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SparkFun XBee Explorer USB
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Head Tracking for Wireless 3D First Person Vision
by twhi2525

$ 24.95

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Description: This is a simple to use, USB to serial base unit for the Digi XBee line. This unit works with all XBee modules including the Series 1 and Series 2.5, standard and Pro version. Plug the unit into the XBee Explorer, attach a mini USB cable, and you will have direct access to the serial and programming pins on the XBee unit.

The highlight of this board is an FT231X USB-to-Serial converter. That’s what translates data between your computer and the XBee. There’s also a reset button, and a voltage regulator to supply the XBee with plenty of power. In addition, there are four LEDs that’ll help if you ever need to debug your XBee: RX, TX, RSSI (signal-strength indicator), and power indicator.

This board also breaks out each of the XBee’s I/O pins to a pair of breadboard-compatible headers. So if you want to make use of the XBee’s extended functionality, you can solder some header pins into those, or even just solder some wire.

Not sure which XBee module or accessory is right for you? Check out our XBee Buying Guide!

Note: There is no XBee included with this Explorer USB. Check the Recommended Products section below for different options.


Recommended Products

Customer Comments

  • ——————– Tech Support Tips/Troubleshooting/Common Issues ——————–


    Testing the XBee Explorer USB with an Arduino Pro Mini 3.3V/8MHz, I was able to get the board to work with a XBee Series 1:

    Arduino Pro Mini 3.3V/8MHz <=> XBee Explorer USB
    GND <=> GND
    3.3V <=> 3.3V
    Rx <=> DOUT
    Tx <=> DIN

    The PWR LED can light up when powering at 3.3V. This can be due to the 5V pin from the FTDI leaking power from the Arduino’s 3.3V. If you test it with a multimeter, you will see that the board will be outputting 3.3V on the 5V pin from the FTDI. Further tests indicate that the leak will happen after you insert a USB cable to the XBee Explorer USB (assuming that the Arduino and XBee Explorer USB is not connected to power). After applying power to the Arduino and removing the USB, the LED was still on but at a lower intensity. It might be due to the FT231X internal circuit partially remaining on after 5V is applied to the 5V rail for the 3.3V rail.

    The Rx and Tx LEDs will probably not light up if you are not powering the FT231X with 5V. Also, the Rx and Tx LEDs should only light up when there is serial data sent from the USB through the FT231X. The DOUT and DIN pins are directly connected to the XBee, which is why serial data can be sent between an Arduino and the XBee.


    FT231X is set for 3.3V. I would not recommend connecting the DIN and DOUT directly to a 5V Arduino. There would not be any logic level conversion between the Arduino and the XBee. The conversion is only between the USB and the XBee.

    XBee S3B Compatibility

    If you are using the XBee Explorer Dongle or the XBee Explorer USB, make sure that you cut the RSSI trace on the back of the board. The XBee S3B modules [like XBee-Pro 900 XSC S3B Wire - WRL-11634] does not work properly with anything connected to the RSSI pin.

  • Hy, i looked at the schematic and i found that there is a polarised 10uF capacitor at the voltage regulator, but on the board it is a simple ceramic one. Am i wrong?

  • Hi, I seem to have a different version of the board than is shown here, including the schematics. My board has a FT232RL, no reset switch, and also no RTS/CTS/RSSI/DTR pads on the back of the board. Do you have the design files for this version of the board? Thank you.

  • I’m having difficulty getting XCTU on my Mac to “see” this device. I’ve confirmed that the Mac sees the USB device, but XCTU does not show it in the list of serial/USB ports. I’m a little perplexed as to where to go from here in troubleshooting this problem. Any thoughts on this?

  • This module is compatible with bluetooth bee ???

    • I’ve used a Bluetooth Bee from TinyOS without trouble. Bluetooth Bees are wired to TX and RX in the same pin layout as XBee, so they, along with most XBee form factor devices should work on this. If it’s XBee compatible, it should be usable with this.

