Introducing the Hologram Nova

Introducing Nova. Making cellular connectivity simple and scalable.
October 5, 2017
Hologram Nova

I’m excited to announce something amazingly simple we’re releasing today, the Hologram Nova.The Nova is an open-source USB cellular modem built for the developer community; everyone from makers to system architects. Nova and the Hologram Python SDK makes cellular connectivity extremely intuitive for Single Board Computers (SBC) like the Raspberry Pi family, Beagle Boards, CHIP, and Debian based systems.We made Nova from a desire to see a better developer experience when using cellular connectivity with an SBC. Until now it's been a painful experience working with cellular on these systems, causing most people to avoid cellular. For engineers prototyping for a larger production, there has been no solution to date providing a clear path and familiar toolchain that could follow them through to mass scale.With the Nova, cellular connectivity is now simple and scalable.Today we’re releasing two types of the Nova:

  • Global 3G/2G using a u-blox SARA-U201
  • U.S. 4G LTE Cat-M1 using a u-blox SARA-R404M

Nova is Flexible

The Nova is built to be as flexible as possible while ensuring you can connect with as few lines of code as possible. Nova does not claim to be more than a modem; there is no MCU and it is not locked down in any way. You have full access to the underlying u-blox modem.

If you’re a hobbyist, you’ll enjoy how quick you can get your project connected without needing to learn Modem AT Commands. If your project has aspirations of custom design, you’ll appreciate the exposed modem GPIO pads and clear design path to production.

We worked closely with the engineers from u-blox to ensure the Nova’s design was modular, easily supporting new versions of SARA modules. This means as u-blox releases new modems, covering new cellular bands and technologies, we’ll be able to quickly release a new flavor of Nova.

Nova is Totally Open and Unlocked

A few days ago I published a blog post stating Hologram’s commitment to open-sourcing all of our hardware. I’m happy to share the Nova is part of that promise, certified through OSHWA - ID #US000077. Nova design files and the Python SDK can be found on GitHub under the MIT license. Nova design GitHub repository, Python SDK GitHub repository.

We did not stop at open source – the Nova is not locked to Hologram SIMs. Even though we have the largest cellular network for connected devices, instant activation, open device management API, no contracts, and low pricing billed per KB; some may choose other cellular providers. The Nova is a-ok with that. Our SDK is open and unlocked too, supporting custom APNs and the ability to bypass sending data to Hologram’s cloud. If you are really adventurous you can even interact with the Nova through raw modem AT commands, bypassing the SDK completely.Why so open?Because we’re interested in providing the best developer experience. If part of our platform does not meet a project’s requirements, we do not think the whole system should be replaced. It makes more sense to use the parts of the platform you need.

Why USB?

One of the first questions I get every time I show the Nova is "Why is there a USB?!" People who prefer developing with micro-controllers are usually the most surprised.The answer is simple. We wanted to make a spec product for Single Board Computers (SBC), we wanted the end-user to not need wires, and we wanted to be compatible with as many SBCs as possible. USB was the only solution that met all three requirements. Should the Nova come in different flavors? Absolutely! Our desire is for the community to use what we’ve started to build pHats, Beagle Capes, shields, breakouts and more.If making a hardware abstraction of the Nova sounds interesting I’d encourage you to join our community forum and start interacting with our engineers.

Simple SDK

I want to show you just how easy the Python SDK/CLI is with a few examples. By running the following script the Hologram Python SDK and all dependencies are installed$ curl -L , bash

Hologram Python SDK and dependancies installed

#1 - Network interface providing full internet access, including browsers

Network interface

#2 - Send a data message to our cloud or send an SMS Sending an SMS is a little more ribose than sending data to the cloud, but you have to admit they both look nice.

Data message to cloud

#3 - Receive data messages through UDP/TCP or receive SMS

Data messages

CLI Reference Docs are available here.

SDK Reference Docs are available here.

Nova’s Roadmap

We’re excited to see what the community does with the Nova. From our end, we’ll continue to add features to the Nova platform. Here are a few features you can expect from us.

  • Global LTE CAT-M1 with NB version (SARA-R410M-02B): One Nova to rule the new LTE world
  • Official OpenWRT compatibility: Providing support for the Arduino YUN, Tessel, Onion Omega and more
  • Official Windows 10 Core compatibility: Providing support for the Azure ecosystem and boards, like the LattePanda
  • SDKs for NodeJS, C++, Go and others

How to get a Nova

You can order either the 3G/2G or 4G Cat-M Nova today from our store. The Cat-M version will ship in six weeks, if you’re interested in the latest LTE tech, then I’d suggest you order to ensure a unit is reserved.Anticipating our initial stock will sell out, I made sure to hide away a bunch of units for some DevRelations initiatives. The Starter Kit I put together a starter kit consisting of a Raspberry Pi 3, a Nova, some basic components, and a step-by-step tutorial. This kit is a great way to be introduced to Debian, Python and of course the Nova. The Global ContestTo help the world get you started with the Nova and Python SDK we’ve teamed up the Raspberry Pi Foundation and Hackster to deploy a global contest.Starting today, submit an idea and receive one of 200 development kits we specifically made for this event. Each kit includes a Raspberry Pi Zero W, Hologram Nova Global 3G/2G, NodeMCU ESP8266, MCP3008, and GPS Module.

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