Low-cost development boards have a place in our community

By Rich Nass

Executive Vice President

Embedded Computing Design

October 21, 2014

Low-cost development boards have a place in our community

Platforms that fall into the "do it yourself" or DIY space are currently in vogue. There are a multitude of offerings available, and more seem to pop...

Platforms that fall into the “do it yourself” or DIY space are currently in vogue. There are a multitude of offerings available, and more seem to pop up every day. The types of platforms I’m referring to are things like Raspberry Pi, Arduino, BeagleBone, and so on. It’s hard not to hear about these technologies these days if you’re in the technology space.

The big question I have about these platforms, and one I recently raised to our Advisory Board, is whether these platforms are being used by “serious” design engineers, or if they’re more in the hobbyist space. The answer I got was “yes.”

Huh? Yeah, that’s what I said too. Most (not all) of them agree that the boards can be a great learning tool and an entrant into a more serious design.

Here is the range of comments:

“I believe these boards act as a good platform for software rapid prototyping as the Pi especially gives a solid embedded Linux platform on which to experiment, especially with respect to networking and IoT.”

“The buzz around these-low cost platforms is reminiscent of the early days of Linux, including the dismissal of Linux as a toy on the one hand but the use of Linux as a grassroots experimentation platform on the other. And we all know where that has taken us.”

“I’ve been visiting dozens of customers in the past few months and none of them have used the boards as evaluation platforms to design their next product. Some of them have used those for home hobbies but not much more than that.”

So there you have it, sort of.

To try and get a handle on this subject, we did some polling of our readers (that would be you). The results were pretty interesting, and tend to validate the assumption these boards are being used by “serious” designers. In order of preference, they’re using Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, and LaunchPad. After that, it drops off significantly.

The top three features they like most about these boards are (in order of preference): cost, I/O, and existing documentation and sample code.

To me, the boards absolutely have a place in our industry. Whether you do your prototyping on them or you just use it to validate a function, they’re a worthwhile investment (a small one at that).

The secondary reason that most would agree with is that they can build excitement in the hobbyist community and in the up-and-comer ranks. The amount of kids, ranging from middle school to high school, that attended the recent NYC Maker Faire was astounding. And the questions they were asking were worthy of any embedded developer I’ve been associated with.

So the bottom line is, should you be investing your time in either developing one of these products or designing your next product using one? Yes, I believe it’s a worthwhile investment.

Rich Nass, Embedded Computing Brand Director

Richard Nass’ key responsibilities include setting the direction for all aspects of OSM’s ECD portfolio, including digital, print, and live events. Previously, Nass was the Brand Director for Design News. Prior, he led the content team for UBM’s Medical Devices Group, and all custom properties and events. Nass has been in the engineering OEM industry for more than 30 years. In prior stints, he led the Content Team at EE Times, Embedded.com, and TechOnLine. Nass holds a BSEE degree from NJIT.

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