      Also, I have 2 XBee Series 2 PCB antenna devices and they work fine with these. The only difference between them and my Bluetooth Bee are the GPIO pins which bluetooth bees and other third party XBee clones, those GPIO pins don’t affect devices like this which use the serial pins only.

  • What about digi’s xbee wifi modules? Do their bulky under belly fit? The previous version does not. The mini USB connector is in the way.

    • It does hit the USB connector, but I don’t see that as a problem since it will still work just fine.

    • No, unfortunately the connector still hits the XBee WiFi’s RF shield. We wanted to keep the board dimensions the same, so we were unable to pull the connector out any further. It’s not completely unusable with the WiFi’s – I stick some electrical tape between the two components to add a little protection – but, because the module is lifted a bit by the connector, some pins aren’t as plugged into the socket as they probably should be.

      The WiFi modules do plug nicely into the XBee Dongle Explorer, though. If you’re looking for a better (nearly equivalent) option.

  • I accidentally shorted the RES pin to ground thinking it stood for reset…did i damage anything?

    • Not likely, I do it all the time. The board doesn’t care and most XBees don’t use that pin. Feel free to check the datasheet of your specific XBee to see if that pin is used for anything, but you should be fine.

  • Hey Sparkfun, you might want to look at your Rx and Tx connections in your schematic. I think you have DOUT and DIN reversed.

  • How does the XBee show up when plugged directly into a PC? Is a virtual com port driver required for it to be recognized as a serial device, or is that handled by the FT serial converter on the board?

  • I have this XBee explorer.

    I was wondering, could one use the TX & RX pins on it (without an XBee attached) to program an Arduino pro mini (DEV-11113 or DEV-11114).

    In other words does it have the same functionality as the FTDI Basic breakout boards, e.g. BOB-11736

    thanks for any clarification.

    • Kind of. The Arduino basically needs 5 connections/signals. Power, GND, RX, TX and reset. You should be able to get the first 4 from this board. I can’t think of a way to send the auto-reset signal this way, but you can manually reset the board with the reset button (wait until you see the white text on the IDE screen telling you the size of the sketch, then hit reset). If you have any problems with this please email and they should be able to help you.

  • i connected 2 xbee 900 to the USB explorer , one of them the RSSI LED was off and it works , the other one the RSSI LED was on and it did not work ? any help ???

  • I just bought 2 of these, 2 xbee shields, xbee usb dongle, and 3 xbees, all series 1 as applicable, oh, and 2 Unos. I have been following along with the tutorials. When I got to the tutorial that has a pot attached to the uno, I couldn’t get it to work.

    While I was working on this problem, I realized that every test I had done up to this point had usb cables attached to every device I was using. Wireless??? So I start unplugging cables one at a time and tested with all failed results.

    I started over from the beginning, config the xbees. As I went through all the tests I stopped to pull cables. I have come to the conclusion that there is not enough info in the tutorials I’m using to actually get any kind of wireless communications. I put a cable and loose it every time.

    Can anyone shed some light on what might be going on here?

    Here is the link of the swarm tutorial where it tries to add a pot to the uno.

    Thanks for the help guys, d

    • I don’t know what happeed but it works now. All I did was shut everything down and powered it back up the next day. Could have had bad connection somewhere or perhaps I didn’t realize I pulled the USB cable with the monitor open. For now, problem solved.


  • I see that a jumper was added to the back of the board on the RSSI line. Presumably to fix this issue

    However in the eagle board file it looks like the jumper pads are connected. Is the idea that to use the S3B series radios you need to cut that trace?


  • The reset button is a nice addition, but if I’m reading the schematic correctly, it is resetting the FT231, not the xbee, correct?

    • The labeling on the schematic is a little weird (there is a Reset pin on the FT231X, which is pulled high), but it is definitely resetting the XBee. That “RESET” stub net connected to the switch is connected to the “RESET” net coming off pin 5 of the XBee.

