First steps with the Onion Omega

The Onion Omega is another cool little contender in the hobbyist hardware maker space, competing with the ever growing number of devices with support for Arduino shields. These are the key advantages in my opinion and the reason I’ve backed their successful Kickstarter campaign:

  • comes with built-in wifi (and also has Ethernet + USB, although these only available through extension boards)
  • is way more powerful than an Arduino (400 Mhz ARM / 64MB RAM / 16MB Flash)
  • seems more open than the similar offerings (SparkCore, Electric Imp)
  • has a small footprint
  • and of course the price was dear (and still is, $19 for the basic setup with Black Friday deals)

The campaign has finished in May and delivery was promised by end of August, but most of the backers received the kits in early November, which by the terms of crowdfunding, still seems very good.

When opening the package it came by surprise to have an extra box labeled Mini Dock. It turns out the successful stretch goal of $250,000 was to send these for free to every backer. Nice!

Taken with

The actual Onion is really tiny. It has similar dimensions to the Intel Edison.

One thing I am not hundred percent satisfied with on the hardware side is the small connector, which is really hard to push together and pull apart, especially on the mini dock which is hard to grab due to the switch on one side. Don’t want to break off the switch.

This all sounds great so far, but nothing on the software side seems to be there (or I couldn’t find it — more on this later). The Onion Console would be the dashboard to manage your devices and the Onion Cloud is the IoT data layer.

As the Kickstarter campaign mentioned (and included a screenshot of) direct access to the Linux on the board, I’ve quickly connected up it via the Mini Dock and a mini USB cable. On the Mac, no serial device or mass storage shows up.

The device manager reveals it has a Silicon Labs CP2102 chip for serial communication, which needs a separate driver installed. I do not really like installing drivers on the Mac, so instead just fired up one of my Linux VMs, where it was supported out of the box. The Onion was finally reachable through the serial console, revealing it is based off OpenWRT. (For the techies: see the motd and dmesg output here.)

At this stage, I’ve finally managed to find the Getting Started Guide. How dumb of me, right? :)

Basically the Onion creates a wifi network to which you connect and a 4 step process on the web will set everything up for you. Ta da!

After doing a firmware upgrade and restarting, it will be available on your home wifi network too and connecting via the web will get you to the Console:

Unfortunately it doesn’t really have a code editor yet (with an API), but there are a few guides online already. If you have the Arduino shield, jump into this one. Make sure to check the forum and the wiki.

There’s a lot to be done on the software side, but I think the Onion has the possibility to become something great. Not to mention most of the code is open source.

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