First Thoughts on ESP8266-Based Bolt, a $9 IoT Platform

Alasdair Allan
3 min readAug 18, 2017

Capable computing, that is to say computing that is “good enough, is now available for just a few dollars. Since it was released the ESP8266 has become the third community—alongside Arduino and Raspberry Pi—of the Maker Movement.

The community began to form not because of the features the board offered — there have been other small form-factor wireless board, although the ESP8266 is a nice chip — but because of one feature that other boards didn’t offer, the price point. It can be found in quantity for less than $2.

Inevitably given its capabilities the ESP8266 had become one of the main platforms maker are using to build Internet of Things projects.

Enter the Bolt, raising now on Kickstarter.

The Bolt. (📷: Bolt IoT)

The Bolt is an ESP8266-based board with GUI hardware configuration, a cloud-based code editor and an accompanying smartphone application which lets you link the hardware to the cloud backend. The cloud programming environment integrates into notification applications—like Twilio and IFTT—and has in-built visualization and data analysis capabilities.

However while its cheap and amazingly capable, the ESP8266 might not be the be best choice if you’re thinking about building an IoT project that might eventually become a product. While the ESP8266 is capable of joining WPA2 networks and can make secured HTTPS connections as a client — although even here there have been ongoing problems — it struggles with running a secure web server.

The security capabilities of the chip also lacks things like secure boot and flash encryption. Which means that a lot of the time the chip can be updated OTA without any security checks.

Temperature monitoring with the Bolt. (Video credit: Bolt IOT)

Yet the ESP32 chip, the ESP8266 younger and more capable sibling, does support a lot of the needed security for building—like secure boot and flash encryption—but also 1024-bit OTP, and cryptographic hardware acceleration. It’s perhaps somewhat unfortunate that the Bolt, clearly targeting small businesses, didn’t opt for the ESP32 instead of the ESP8266.

The Bolt is raising now on Kickststarter, with a single Bolt board costing $9 and an extra $4 for shipping. The creators expect to ship to their backers sometime in November.

If you’re thinking about building an IoT project with an ESP8266 board, myDevices, SparkFun, and Espressif have partnered to give you the world’s first ESP8266 IoT contest with the aim to “Simplify the Connected World.” The contest ends on October 12, so even if it ships on time to its Kickstarter backers the Bolt board won’t ready. But if you’re interested there are plenty of other ESP-based boards to play with in the meantime.

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