Revisiting the Bolt, an ESP8266-Based IoT Platform

Alasdair Allan
3 min readNov 10, 2017

A couple of months ago the Bolt, a cheap ESP8266 based platform aimed squarely at the Internet of Things, kicked off a crowdfunding round advertising themselves as “the world’s first $9 IoT platform.” The round ultimately was unsuccessful, raising just over $30,000—well short of their modest $38,000 funding goal.

The Bolt IoT prototype board. (📷: Bolt IoT)

Two months on and Bolt is back on Kickstarter, having relaunched their campaign with a much lower funding goal. This time they’re asking for just $10,000 and therefore, perhaps unsurprisingly, have managed to reach the new lower goal with just under thirty days still to run on the campaign. This despite setting the price of an individual Bolt board at $12, up from the original $9 price point of the original campaign.

The “Bolt-duino.” A Bolt board with optional Arduino-adaptor kit. (📷: Bolt IoT)

Between the two campaigns the company sent me a prototype Bolt module to take a look at, it’s a simple breakout for an off-the-shelf ESP-12S SMT module, and seems unchanged from the initial campaign. Unfortunately while cheap, flexible, and amazingly easy to use, the ESP8266-based module is probably a poor choice if you’re thinking about building a connected project that might eventually become a product. Unlike the ESP32, the chip lacks basic security features like secure boot and flash encryption.

The prototype hardware on my desk. The Bolt IoT board, top (left) and base (right).

However the company would argue that the hardware isn’t really what’s interesting about the Bolt. With perhaps the most intriguing feature being that the Blot Cloud platform has integrated machine learning algorithms to predict sensor values, and detect anomalies in your data, entirely off the shelf.

“…the main strength of Bolt comes from the cloud. The Bolt Cloud lets you remotely configure and initialise the pins on your Bolt WiFi module, write code and update the firmware of all your device codes over the air. Bolt cloud brings scalability to your IoT projects as it lets you configure and code thousands of devices simultaneously within a few seconds. Bolt APIs let you easily connect Bolt to your own VPN, run machine learning algorithms, and get notifications based on sensor data values.” — Pranav Pai Vernekar, Founder and CEO of Bolt IoT

But the heavy reliance on the cloud is both the Bolt stand out feature, and the most worrying aspect. The business models behind the Internet of Things have worried me for some time, and the Bolt’s low price, alongside the overall low crowdfunding goal for the campaign, makes me wonder if there is enough money in the pot to continue to run and maintain the Bolt Cloud.

It might seem I’m picking on Bolt here, and I guess to a certain extent I am, because the model they’re using is pretty much standard across the sector.

With bundled “lifetime access” to the Bolt Cloud, like many other companies engaged in the connected device space, Bolt are gambling that the ongoing maintenance costs for the cloud services will be low and that a sufficient number of new customers will buy their hardware to cover ongoing costs with new business. Unfortunately that assumption has proved overly optimistic for several other companies before them.

The Bolt is raising now on Kickstarter, with a single Bolt board costing $12 and an extra $5 for shipping, with an estimated ship date of February 2018.

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