The Azure Sphere Starter Kit

Last year, Microsoft unveiled Azure Sphere — an end-to-end solution for securing microcontroller based smart things. Alongside the announcement was hardware support for boards built around the MT3620 microcontroller.

Introduced earlier in the year at CES in Las Vegas, the Azure Sphere Starter Kit is based around the Avnet Azure Sphere MT3620 Module, and if you’ve been thinking about taking a look, it might be the right time. That’s because Avnet and Microsoft just launched a contest that not only might bag you free hardware, but a share of $35,000 in prizes.

The Azure Sphere Starter Kit. (📷: element14)

The starter kit is built upon the Azure Sphere module, which makes use of the MT3620 processor, a single-core Arm Cortex-A7 processor running at 500 MHz with 4MB RAM, as well as a dual-core Arm Cortex-M4F real-time core running at 200 MHz with 64KB RAM, and support for dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless. The 33 × 22 mm module is production-ready, both FCC and CE certified, and comes in two versions either with an on-board chip antenna or one with an external U.FL connector. The starter kit is based around the on-board chip version of the module.

The module has 3× ISU interfaces pre-configured for UART, SPI, I2C, along with 3× 12-bit ADC inputs (or 3 GPIOs) and 9× PWM outputs (or up to an additional 24 GPIOs). There is also support for an RTC.

The Azure Sphere Starter Kit front (left) and rear (right). (📷: element14)

The carrier board supports two MikroE Click board expansion sockets, and a Grove System expansion connector, and has a variety of on-board sensors including a 3-axis accelerometer and gyro, an ambient light sensor, as well as temperature and pressure sensors. There are also two user programmable buttons, and footprints to support a 128×64 pixel OLED display, and both +5V and VBAT supplies. Power and data are connection to the board are normally provided via a micro USB connector.

Pinout for the Azure Sphere Starter Kit. (📷: element14)

The Azure Sphere Starter Kit costs $75 plus $8 for ground shipping, or $12 for two-day air delivery. However, if you register to take part in the Secure Everything with Azure challenge, you can pick up one of 20,000 available starter kits for free.

Avnet Azure Sphere Starter Kit. (📹: Microsoft)

Your project for the contest should integrate a new or existing Internet of Things edge device with the Azure Sphere, or secure a consumer electronics project. It should also show innovation around smart retail, factory solutions, buildings or home automation, or around renewables and energy solutions.

Introducing Azure Sphere. (📹: Brian Willess)

The focus of the Azure Sphere is to securely connect edge devices to the cloud, so to be eligible for the top prizes your project should be able to consistently stay online and connected for at least 15 consecutive days.

The top three competitors will win a Microsoft Hololens 2, while the next seven competitors will pick up a Surface Laptop 2. There are even brand new Raspberry Pi 4 boards for the next 500 entrants. Judging criteria for projects will focus on documentation, details of the Bill of Materials, the availability of schematics and code, and creativity. While your project doesn’t have to be original, it should be a creative take on the idea.

Applications for free hardware run all month, with recipients announced on the August 8th. Submissions close on September 29th, with the winners revealed on October 17th.

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Scientist, Author, Hacker, Maker, and Journalist.

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Alasdair Allan

Alasdair Allan

Scientist, Author, Hacker, Maker, and Journalist.

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