites, Mainly Wiring PI and CodeBlocks.

 

 

Following the guide booklet, it's quite clear that there are some aspects that either don't work very well or haven't translated very well to English.

The worst issue with the guide was that the link to download the drivers was completely incorrect. Drivers are found on the website by heading to the

"Amber PI" listing under "Products" and on that page is a place to find the Manuals and Software. You must sign up to the website to download the drivers,

Those who dislike signing up to random pages just to download one Zip file will be discouraged here, but without it you can't use the Amber PI at all.

In it's defense, it is advised at the start to visit the website to find the latest Quick Start Guide, this is better since they have updated the links and instructions since printing the booklet.

 

 

Using the device is as simple as either modifying the existing code for your needs, implementing the APIs into your own work or starting from scratch with the reference

documentation. I have covered one of the potential use cases with a real world demo, which I will explain in the next part of this road test.

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Potential use applications + Demo

 

 

With a device such as the Raspberry PI and Amber PI Expansion board, the world is your oyster when it comes to working with sensors and radio communication.

Potential use cases include:

Mobile Development Board with Real-Time debugging over the radio interface

Data collection from the on-board devices and sub 1GHZ Ranges

Radio Control devices connected to the PI from a PC or other device with USB connectivity and use of Terminal Apps or your own custom applications

Mobile Weather Station using the on-board sensors

 

Real World Demo:

For a real world demo, I used the included software package for the kit, which has an application that pulls the data from the included sensors, and sends them over the

Radio interface every second. Data outputted included: Temperature Readings (Celcius) x2, Humidity, and Gyroscope Readings in real time.

 

 

I took the device to work and installed it in the Server Room, a great example of where the device could be implemented!

 

 

Since the device was already set up with the Out of the Box software, I just booted the PI, Opened Codeblocks and hit "Run".

At the time of writing, the Code in the software is unoptimised and often refuses to start, it does require some tinkering but will run and stay running without any hitches.

 

 

The Server Room usually measures 21 Celsius according to the Air Conditioning Units, and Humidity should be around the 50% mark based on reports I had to hand.

To start with, I connected the USB Receiver to my Laptop and stood in the Server Room. The lights on the Amber PI kit were blinking to say it was sending data,

And the lights on the Receiver were blinking to indicate receive activity. Bingo!

 

 

I loaded H-Term and instantly the data pulled through:

The Sensors are fairly accurate, and the data received did not deteriorate over long range as I explain below.

 

To further test the device, I wanted to see what the range was like on the device. I headed outside and to the building next door, which sits some 50 meters away.

As I moved around the building, I did notice some dead spots (The Wi-Fi signal drowned it out, we have some strong APs) however once outside,

The laptop and Radio Receiver were able to receive every packet the Amber PI Radio beamed without issue, after the 50m mark the connection started to drop and packet loss

started to increase. Considering this was inside a building with strong APs and I still got a signal some 50m away, I'd call that a success!

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Documentation

 

Wurth Electronik are constantly updating and revising their documentation and software for a whole range of their currently supported devices.

Currently, many devices are undergoing name changes to more user friendly names, and so finding documentation and following links may be a bit more of a task than usual.

 

You can find the Documentation and Software for download at the main product overview site,here:

 

https://katalog.we-online.de/en/wco/AMBER_PI

 

 

 

 

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Conclusion

 

 

The Amber PI Kit is a truly remarkable piece of kit offering developers an incredibly versatile solution for not only Radio Communications but for testing

I2C and SPI based devices. While it's price tag might sway away amateurs and smaller developers, it offers a quick and easy way for developers to get stuck into

potential projects and collect valuable data.

 

 

I would recommend this Development Board to anyone looking to find an effective, straight forward long distance solution for data communications. There's very little

this board can't handle!

If you're looking for something to prototype a device with a range of sensors, but not really fuzzed on radio communications,

this board will still deliver, however there are better suited cost effective solutions out there that may be more cost effective.

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