I’ve long been a fan of the open-source hardware company Adafruit, which was founded by American electrical engineer Limor Fried in 2005. Limor is also known by the moniker Lady Ada, which is a homage to Lady Ada Lovelace who worked with Charles Babbage on his Analytical Steam Engine in the mid-1880s. Now I come to think about it, AdaFried would have been another good name for the company, as would AdaFriedFruit. On the other hand, Adafruit does sort of grow on you after a while. The folks at Adafruit are famous for all sorts of things. I cannot tell you how many NeoPixels and sensors and Arduino motor controller shields I’ve purchased from them over the years, but they were worth every penny.
One of Adafruit’s Feather family of boards (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: Adafruit)
One thing I’ve not explored yet is Adafruit’s Feather family of development boards, so named because they are small, thin, light, and easily powered from a battery. The Feather family constitutes Adafruit’s broadest platform of “Arduino-like” boards. Feather boards all share the same form factor, same pinout, and similar microcontrollers. The boards differentiate themselves in that each one boasts a special feature in addition to the microcontroller breakout, such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular network connectivity, a built-in prototyping space, SD card communication, and… the list goes on. In addition to the main Feather boards themselves, Adafruit designs and manufactures expansion cards called “FeatherWings,” which support the addition of features such as an LCD, a NeoPixel array, DC motor drivers, and… once again, the list goes on. Feather boards provide an ideal platform for hobbyists and makers to use as the basis for their home automation projects. They also provide an ideal platform for commercial building automation. In many cases, however, the stumbling block is supplying them with power. It’s easy to say that low-power Feather boards can be powered from a battery. It’s especially easy if you aren’t the person who has to wander through a 1,000-room facility like a hotel replacing or recharging the batteries. The fun and frivolity only increase if you have to fend off indignant customers who are feverishly complaining about the fact that whatever devices or systems their Feather boards were controlling are currently not working as desired.
The PoE FeatherWing (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: Patrick Van Oosterwijck)
So, you can only imagine my surprise and delight to hear from my old chum Patrick Van Oosterwijck regarding his current PoE FeatherWing CrowdSupply Project. PoE, which stands for Power over Ethernet, refers to passing electric power along with data on twisted pair Ethernet cabling. This allows a single cable to provide both data connection and electric power to devices such as wireless access points, IP cameras, VoIP phones, and — now — Adafruit’s Feather and FeatherWing boards. It’s true that Adafruit provides an Ethernet FeatherWing for its Feather ecosystem. Unfortunately, although this is a valuable option for IoT and automation projects, it has its limitations, such as the fact that the main Feather still needs to be powered separately, and no built-in globally unique MAC address is provided for the user, thereby increasing the difficulty of deployment. Patrick’s PoE FeatherWing addresses all of these issues. In addition to providing a drop-in replacement for Adafruit’s existing Ethernet FeatherWing, it also powers your Feather and gives you a globally unique MAC address, all while maintaining 100% compatibility with the rest of the Feather ecosystem in terms of size, connectivity, and software support. Well, I for one am very impressed. It always amazes me when someone like Patrick looks at something like an Ethernet FeatherWing and says to themselves, “Hmm, not bad, but I can do better,” and then goes off and turns his words into actions. Now I’m looking around my office building thinking to myself, “What application could I implement using an Adafruit Feather and Patrick’s PoE FeatherWing?” How about you? Can you think of any applications that would benefit from access to this little beauty (the PoE FeatherWing, not Patrick)?