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The AirBoard: Prototype the Internet of Things

A new wireless development platform is born: the AirBoard.

Launched on Kickstarter yesterday, it already raised 80% of its goal.

Tiny, Wireless, Ultra Fast

The AirBoard is a $25 tiny open source wireless microprocessor with solderless connectors and programmable using the standard Arduino IDE. Faster and cheaper than competitors, the AirBoard has been designed for ultra fast prototyping of the Internet of Things.

airboard

The AirBoard.

Compare to Electric Imp and other platforms such as Spark Core or Pinoccio, the AirBoard has some good arguments: a very low energy consuming shield, no new programming environment needed as it uses the standard Arduino IDE.

At the difference of others that require visible light to be reprogram, the AirBoard works in any situation. Useful if you’re designing a Smart Thing hidden behind casing or hard to access.

airboard-wireless-shields-comparison

From left to right: – power bit + littleBits Arduino + cloudBit, – FioV2 + XBee shield + Explorer dongle + XBee shield, – Pinoccio lead scout + WiFi backpack, – The AirBoard + Bluetooth shield, – Electric imp + breakout, – Spark Core + proto board

As Olivier Ménard, lead electronical engineer and interaction designer for the AirBoard told me:

“I see the Electric Imp more as a complementary radio peripheral to the AirBoard than a competitor.”

The AirBoard is compact, light, energy efficient, compatible with radio shields, libraries and Arduino IDE. Battery is also fully protected. Strong LED RGB and solderless connectors are another good feature.

It’s also compatible with Adafruit drivers and was tested with Neopixels, fingerprint sensor, GPS, Bluetooth 4.0, accelerometer, RFID/NFC, thermal printer, and more.

All specs are on the Kickstarter page here.

At $50 dollars including battery, Bluetooth shield and shipping, the AirBoard is the cheapest platform of its kind.

For comparison:

  • Spark Core with WiFi ($39) + battery&charger ($25) + shipping ($11) = $75
  • FioV2 ($25) + XBee Explorer Dongle ($25) + 2x XBee 1mW ($50) + battery 110mAh ($5) + shipping ($4) = $109
  • Pinoccio field scout with battery ($59) + WiFi backpack ($79) + shipping ($15) = $153
  • littleBits Arduino ($36) + cloudBit ($59) + 9V battery&cable ($5) + power bit ($8) + shipping ($44) = $152

More than 3 Years of Design and Beta Testing

The story of the AirBoard is classic and inspiring.

The team has a strong professional background. Olivier Ménard is the lead engineer of the project. Electronical engineer and interaction designer with about 20 years of experience, Olivier has an impressive background developing microchips and computers for space satellites in the United States.

olivier-menard-airboard-iot

AirBoard lead engineer and designer Olivier Ménard

He focused his energy in the last 5 years as an open innovation advocate. He has been operating Open innovation lab and workshops for major companies for the last 5 years.

Product is designed for its users. The AirBoard was born from identifying an actual need. It’s thanks to his experience leading interaction design workshops that Olivier and his team members were able to design the AirBoard.

He worked directly with users all along the product development journey. Development started back in 2011. A first small batch of 100 units was tested, produced and put in the hands of a community of beta testers. For 2 years, users played with the product, gave their feedback and used it in real-life situations.
Beta testers have been using the AirBoard for all kind of projects. In self-sufficient lab Valldaura in Spain, the AirBoard was used to retrieve energy from trees. In Caen, France, the AirBoard was used by juggling artist to light up balls. Platform was also used to develop drones in Kelle Fabrik, Dijon’s fab lab.

drone-airboard-arduino

Flying AirBoard

This first phase let the AirBoard team refined the product over and over again until it truly answered users’ needs.

Team took the time to come up with a finished prototype, based on observable work practices and ready for production. Everyone working on the project had a full-time job. The AirBoard was developed in their spare time.

Manufacturing has been fully tested. It’s another good practice to learn from the AirBoard story. They already produced 2 batches of 5 pre-industrial prototypes in order to test the production chain. This production test let them drastically minimize risks and delays that are such a norm with Kickstarter projects. Let’s see how it will actually work out for them, but shipping is announced for May 2015. Just 3 months after the end of the campaign.

Components supply is what takes the most time. Olivier told me that he has a 14 weeks lead time for getting all his components.

Manufacturing facility is in France. Local production is a choice made by more and more makers’ companies. Arduino, Adafruit, Bare Conductive are a few of many that decided to get their boards manufactured at easy reaching distance. Reason number one is to simplify communication (it’s always easier when you speak the same language and share a common culture) and be more reactive in case of problems. Idea is to transition as seamlessly as possible between R&D phase and production.

airboard-facility-arduino-france

Facility where AirBoard will be manufactured is based in the French Alpes, France.

On top of that, I heard that you can eat very well in this little village.

The AirBoard is under CC-BY-SA Creative Commons license. Documentation will be released at the end of the campaign and will include documentation of real life case studies as well.

Check the campaign page here. They have some good early bird prices available.

What do you think of it?

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1 Comment

  • Faster, cheaper, smaller: the AirBoard addresses all makers from newbies to experts with only 30 seconds to get it up and running, 5 seconds to upload a program, a tiny battery with 3 years autonomy in sleep mode and 6 months in communication, a solderless connector for rapid prototyping and new GPRS and SIGFOX shields. Perfect for deployment out in the field and startup acceleration.
    5 days left to get yours here on Kickstarter: http://ks.theairboard.cc

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