26-11-2020 | | By Robin Mitchell
Recently, a leak has emerged about Espressif’s next device, the ESP32-C. Who is Espressif, what devices are they commonly known for, and what will the ESP32-C bring to the electronics world?
Espressif is a fabless semiconductor company that was founded in 2008 in China and had a strong focus on IoT technologies. While founded in China, Espressif now has offices around the world, including the Czech Republic, India, Singapore, and Brazil. Some of the aims of Espressif as a business is to bring IoT technologies to all aspects in life regardless if they are commercial or non-commercial, and their opensource nature helps to allow any developer to contribute to the growing product range produced by Espressif.
Of all the products and services provided by Espressif, the ESP8266 is by far their most famous product. The ESP8266 is a low-cost Wi-Fi SoC that integrates a processor, RF front end, and TCP/IP stack. The processor used is a custom L106 32-bit RISC based on the Tensilica Xtensa Diamond Standard clocked at 80MHz, and multiple memories are integrated including 32KB instruction RAM, 32KB cache RAM, 80KB user RAM, and 16KB ETS system-data RAM.
While the SoC itself is impressive, it is the modules based on the ESP8266 that caught the attention of many; the ESP-01 creates an entire Wi-Fi capable device with a few GPIO and UART communication pins that can easily be integrated into any project. When the ESP8266 made its way onto Asian markets, the low-price ESP-01 immediately saw hackers and makers trying to translate the documentation (which was all in Chinese), as well as experimenting with how to use the modules.
By default, the ESP8266 is preprogrammed with an AT command structure, and the first use of the ESP8266 would be as a peripheral to an existing microcontroller. AT commands would be sent to the ESP8266 via UART, and responses would be streamed from the ESP8266 to the central microcontroller. However, as software libraries expanded and the mysteries behind the ESP8266 faded, the ESP8266 itself was being directly programmed. This led to the ability for projects to use a single ESP8266 for both data processing and internet connectivity.
The popularity of the ESP8266 saw the development and eventual release of the ESP32; a significantly upgraded version of the ESP8266, while still keeping costs down. The ESP32 integrates a dual-core 32-bit LX6 microprocessor clocked at either 160MHz or 240MHz, 520KB of SRAM, and a full Wi-Fi TCP/IP stack. However, the ESP32 also integrates Bluetooth V4.2, hardware security including secure boot and encryption accelerators, and a range of peripherals including I2C, I2S, UART, ADCs, and DACs. The ESP32 module itself not necessarily user-friendly, but the development boards such as the ESP32 WROOM-32 allow for the ESP32 to be used on a breadboard.
The release of these two products has had a tremendous effect on accelerating IoT development around the world, allowing professionals and makers alike the ability to create IoT products quickly.
It is clear that the ESP32 is incredibly popular, and so any news on future versions of the ESP32 will be observed. This was the case when some details about the next generation of ESP32 devices was leaked, and the details have spread like wildfire amongst enthusiasts.
The new ESP32-C3, like its predecessors, is a Wi-Fi / Bluetooth SoC, but the first major change is the introduction of a RISC-V processor. However, not only has the processor been changed, the new RISC-V core only has one processor clocked at 160MHz. The second change is that the ESP32-C3 supports Bluetooth LE5.0, making it applicable in low-energy Bluetooth applications (something that previous ESP devices have struggled with). The next major change is the increase in memory to 400KB SRAM and 384KB ROM which suggests that the memory structure of the ESP32 has changed (from using an external FLASH to an internal one).
While the ESP32-C3 may be having its processor downgraded, the real importance of the C3 is that an ESP module is being brought out identical to the ESP8266. The new device will not only be cheaper than the ESP8266; it will also be pin and size compatible. This means that older designs based on the ESP8266 can switch over to using the new ESP32-C3, and gain the benefits of a faster processor using less power. Currently, there is no price tag announced for the new module, but sources suggest that it could be around 1$.