      • Thanks for the help, my schematic reading skills are obviously lacking. So, this should work quite well with the Synapse RF266 (the radio with the same pin footprint as the XBee), because a reset is really needed when programming it.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5

Based on 33 ratings:

5 star
4 star
3 star
2 star
1 star

1 of 1 found this helpful:

As advertised, it "just works".

Works great, gave me a jump-start on development before our in-house hardware was ready.

1 of 1 found this helpful:

Works like a charm!

I highly recommend it. Works like a charm!

1 of 1 found this helpful:

Works perfectly, reset button is not the greatest.

I’ve been using this product for awhile and it works perfectly for interfacing my xbee Pro. I use the xbee Pros as a wireless serial link and the explorer plugs into my computer and creates a COM port with no problems. My only complaint (and a minor one at that) is that the reset button is a bit hard to reach and feel since the xbee module overhangs it slightly.

1 of 1 found this helpful:

Very easy to use

I was having trouble getting my XBEE to communicate with my computer and here was why I needed the explorer board usb to do so. Once I had the explorer I plugged in the explorer and XBEE and opened up XCTU and I had communication right away!

1 of 1 found this helpful:

Worked... until I tried to remove my XBee!

Worked exactly as stated. Then I went to remove my XBee so I could program another one and the header snapped off! Someone PLEASE make this through hole and not surface mount headers. Now I have to order another and waste another week waiting on shipping. I’m a poor college student on a time crunch! HELP!!!!

Please contact our support team for assistance.

2 of 2 found this helpful:

Fragile Headers

Works well, but it would be better if the headers were through hole instead of surface mounted. The XBee fits very tightly in the 2mm headers and requires some gentle force to remove. I ended up breaking one of the headers off while trying to remove an XBee.

I wanted to repair it using the breadboard-compatible holes by mounting one of the XBee breakout boards, but the left and right header holes are offset by one pin! I ended up soldering headers and using jumper wires to keep this working while I wait for a replacement. I’m going to replace this unit with one of the competing products that uses through-hole mounting for the XBee 2mm headers.

1 of 1 found this helpful:

Product works great but having a lot of trouble getting xbee to work

I am trying to get 2 xbees to communicate sensor data to one another to get an LED to blink. There is very little documentation about how to get the right settings for the Xbee. Any pointers would be much appreciated

Works well

I use these all the time and have never had a problem. Very useful.

Extremely Reliable!

The quality is top notch, and is extremely reliable. I have two, one of them has been working non stop for almost two years.

Excellent interface for WiFly

The Explorer USB handles the powering and connections for a WiFly (and XBee’s, I assume). It’s straightforward to use and makes application of the WiFly a snap.

Excellent Product

The XBee Explorer works as advertised. High marks! I used the Explorer in connecting my Laptop (running Python application) to Raspberry PI. No problems what so ever. Definitely a number of different uses for this product.

Beautiful bit of work!

Every Sparkfun creation I’ve tried has been excellent, and the Xbee Explorer is no exception. This breakout-board serves very well as an Xbee component or as a configuration tool. A great value!


Works fine!


an excellent tool to facilitate communication between PC and xbee

Very handy for software development work

I have another “dongle” for my XBees, but it lacks the reset switch. This is the feature I use the most on this unit. I also prefer the mini-B USB over a Type A style. Since I don’t need to plug this one into a proto board, not having the pins on the bottom gives it a smaller form factor, which is also a benefit. I have another with pins for hardware development tasks, but as I usually use them in pairs, having one of each is a plus.

Easy to use

Perfect match with XCTU software.

Nice Little Board

I originally intended to use this board in my house to hold the Coordinator XBee which communicates with another Xbee which controls my water pump.

I did have to download drivers, install, reboot, uninstall, reinstall again before it would work. This seemed to be more of a Windows problem than this board, but it worked in the end.

Because the mini USB connector was much easier to route thru ~6 feet of ¾ inch conduit, I ended up using this board as the outdoor router for the water pump. It is sealed inside of a water proof Type-LB Nonmetallic Conduit Body.

