ESP8266 Over The Air updating – what are the options?

1950's TV link dish - a bit overkill for ESP8266, maybe..Over the air convenience

A real pain point when developing sensor nodes that are scattered around a building (or a country or the world!) is the updating part. How do you get new firmware onto the devices?

The cell phone manufacturers were early to investigate the options, but from my days in that industry I know first-hand how challenging it was to send new firmware to tens or hundreds of thousands of devices. Lot’s have happened since, today a system update for tens of millions of Android or IOS devices is no big deal, you just make sure your phone is plugged into power before starting the upgrade. Leave it overnight, and next morning you have the latest (and hopefully greatest) version installed.

Looking specifically at the ESP8266, it does have drawbacks in terms of power consumption (it’s hard to get the power consumption down for a device that needs 3-4 seconds to wake up from sleep, connecting to a wifi network and send its sensor readings – but improvements are possible). On the other hand, its wifi connectivity means Over The Air (OTA) updating is possible.

Having a bunch of ESP8266’s lying around, I looked into the options for doing OTA on ESP8266.

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How to get OS X 10.9 Mavericks and Arduino IDE to play nicely with each other

Apple tried to be smart with OS X Mavericks, developing their own FTDI drivers. Just too bad they don’t seem to work.

I have been getting nothing but “avrdude: stk500_recv(): programmer is not responding” errors when trying to upload sketches to various Arduino compatible boards.
In the end, the only thing that worked was programming the boards using a dedicated programmer (in my case an USBasp).

Some digging around forums and Apple’s support site, the following steps has solved the issue on all the OS X machines where I have tried it. In short, you need to replace Apple’s drivers with the ones from FTDI.

  1. Open a terminal
  2. cd /System/Library/Extensions/IOUSBFamily.kext/Contents/PlugIns
  3. sudo mv AppleUSBFTDI.kext AppleUSBFTDI.disabled
  4. sudo touch /System/Library/Extensions
  5. Restart computer
  6. Install FTDI’s virtual COM port drivers from http://www.ftdichip.com/Drivers/VCP.htm. In version 2.2.18 this package contains two executable files, I have had success with the one named FTDIUSBSerialDriver_10_4_10_5_10_6_10_7
  7. Restart again (might not be needed, good practise though after installing drivers)

Voila – The Arduino IDE can now upload sketches to all boards I have tried, both with the old/legacy bootloader and Optiboot.