So, what is Edison?
Quite simply, Edison is a SD card sized computing platform. It’s powered by the Intel® Atom™ SoC dual-core CPU, meaning it has about as much compute power as an early 2000s computer, but equipped with today’s modern computing standards. But that can’t be it, right? A small chip in a tiny package?
No, of course that’s not it. Edison is so much more than just a little computer. It’s ultra-low power, has integrated Bluetooth Low Energy and Wifi, is equipped with a 70-pin connector for all of your microcontroller needs, and comes pre-packaged with Yocto Linux, python, and node.js.
Here’s little Edison now:
The bottom left image shows Edison with the new square reader for size reference. Nice
BUT, there’s more! Edison has two really nice hardware add-ons: an Arduino carrier board and a mini-breakout board. The Arduino carrier board makes Edison Arduino compatible, and Intel has written a separate Arduino IDE for Edison (plus Galileo and Galileo Gen2) that has a front-end almost identical to the actual Arduino IDE. The software compiles your Arduino code to be compatible with the Yocto linux distribution that Edison runs. The mini-breakout is for those developers who want to preserve Edison’s small form factor. Instead of being broken out to the standard Arduino pins, the 70-pin connector is broken out to a set of solderable pads that can connect to breakout boards or custom PCBs of any size and shape. It’s like an Arduino protoshield in a dramatically reduced form factor. The protoshield can run your low-level code directly from c, python, java, etc. to control the hardware.
Edison bonds to the 70-pin connector on both configurations with a satisfying little “click!”. A couple of screws can be used to hold Edison in place as shown in the top-left image below. The Arduino shield comes with a set of plastic posts and screws so that Edison can rest firmly on whatever surface you dev on. Connection to your PC is through a standard micro-USB as shown in the bottom left. You can also see the Arduino shield’s USB, power, micro-SD, and micro-USB slots in these images as well.
So, what’s the big deal? For me, Edison bridges the gap between homebuilder/maker and actual product. Thousands (if not millions) of people build prototype devices on Arduino that seemed like an impossibility even 5 years ago: automatic bars, robotic arms, dog toys, and roombas. If you can dream of it, chances are someone has built it. But there’s a practical limitation to these devices. Arduinos (and particularly their shields) are bulky and lack the compute power / architecture to perform the complex algorithms required for the next generation of devices. You can prototype hardware and controllers using Arduino, but to move to a wearable SoC takes A LOT of work, and often requires developers to purchase expensive programming equipment for their hardware. Edison is an all-in-one prototyping to product solution. You can quickly develop your hardware with the Arduino shield, testing it with both the Arduino IDE and your low-level code. You can take the hardware outputs and write complex algorithms using off-the-shelf, reputable libraries (sci-kit learn!). You can design a custom PCB to match your already tested hardware and software exactly, and then just attach it to the mini-breakout with just a couple solderable connections. BAM!!!!! Fully tested concept to product in just a few steps – macro tested, micro compatible