This means that the board needs to communicate with my Raspberry Pi. In connecting to the Pi, I had none of the bother that I had with my Windows machine: I plugged it in, and it worked fine. Even though the power draw of the Xbee Pro is a bit over what the Pi is spec'ed for, I have not had any problems. Since the Pi is not driving anything else, I have more margin than other applications.

"Must have"

Must have accessory to work with xBee modules. This allows to re-program the FW, configure them and even recover “dead” ones from a PC. The Digi software works flowlessly with this board. This helped me understand how the the xBee modules work and fine tune my network configuration before using them with an Arduino Yun. I accidentally plugged the module in reverse a couple of times and it did not damage neither the Explorer nor the xBee board. I was able to achieve my goal to build wireless temperature sensors using xBee 2 Series boards that can run for 1.5+ year on a pair of AA batteries.

0 of 3 found this helpful:

I haven't tried it yet.

But I have used SparkFun gadgets for my work to do things amazing. So thanks for YOUR support while I explore the amazing world of affordable technology!

using external power

I want to power the USB explorer board to monitor the xbee tx/rx when the xbee is powered with an external supply. Can the 3.3V pin on the USB explorer be used as the xbee power source when there is no USB connected? Similarly, can the 5V pin be used as the power supply with no USB connected? If yes, will the tx/rx LEDs function with external power? If the board is externally powered, are there any USB explorer pins that must be set hi/low (e.g., RST, RES, CTS, DTR)?

If you are powering over the 3.3V line, you need to be very sure to have a clean and regulated 3.3V power supply. The Xbees are very sensitive and can become damaged if supplied with to much power.

The 5V input should run through the regulator (MIC5219 3.3V) so you can get away with more input voltage. However, I would suggest keeping it under 9V in on the regulated line.

I have not tested, but the TX and RX should turn on without USB as long as there is data being sent over the respective line.

Easy to use. Performed as advertised.

gets the job done

easy to use USB plug and go breakout points available

Work perfectly - Headers required

Work without any problem. headers are not included

work great

Work great with XBee Pro Series 2B and Xbee Series 2

Simple and straight forward

Works as expected.

Works as advertised!

I have used this product over the past several years. The latest iteration works well with the highest power XBee modules, the Pro S3B if you observe the instructions in the Sparkfun ad regarding the RSSI limitation. I can’t ask for more than doing exactly what it says it does!

Great item at reasonable price

Good quality and price and performance

XBee Coms

Definitely useful for setup and testing.

0 of 1 found this helpful:

Surface mount headers are fragile

Be careful with the 2mm pitch headers. I soldered on 0.1" through hole headers to plug this into a breadboard. When I pulled the board out of the breadboard I accidentally put too much force on the 2mm headers on top and one ripped right off. I tacked it back on with some super glue and wires to connect 3.3V and GND (the only connections I need on that side of the board). Through hole headers would have been a better choice.

Exactly what I needed!

Got my XBees' up and running in no time flat.

Works well.

This interface for the XBee module does exactly what it is intended to do. It provides a USB interface to the host PC as well as the necessary level shifting to the 3.3v Rx & Tx ports of the XBee device. It has an onboard a 3.3 regulator to power the module from the USB 5v rail. For the price it would be difficult to produce your own with equivalent functionality.

There are a couple of items that I think could be improved on though. 1) The Explorer pin numbers do not match the XBee pin numbers. For instance XBee pin 1 connects to Explorer pin 10, XBee pin 2 to Explorer pin 9 Etc. 2) The 100-mil headers should be included with the Explorer. 3) The board currently uses the older USB mini-B connector instead of the more predominant micro-B connector. These items reduced the rating from 5 to 4 stars.

Related Tutorials

Exploring XBees and XCTU

March 12, 2015

How to set up an XBee using your computer, the X-CTU software, and an XBee Explorer interface board.