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Lowdown on LoPy: Blending WiFi-BLE-LoRa into one IoT module

09 Feb 2016  | Richard Quinnell

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Building three radios—WiFi, BLE and LoRa—together in a single design was unheard of. Until recently, that is.

Pycom is a startup that launched at CES this year, and it is the driving force behind the development of LoPy, a triple network development platform that also doubles up as a LoRa Nano gateway.

The IoT development module incorporates pre-certified Bluetooth, which offers mesh networking, with the ubiquitous WiFi and LoRa, which provides an operating range that the other two cannot touch.

These three are coupled together with a processor running a real-time version of Python, which is an open-source, interpreted language that has gained popularity not only among hobbyist developers, but also among professionals as well.

"We opted for MicroPython for the LoPy as we believe that MicroPython is the Linux of IoT, backed by a strong developer community who will be able to leverage the LoPy to develop an infinite number of applications," Pycom CEO Fred de Haro said in a statement.

LoPy is actually the second product from the brains behind Pycom. In April last year, the group raised over €75,000 for its tiny IoT WiPy development board, according to Geeky-Gadgets. WiPy is a WiFi-enabled MCU module that runs on Python.

Now, the Pycom team partnered with several companies, including Texas Instruments, and came up with the triple-play LoPy to expand the range of options available to IoT developers. And its developers have once again taken to Kickstarter to raise some €50,000 for the project.

The development module is fairly complete but includes an expansion board connection for the addition of other resources. One of the module's processor cores handles the WiFi and BLE connectivity along with IPv4/IPv6s stacks with hash and encryption while the main processor core handles the LoRa connectivity and user application code. The module has both internal chip antennas and external antenna connections for the radios, UART, SPI, and camera interfaces, and up to 24 GPIOs. The module features battery operability, claiming to need less than two per cent the power of an Arduino Mega.

Because a device is only part of an IoT system, Pycom joined the LoRa Alliance and has established relationships with the network company SENET as well as The Things Network to give module users a way to connect their devices directly to LoRa. Alternatively, one module can be used as a LoRa nano gateway to establish your own local LoRa network with a 5km range.

The development module has the support of its own IDE, as well. The Pymaker IDE works for both the WiPy and LoPy and features such capabilities as code completion, static analysis, and PEP8 style checking that professional developers will especially appreciate. Developers program in their browser and then load and run the code on the module.

The LoPy Kickstarter campaign ends in March, but the endeavour is already more than halfway to its goal. This bodes well for prospects that the module will actually become available in August this year as planned.

- Richard Quinnell

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