Aaron Ardiri
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Internet of Things (IoT)

RIoT Secure AB


I have had the luxury of playing around with a few BLE kits for arduino.

A number of BLE kits exist for the arduino platform - but which one should you consider when it comes to getting started with BLE? In this blog post I post my thoughts and experiences with a number of kits that are available; looking at the size, power options, connectivity and customizations, the SDK (tools, usage, API coverage) and most importantly the price. The results are close; but who will win overall?

I have given each kit a rating between 1 (worst) and 9 (best) - the results are:

device name size power connectors SDK price   TOTAL

BLE Sheild 5 7 9 9 5   35
Blend Micro 8 7 6 9 7   37
RFduino 7 5 6 7 9   34
LightBlue Bean 9 6 8 5 8   36

  • BLE shield
    The BLE shield is a conventional shield that can be connected to an arduino UNO, Mega or Leonardo micro controller and can be programmed using the Nordic nRF8001 and RedBearLabs BLE Shield library. It obtains its power from the arduino itself and provides complete pass-through of the various analog, GPIO and PWM connectors.

    For prototyping the BLE shield is the easiest and best option - applications can be built with no special mainboard considerations which means no IDE dependencies and the SDK provides a comprehensive API that makes working with the device a breeze. Debugging is also a breeze via the traditional debugging methods used for arduino.

    If size is an issue then this wont be an option for you - a complete setup can be quite bulky in nature however you can provide between 5V and 20V of power to the mainboard which can make installing and deploying the device easier in some circumstances. The RedBearLabs version provides additional functionality and optionally an external antenna.

    Since an arduino UNO is required at minimum, a complete working solution can be pricy.

    final score: 35

    geeetech BLE shield - $28.80 USD
    RedBearLabs BLE shield - $28.31 USD

  • Blend Micro (RedBearLabs)
    The Blend Micro by RedBearLabs is the first combined arduino and BLE device that was available under the arduino atheart program and offers the functionality of a BLE shield and arduino (Atmel ATmega32U4) in a small package. The same SDK as the BLE shield can be used; however compiling applications does require arduino IDE 1.0.5 - it is possible to use the 1.5.7 beta with some fiddling and minor changes to the configuration files.

    The Blend Micro didn't skim down on connectability options as it still offers six analog, eleven GPIO and a few GND pins by clever placement along the edges of the board. With the integration of a micro USB connector debugging is just as easy as it has always been which is critical for development using the Serial Monitor.

    It is a great size and can be powered by providing between 5V and 12V or via the USB connector; it unfortunately doesn't have the option of using a CR2032 battery even though it operates at 3.3V internally. Overall it provides great functionality in a small package - the best of the series of devices that were evaluated.

    As a combined arduino and BLE micro controller - the pricing is good and worth it.

    final score: 37

    RedBearLabs Blend Micro - $36.13 USD

  • RFduino
    The RFduino is by far the smallest integrated arduino and BLE device currently on the market - "finger tip" sized is the marketing message from the creators. It uses an ARM Cortex M0 16Mhz processor and even with its small size offers seven GPIO pins, some of which can be mapped to be analog or PWM and eight GND (seven are optional) pins.

    A custom SDK is provided and there is a dependency on the arduino IDE 1.5.7 beta due to the use of the ARM CPU - which is limited to thumb instructions so a number of built in libraries may not work (Scheduler for example) and the documentation is poorly written at best. If you dig around the header files you will however find a nice set of well defined APIs.

    For prototyping and development a USB shield is a must however the team obviously didn't consider that using it on thin laptops would be cumbersome. Powering the device can be done by providing between 2.1V and 3.6V - conveniently a CR2032 battery shield is available but doing so loses the size benefit. However, if you are happy to perform some soldiering - then you can maintain the size advantage .

    With a numerous kits available, the pricing is competitive and definitely worth considering.

    final score: 34

    RFduino SMT/BLE 4.0 RF Module RFD22301 - $14.99 USD
    Starter Kit RFD90101 - $40.00 USD
    Master Developmer Kit RFD90105 - $500.00 USD

  • LightBlue Bean
    The LightBlue Bean by PunchThrough Labs provides not only combined arduino (Atmel ATmega328) and BLE functionality but it also offers offers a number of integrated sensors and components (accelerometer, temperature, LED) out of the box - in addition to two analog, six GPIO and two GND pins and a small prototyping region of the board for connecting additional components.

    An interesting feature is the ability to program the device wirelessly over BLE - however this comes with unfortunate side effects; currently you must have a relatively new Apple running Mac OSX 10.9.2 or newer. There is no security for flashing the device so it is easy to highjack - which means it will not be of much use for any security solutions. It uses a custom SDK that is very limited and has a crazy installation dependency on the arduino IDE 1.0.5 with Teensyduino extensions.

    The lack of a USB connector also meant that debugging your BLE application is not so easy (as the unit can only connect to one device at a time). You could use the LED as a debugging tool - but only hardcore types would dare to do that. It requires between 3.0V and 3.6V to operate but the team was smart to provide a CR2032 battery slot on the underside.

    With a few sensors integrated and the low price this one is cool but for fun projects only.

    final score: 36

    LightBlue Bean - $30.00 USD

    Overall; it really comes down to what you want to do with these kits to really decide which is best for your project. The Blend Micro and LightBlue Bean are strong and relatively close - but if security is a concern then the choice is going to be simple. I've had fun playing with all of these kits with the RC buggy hack (yes, I have gotten every kit to work with the project).

    I hope that some of the feedback here is useful to assist in your purchase decisions!


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