Apart controlling systems and building products using microcontrollers, it has always been the dream of hobbyists and professional embedded system designers to run and manage their projects and products wirelessly or over the Internet. Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT) and other related platforms there are numerous boards available that can be used to connect to the internet or control projects wirelessly. To kick off, we will have a look at one of the few fully integrated Wi-Fi boards – the Adafruit HUZZAH ESP8266 breakout.

What is the Adafruit HUZZAH ESP8266 Breakout?

The Adafruit HUZZAH ESP8266 breakout board is an FCC certified, standalone, breadboard compatible Wi-Fi controller.  It is based on Espressif’s ESP8266 processor which is an 80MHz microcontroller with Wi-Fi capability. The ESP8266 processor is not new to the market. However, if you have used it before in its bare-bones state, you will admit that it poses quite a challenge.  That is why the HUZZAH ESP8266 board was designed – to simplify prototyping using the ESP8266 module.

Some of the features the board brings to the table include:

  • Reset button
  • A red LED that you can blink using test programs
  • A user button that can be used to put the chip into bootloading mode
  • 3V 500mA voltage regulator
  • Level shifting on the Reset and UART pins
  • Two power inputs protected by Schottky diodes
  • Parallel breadboard compatible breakouts

The parallel breadboard compatible breakout setup is a huge plus to the board. This is because it allows you to connect to every pin of the ESP8266 module with ease. Moreover, each pin is labeled, so you don’t have to keep on going back to the ESP8266 datasheet to confirm pin configurations. Here are some of the pins you can access while using the HUZZAH ESP8266 breakout board:

  • 9 GPIO pins at 3.3V logic level. They can also be used for SPI and I2C
  • 1 analog input that can allow up to 1.0V (1.8V Max)
  • 2 UART pins
  • 2 power inputs (3V-12V)
  • Reset Pin
  • ESP8266 Enable pin
  • LDO enable pin
  • 3V output pin

The inclusion of a 3.3V 500mA voltage regulator also makes prototyping easier. There is no need to purchase extra hardware or build extra circuitry so as to power the board. You can easily power it from your 3V-12V power supply with ease.

The Breakout board also comes with UART pins which are grouped together at one end of the board. There is internal level shifting circuitry on the UART RX pin and the RESET pin, which makes both pins 5V compliant. Therefore, you can program the board directly from a 5V FTDI breakout board.

Programming the ESP8266 is easier than it might seem. Being a standalone module, you don’t have to use it together with an external microcontroller board such as the Arduino or Raspberry Pi. The ESP8266 module comes preloaded with the Lua Interpreter from NodeMCU (Lua 5.1.4. on time of publishing). So, you can program it using NodeMCU Lua.

If you are not familiar with NodeMCU Lua, you can opt to use Arduino IDE version 1.6.4 and above, which is what I recommend. All you will need to do is download the ESP8266 core. You can then proceed to program the module just like you would any other Arduino compatible microcontroller.

Adafruit HUZZAH ESP8266 Breakout Review

How to Use Adafruit HUZZAH ESP8266 Breakout for Your Open Home Automation Projects

One of the things that have spurred the growth of IoT is home automation. Controlling all or most aspects of the home from remote locations not only makes life easier, but also helps save on energy consumption. The Adafruit HUZZAH ESP8266 breakout can be used in quite a number of home automation projects.

Temperature control through air conditioning is one of them. A temperature sensor, such as the LM35 can be connected to the HUZZAH ESP8266 analog pin and a relay to one of the digital pins to control the air conditioning system or fans. You can then monitor and control the temperature in your home from a remote location. Apart from temperature control, the Adafruit HUZZAH ESP8266 could also be used to control lights and send security alerts to your phone in case of a break in. The applications are limitless.

What Could be Better With the Adafruit HUZZAH ESP8266 Breakout

As it stands, the HUZZAH ESP8266 breakout board looks like the perfect Wi-Fi controller for your home automation & IoT projects. However, nothing lacks a flaw. With the HUZZAH ESP8266 breakout, it’s the lack of adequate number of analog pins. This limits you to using only one analog sensor. This could be improved in the future by adding an ADC with extra channels on the board.

Another disadvantage is that the board needs an external FTDI breakout board to program it. Other ESP8266 boards don’t require it. Therefore, any future build of this board should include the FTDI chip and circuitry on-board.

Despite the small downfalls, the HUZZAH ESP8266 breakout still has an edge over other competing modules, such as the xPico and the CC3000 WiFi breakout board. This is because it works as a standalone module, has an analog pin, can be powered from a wide range of power supply voltages and is compact and user friendly. Therefore, the next time you are looking for a board for your home automation or Internet of Things project, consider getting the Adafruit HUZZAH ESP8266 breakout.