The "Networked Hardware" Is an Espressif ESP32, Node-RED-Powered Gadget for Education and Art

Built around a Wemos ESP32 board with integrated 18650 battery support, this feature-packed dev board aims to lower barriers to entry.

Gareth Halfacree
6 months agoHW101 / Internet of Things

Artist, engineer, and researcher Sebastian Morales has unveiled a gadget designed for "tangible networked interactions," driven by an Espressif ESP32 microcontroller and an onboard battery and boasting a wealth of integrated sensors: the Networked Hardware.

"Networked Hardware is an open source tool equipped with sensors, actuators, and [a] Wi-Fi enabled microcontroller," Morales explains of board. "It uses a node-base interface where you can link inputs to output, make it easy to connect boards wirelessly and without programming. It was designed with artists, performers, teachers, and students in mind."

The core thinking behind the project is hinted at within the name: the idea was for the "Networked Hardware" to make the internet a tangible, touchable thing, while improving accessibility for those new to the Internet of Things (IoT) and physical computing. "Making networked physical devices can be daunting to a newcomer," Morales says. "In part because of the technical challenges but in a greater part because the amount of knowledge require across multiple fields. It’s a lot, it’s a lot in a lot of fields, but we hope it doesn’t have to [be]."

The heart of the Networked Hardware is the Wemos ESP32 18650, a board which boasts an Espressif ESP32 microcontroller to one side and an 18650-format battery holder to the other. This is mounted in a carrier board which includes a hobby servo, 10A relay with screw terminals, a photoresistor, microphone, user-addressable button, motion sensor, and potentiometer — the idea being to deliver as much functionality as possible in one device, though with I2C, serial, and spare general-purpose input/output (GPIO) pins available for external hardware.

The boards are designed to be programmed using Node-RED, a flowgraph-based visual programming environment which runs in-browser and aims to deliver a means to create connected devices — to hardware, to each other, and to servers on the internet — without the need to write reams of code. This may change in the future, though, with Morales admitting that "it is difficult to set up, and it can only support few students working on it at the same time, multiple users can interfere with each other and this can be frustrating to say the least."

More information is available in Morales' Instructables post; while Morales has promised KiCad project files and a full bill of materials for the Networked Hardware board, at the time of writing the link to download the files was non-functional.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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