Hey, Hardware Hackers! There’s A WiFi-Enabled Arduino Now

Lets say you’ve come up with a brilliant idea for some shiny new piece of hardware. You brush up your coding chops, scratch out a design, and set out to build a prototype.

First, you’ll need a programmable chip to act as the brain. Because of the relatively gentle learning curve and friendly community, you go with the Arduino. The problem: your hardware idea requires WiFi.

Until now, that’s actually been a pretty complicated issue.

It’s not that Arduinos couldn’t do WiFi before — it’s just always been a bit of a pain. You had two main options, neither of them perfect:

  • You could buy a WiFi shield. “Shields” are optional attachments built for the Arduino to give them more functionality, like sound playback/recording, ethernet, or WiFi. The downside here: WiFi shields are expensive (2-3x the cost of the Arduino itself), bulky, and often tough to find in a pinch.
  • You could buy a “clone” board with WiFi built-in. Clones are unofficial Arduinos built by third parties. The problem there: if something went wrong, you’d have to hope someone in the community was familiar with whatever clone board you opted to use.

At this weekend’s Maker Faire, the company announced the Arduino Yún (with Yún being Chinese for “cloud” and English for “Yeah, most people are probably just going to type Yun without the fancy ú.”), the first official Arduino to come with WiFi functionality built-in out of the box.

At its core, the Yún is actually part traditional Arduino and part Linux system. The Arduino handles all of the functionality it traditionally would — running your code, reading from sensors, etc — while an itty-bitty Linux-powered chip acts as both a WiFi receiver and transmitter, handling all of the HTTP gruntwork needed to get your hardware project online. Plus: you can reprogram the Arduino Yún over WiFi, no USB cable required.

Lost in geek-speak here? Wondering what all of this means to you? Basically, one of the most popular platforms for DIY hardware projects has just made it a whole lot easier to get said projects connected to the Internet. Want a coffee maker that starts brewing 30 minutes before Google Calendar says you’ve got guests coming over? Sure, why not. Want an alarm that automatically donates money from your PayPal when you hit the snooze button? Totally doable.

Just this week, a project focused on building a high-quality, WiFi-enabled, Arduino-compatible board raised over $300,000 on Kickstarter. That’s over 30x their initial goal of $10,000, and they’ve still got nearly 2 weeks left. There’s definitely a lot of interest in such a thing.

The Yún should start shipping at the end of June, and will cost about $69. That’s about twice the cost of the WiFi-less Arduinos available today, but still significantly cheaper (and more compact) than buying both an Arduino and an add-on WiFi-shield.