Thursday was my final day in Shanghai. After spending all of Wednesday at Electronica Asia, I headed over to the Espressif Headquarters which is just one subway stop away. This is of course the company behind the well-known ESP8266 and its younger sibling, the ESP32. My host was Ivan Grotkothov, Director of Software Platforms. The backstory on how he found his way to the company is truly interesting, as are the stories he shared on some of the legend and lore surrounding the WiFi capable chips the company makes — and the new one whose existence just leaked out this week.
Join me below for that and few other fun things from my last day in this city of 26 million people.
Why Did that 8266 Have So Few GPIO?
It’s no secret that Espressif is growing like crazy right now. The ESP32 chips are household name (in hardware hacking households) and are finding their way into smart devices by performing tricks like on-chip keyword recogntion. Today I even heard mention of rudimentary facial recognition.
They’ve come a long way since the early days of AT-commands and very limited GPIO on the original ESP8266 offerings. That said, it was the low cost to adding WiFi to any project made the chip revolutionary. Ivan provided some color to the story of those early beginnings — the original intent was not for the chip to itself serve as a main controller, but to be a simple way to add on wireless connectivity. This explains the AT command firmware that originally shipped with the modules. But the company realized that many devices, like smart light bulbs, didn’t need many pins or much computing power, so the chip began to be used as a standalone controller. That led to the desire for more GPIO, which we saw with the release of the ESP32. But check this out, there’s a new Espressif chip just around the corner.
A Peek at Something New: Chip-7
Earlier this week a Tweeted photo of a new chip sans specs started the rumor mill. The package has “Chip7″etched on it. Ivan let me take a photo of the board, which he confirmed carries an engineering sample. I couldn’t get much in the way of timeline from him, but he tease a few hints while we were recording an interviewing for the today’s Hackaday Podcast. The new part follows the lineage of ESP32 but will have more GPIO and will likely be similar in power budget and speed. Listen to the podcast for Ivan’s own words on the hardware, click the image for full resolution, and start your wild speculation in the comments below.
I am fascinated by the story of how Ivan came to be at Espressif. He had first learned about the ESP8266 while living in St. Petersburg, Russia and working on an idea for a car-sharing startup. He needed a way to unlock the shared vehicles using a smartphone, and WiFi was one method he was investigating. Non-technical issues, like how to …read more