On Kickstarter: The “Elk” SBC is designed for a decentralized-web IoT applications using blockchain. It runs Linux on an Allwinner H3 and Arduino on an STM32 and supports Ethereum, Whisper, and IPFS.
A Cairo, Egypt based startup called Elk has won Kickstarter funding for a tiny (55 x 25.5mm) IoT development board designed for decentralized web applications that can traffic in cryptocurrency payments using blockchain via Ethereum. The Elk board is designed for blockchain enabled IoT networks with privacy guarantees that are not possible with mainstream IoT platforms that depend on commercial cloud platforms, says Elk. The company calls its private decentralized IoT stack “Decent IoT.”
Elk with baseboard and block diagram
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The Elk board is available through Sep. 8 starting at $69, with shipments due Mar. 2020. The board runs Linux on a quad-core, 1GHz, Cortex-A7 Allwinner H3 SoC, which powers 10 of the 125 open-spec Linux boards we recently covered in our hacker board catalog. There’s also a 100MHz, 32-bit STM32F411 MCU supported with an Arduino-compatible SDK.
The open source Ethereum shares many features with Bitcoin, letting you buy and sell cryptocurrency using blockchain, in this case via a monetary value called Ether. One key difference is Ethereum’s greater programmability, which enables a variety of decentralized blockchain applications, which are referred to as DApps.
In addition to supporting Ethereum, Elk supports the Whisper API communication protocol, which enables private communications protected by symmetric and asymmetric encryption for “untraceable” metadata. As an alternative, Elk provides its own Elk protocol, which offers a “simpler” wrapper around Whisper for easier control of IoT devices from the Elk mobile app.
Elk prototype from YouTube video (left) and an Elk-based rentable electric outlet
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The Elk board also supports the peer-to-peer InterPlanetary File System (IFPS) for decentralized storage and file referencing. This blockchain-enabled alternative to HTTP(S) can be used to log sensor data instead of using a central server. Finally, there’s support for Status IM for chat and Ether payment delivery, and there are plans to add support for other open source software built around Ethereum.
Applications include decentralized home automation systems, as well as more transactional applications such as smart contracts and media payments that involve Ether and ERC-20 tokens. The KS page mentions specific examples such as a rentable electric outlet, a coffee machine with crypto payments, and a basketball hoop that supports wagers.
There are also motivational devices such as an alarm clock that charges you if you don’t wake up on time or a punching bag that returns your crypto-currency when you finish your workout. In addition: “Sensors can be used as an oracle to the blockchain to trigger a smart contract action, you can use programmable money to rent assets and govern your devices, or even sell your sensors’ data in an open marketplace without a third party,” says Elk
The Elk barely qualifies as an SBC, with real-world connections limited to a micro-USB and microSD card slot. The latter will be replaced on the final version with 8GB eMMC. The breadboard-friendly, dual in-line design combines the Allwinner H3 and STM32F411 chips with 512MB DDR3 RAM and a 2.4GHz WiFi module with antenna.
Elk detail view
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The dual in-line design lets you easily plug the board into a breadboard. The expansion pins support 28x digital I/O, 10x analog I/O, 2x UART, 3x I2C, 3x SPI, and 21x PWM. There are also a few LEDs and buttons.
For $20 more you can buy an $89 Elk Starter Kit that combines the Elk with a power adapter, micro-USB cable, and breadboard. There’s also a photoresistor, temp sensor, buzzer, 10x LEDs, 9x potentiometers, 5x push buttons, 15x resistors, and 10x jumper wires.
A $129 Projects Kit adds to the Starter Kit offerings with relay and current-sensing modules, a 7-segment module, and a monochrome OLED screen for displaying QR code for crypto-payments. You also get a variety of sensors including ultrasonic, smoke, motion/PIR, humidity, sound, water level, Hall effect, and an accelerometer.
There’s also a $189 Learner Kit that bundles the Projects Kit with an online Blockchain Essentials course from ConsenSys Academy. A $299 Educator’s Kit combines four Elk boards with the Blockchain Essentials course.
According to a recent TechCrunch story, which includes an interview with Elk CEO and co-founder Amr Saleh, the Elk was originally announced in 2008 as the Elkrem, but was delayed. The KS page has an interesting origin story for the Elk, with descriptions of prototypes built on the NanoPi Duo, the PocketBeagle, and an Octavo OSD3358-SM module before the final move to the Allwinner H3 design. The company previously launched a 1Sheeld Arduino Shield that connects an Arduino board to the sensors and services running on a smartphone.
The Elk is available on Kickstarter through Sep. 8 starting at $69, with shipments due in Mar. 2020. More information may be found on the Elk Kickstarter page.