Blues Wireless Brings Firmware-Agnostic Over-the-Air Updates to Notecard-Connected Microcontrollers

Designed for a "large number of microcontrollers," Outboard Firmware Update takes the challenge out of remote firmware management.

Cellular Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity specialist Blues Wireless has announced a new feature designed to make its service even more tempting for remote device deployments: the ability to update a connected microcontroller entirely remotely using a new Over-the-Air (OTA) firmware.

"Outboard Firmware Update is a Notecard feature that allows device builders to implement OTA firmware updates in their devices without writing any code," explains TJ VanToll, principal developer advocate at Blues Wireless. "Additionally, developers have the freedom of choice, and may select from a large number of microcontrollers (MCUs), programming languages, and real-time operating systems (RTOS), and can even perform updates on 'native' applications with no code from Blues and no RTOS at all. This capability from Blues continues to bring cellular cloud-connected products within reach of every developer, no matter their skill level."

The new OTA update functionality is designed for use with microcontrollers fitted with a primary bootloader accessible through a reset pin. By wiring the Notecard to the reset, boot, and UART pins, the Outboard Firmware Update feature can switch a connected microcontroller into its internal bootloader and use that to load a brand-new firmware downloaded over the notecard — without having to modify the microcontroller or its default firmware at all.

While the firmware update introducing the new feature is available to all currently-supported Notecard devices, the requirement for new wiring means that only the latest Notecarrier-F board design, which accepts Feather-format microcontroller development boards, supports the feature out-of-the box — with other Notecarriers requiring modification to connect the relevant pins. And although Blues Wireless is aiming to offer support for a broad selection of microcontrollers, at the time of writing updates had only been tested on the Adafruit STM32F405 Feather Express and Blues Wireless' own Swan board.

The new feature comes a little over half a year after Blues Wireless announced it was ditching its subscription-based pricing model in favor of one based purely on usage: the basic tier, a decade of which is included in the price of a user's first Notecard, comes with 5,000 "Consumption Credits" refreshed monthly — with packages for more credits starting at $11 for 15,000. It also follows the introduction of cellular connectivity to the SparkFun MicroMod ecosystem, following the company's launch of a MicroMod-compatible Notecarrier board with bundled Notecard.

More information is available on the Blues Wireless website, along with instructions for updating Notecard firmware and using the Outboard Firmware Update functionality.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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