Designed and originally made by Espressif in China, it's a VERY low cost (e.g. $5USD) WiFi IPv4 connected embedded controller with a few pins of GPIO, UART, I2C, 10 bit ADC, SPI, PWM, internal temp, etc.. The processor is a 106micro Diamond Standard core (LX3) made by Tensilica with 80MHz 32 bit RISC processor, 32KB RAM, 64K ROM, and is typically paired on a 11.5mm x 11.5mm "SoC" with an extra 96KB Data RAM and 512KB FLASH via a Winbond W25Q40BVNIG
Wi-Fi 2.4 GHz, WPA/WPA2, 802.11 b/g/n protocol. +20dBm output power in 802.11b mode
3.3Volt based (damaged by connection to 5volt devices). Standby power consumption of < 1.0mW (DTIM3), Deep sleep power <10uA, Power down leakage current < 5uA (10uA?), recieve data at around 60mA, and transmit at around 200mA. Wake up and transmit packets in < 2ms
Out of the box, they have an "AT" command set so a device connected to the UART can tell them to connect to the network, and send and recieve data. They are typically used, in this mode, with some other embedded device.
However, a GNU based toolchain has been developed ^ which allows them to be re-programmed for complete applications in a single module.
And new firmware packages are being developed, such as a small LUA interpreter ^ These packages are fairly easy to install by connecting the UART to a PC (USB to 3.3v serial adapter), holding a GPIO pin down (usually pin 0), restarting the module, and then downloading the .bin file.
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<A HREF="http://www.piclist.com/techref/esp8266.htm"> ESP 8266 Internet Modem, IOT connector</A>
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