Get started with Microsoft’s Azure IoT DevKit

Add machine learning and stream analytics to your internet of things prototypes, even if they don’t run Windows

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A key use case for Azure is as a place for working with the internet of things. A selection of IoT-focused services handle working with streams of data from any number of devices, adding machine learning and stream analytics. Most of the features you’ll need come as part of Azure’s IoT Suite, or through Cortana Analytics. In fact, the only thing that’s missing is the IoT hardware.

Where it comes to connecting devices to Azure, Microsoft takes an open approach. You’re not limited to x86 and ARM devices running Windows 10 IoT Core (though I’m sure the folks in Redmond would be quite happy if you chose that approach). Instead, the only real requirement is the ability to access Azure’s APIs. That lets you use anything from micro-PCs like the Latte Panda single-board computers with full Windows 10 installs to Raspberry Pis running Linux, as well as simple firmware-driven devices like those using the open source Arduino.

That gives you a big choice of devices, but it’s also hard to choose a platform suitable for a pilot program, especially if you’re looking to build a sensor-based IoT solution. Although most IoT projects start with off-the-shelf “maker” boards like the Arduino or the Raspberry Pi, production devices tend to be built around common Wi-Fi modules and ARM-based microcontrollers.

Introducing the Azure IoT DevKit features

Instead of developing its own IoT starter kit, Microsoft is working with MXChip to deliver a low-cost Arduino-compatible board that can work directly with Azure’s IoT tools. The result is an open source board built around a STM32F412 ARM microcontroller and an EMW3166 Wi-Fi module with 256KB of RAM and 2MB of flash storage. It’s got both USB connectivity and 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, as well as a collection of environmental sensors and a small OLED display. There’s even a microphone and an IR emitter, which should let you work with some of Azure’s machine learning-based APIs to build your own version of Amazon’s Echo.

Because the board’s microcontroller and Wi-Fi module are common components, code you develop on the Azure IoT DevKit should port to any production board, and because it’s Arduino compatible, it’s easy enough to connect to specialized hardware modules and to breadboards for your own sensor hardware development. For $40 or so, Microsoft’s MXChip partnership is delivering a good place to start with IoT/cloud integration.

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