Microsoft puts its brand on non-Windows IoT hardware, ready for Azure.
It's all very well having a set of tools that can be used to build a back end for Internet of Things applications, like Microsoft's Azure IoT Suite. What you also need are devices that are ready to use with it, and more importantly, a path from those prototype devices to products.
So it wasn't surprising to see Microsoft use its recent Build 2016 conference to launch a selection of IoT developer kits based on a range of different chipsets and operating systems.
Microsoft's made the sensible decision to partner with well-known maker companies to launch its first certified devices. They include Seeed, Adafruit, and Sparkfun, with devices based on a range of different chipsets including the popular ESP8266 and Intel's Edison. The kits come with a collection of sensors, as well as online tutorials with sample code hosted on GitHub.
Windows 10 is a key part of Microsoft's plan to be more of an Internet of things player. The catch is that few people see Microsoft putting the pieces together.
Open the box of one of the starter kits and you'll find a maker board, a selection of sensors and LEDs, as well as jumper wires and connectors. The Edison board comes with a Grove shield and a selection of sensors that plug straight into the shield's connectors -- as well as an LCD display and a set of solenoids.
That means you can start to build devices that have both inputs and outputs, showing users what they're doing in conjunction with the Azure cloud service. The Adafruit and Sparkfun devices come with breadboards so you can start adding your own hardware, designing and building your own sensor sets using devices from any electronics store or catalog.
That's the most important thing about these devices: you're not constrained to building any one project (or for that matter using either of the prebuilt solutions from the Azure IoT Suite).
They're pure 'maker' hardware, ready for freeform experimentation and for engineers to start using as the heart of a sensor project. What's key to them all, however, is that Microsoft has chosen to build its starter kits around connected boards, all with built-in Wi-Fi (or in the case of the Raspberry Pi 2 boards, with bundled USB Wi-Fi adapters).
At Build I had the opportunity to try out one of the Intel Edison-based starter kits, using it to build a simple connected temperature monitor that delivered data via Wi-Fi to a pre-configured Azure IoT Suite service. Microsoft provides Azure IoT Suite users with two sample services: one for predictive maintenance, and one for remote monitoring. The sample remote monitor takes temperature and humidity readings from a device, and uses them to trigger alerts using Azure's Stream Processing and Event Hub services, as well as graphing the results in real time on a hosted web site...