As much as we love our Arduinos and Raspberry Pis, there is one obvious issue with trying to build any maker project around them: you have to add on something for connectivity. Raspberry Pi has an ethernet port built in, but for WiFi or Bluetooth you’ll have to add a separate chip at extra cost.
Which is why, even though it’s a bit pricier than most prototyping and hobbiest boards, we quite like playing around with Intel’s Edison processor. It has full WiFi and Bluetooth capability on the chip itself and if you buy a kit with the Arduino expansion board it’s just as easy to program as the open hardware alternative.
Intel Edisons and expansion kits are easily available in South Africa we figured it’s time to take a closer look at what they offer. And the first thing we found is that since they aren’t as popular as Arduino or Raspberry Pi et al, there aren’t as many online resources to help you get started with them.
So in a bid to counter this and help improve the amount of documentation around Edison, we’ve put together this two part introduction to the board and kits available, ahead of some more interesting projects we’ve been working on for a later date.
Attach the Intel Edison to the expansion board
The Edison itself is the small PCB with a silver heatspreader on top. Underneath the heatspreader is a system-on-a-chip processor that is based around a dual core Atom chip and a single core Quark. Essentially, it’s a fully functioning x86 PC that’s about the size of a credit card, and has wireless connectivity built-in. In order to do much with Edison – including supply the chip with power and program it – you’ll need an expansion board to sit the processor in. The Arduino expansion board is the large blue PCB in the box, which has extra connectivity (like a microSD card reader and USB ports) built-in, and also allows you to add any separate breakout boards designed for Arduino Unos.
The first thing you need to do is marry the two components together. All you need to do is align the small notch on the Intel Edison to the accompanying slot on the expansion board. There are also two threaded poles on the expansion board that lead through two holes on the Intel Edison.
Press it down until you feel a click, but don’t press too hard!
When you are done you should have something that looks like this:
Attach the nuts to secure the Intel Edison
The two threaded poles are used to secure the processor in place. Using the two little nuts provided, screw them down until they make contact with the Intel Edison. Again, don’t make it too tight. This can be done by hand.
Attach the feet
The last things in the box (except for the little piece of paper) is the feet and the screws to attach them to the expansion board.
Position these below the four holes at each end of the expansion board, and then secure them in place with a screw.
You may want to use a screwdriver for this, but it is also possible to do so by hand.
The “Intel Edison” writing should be facing upwards when all the feet are attached, and should look like this:
Go to your computer and open the browser
Now the board is assembled, you’re going to need the software to program is. Intel has made this easy by packaging everything up into one installer for Mac OSX or Windows which includes things like the Arduino IDE and drivers for Edison. If you’re on Linux, you’ll need to grab everything separately. The downloads are here: https://software.intel.com/en-us/iot/hardware/edison/downloads
Click the downloaded file
Download the software you want and install it like thus:
You’ll also need Java installed on your PC, and may be prompted to download that as well.
Connect your Intel Edison
Another box will come up with further instruction on how to connect your Intel Edison.
Wait for your Intel Edison to connect to your computer and install any drivers automatically. It should now appear in the list of devices attached to your computer, with access to the built in storage via Windows Explorer (or the alternative file manager of your choice). If you can’t see it here, try the last couple of steps again.
Return to the window which showed you how to connect your Intel Edison and click “Next”
A licence agreement will now appear on screen. Please take the time to read it thoroughly. Because that’s what you do with all the licence agreements you get presented with, right?
Do the big download
Now you get to the interesting part. You’ll be prompted to install download and install drivers and software environments for using the Edison. For our purposes, we’re going to grab the essentials: that’s drivers, the phone flash tool and the update image. The update image is the latest version of the firmware for Edison, and the phone flash tool is the software you’ll need to install it. The Arduino software is the easiest and best known way to make Edison do anything, as you can use any Arduino Sketch with Edison. Be warned, that makes for a total of almost a full gigabyte of downloads at the time of writing, so you may need to leave it running overnight, especially if your ISP offers free bandwidth off-peak.
If it does not, click the small boxes next to the names of the items in our image until they look the same, and then click “Next”.
Click through to install
Click through the next few screens which will ask you where you want to put all that software you just downloaded.
And that’s where we’ll leave this part of the tutorial. Your Edison is nearly set up and ready to go, tomorrow we’ll walk you through your first simple project.
A version of this feature first appeared on Intel’s IQ blog.