Raspberry Pi Microcomputers: the icing on the IoT cake
Smart cities with smart streets and smart houses are neither a presumption nor a fantasy anymore. This is the reality engendered by the notorious digital transformation. According to some analytical reports, each Earthling will own at least 5 digital gadgets continually connected to the internet by 2020.
The majority of the gadgets will go for the Internet of Things (IoT) where various business processes and systems are empowered by the specific elements such as Raspberry Pi compute modules capable of autonomously interacting within certain wireless connection protocols without being necessarily controlled by humans.
Moreover, the IoT elements are possessing sufficient intellectual capabilities for not only functioning in normal mode but also for requesting technical support and maintenance in case of emergency.
Beneficiaries of the IoT cake
That’s not a secret that the companies and startups running under the B2B business paradigm are benefited best from the IoT industry. By the most modest estimates, the IoT market will reach $7 trillion by 2020 while the present investment in the IoT sector can hardly overcome $90 billion. The lion’s share of the market’s profit belongs to both the IoT hardware manufacturers and the software developers providing the “Things” with the intellect. Since the humanity is becoming overgrown with smart objects consisting not only of conventional computers and gadgets but also of such nontrivial compute modules as the Raspberry Pi boards, the demand for the microcontrollers and microcomputers is occupying almost every industry beginning from consumer electronics and home appliances and up to healthcare and automobiles (the prospective lines of the IoT development can be easily found in numerous reports of the ringing technological trends on the internet).
The hardware “brains” capable of transforming a trivial object into a smart device should be recognized as the core component meeting the entire philosophy of the IoT movement. Some observers emphasize the new philosophy occurring on the basis of how we perceive the contemporary interaction between humans and objects calling it the Experience Age which is removing the Information Age appeared together with World Wide Web 25 years ago. The philosophy includes two main directions: the remote control of smart objects and the collecting and processing of data (the buzzwording Big Data) produced by the smart devices. The efficiency and therefore feasibility of both processes depends on two critical aspects: the availability of a broadband internet connection and the characteristics of the microcomputers embedded in the IoT objects.
While the internet issue is a multidimensional complex problem covering numerous areas of human activities including besides technology politics, economics, and even psychology, the hardware-software IoT solutions seem to be involved in a straightforward competition between manufacturers – the better and cheaper product is offered, the bigger market share is occupied. With regard to this issue, the Raspberry compute module characteristics and price are worth mentioning. But more on that later.
Platforms: where to develop the IoT apps
In order to realize that such an approach is a little bit primitive, the environment where microcomputer manufacturers operate is worth considering first. The software giants such as Google, Samsung, Intel, and Microsoft, IBM and GE offer their IoT platforms encompassing almost every type of the smart devices’ usage. Besides, they cover all four levels of the IoT environment: a single smart object’s level, a consumer needs serving level (“smart home”), an urban big data and communication level (“smart city”), and a global level of a “sensor planet”.
- Samsung Artik Cloud, a well-scalable and quite fresh programming IoT platform by Samsung propagates the concept of the ultimate inter-connectivity between smart objects and cloud services. Legrand Company having more than 200 million smart devices installed throughout the world is an active devotee of the platform.
- Windows 10 IoT (former Windows Embedded) is a family of operating systems including Enterprise (desktops, POS-terminals, healthcare and industrial solutions), Mobile, and Core (display-free automation systems, robotic equipment etc). Microsoft is thriving hard to create their own IoT ecosystem with Azure IoT cloud service where solutions based on Raspberry and Arduino microcomputers can be easily implemented. However, when it comes to Raspberry compute module programming, some Linux-based solutions are also available, let alone Raspberry Pi android-compatible systems.
- Intel IoT has outgrown from the Wind River Systems project of 2009 when the smart home concept was hardly actual. Today, the platform includes various easily integrable solutions beginning from cloud services and up to the native Intel hardware such as Intel Quark SE and others that work with the open source OS Wind River Pulsar Linux. This OS is a direct competitor of Google Brillo where the development of IoT apps within a virtual environment is also possible.
- Brillo platform for the IoT and smart home solutions was announced by Google in 2015. The hallmark of Brillo is the Weave feature which provides connectivity to various IoT devices without any intermediary cloud. Brillo is based on Android being thus able to interact with various online service of Google. Many enthusiastic developers call the platform ”software Arduino” for its flexibility and multitasking capabilities. To be frank, we would prefer the equation to Raspberry compute modules for the same reason.
Why the IoT is young
It seems the contemporary developers have the sufficient amount of the instruments allowing to create any kind of software solutions for the IoT projects of any complexity. But how about the hardware? Is there a leading manufacturer who can cover the majority of the IoT ideas by a single microcomputer having advanced characteristics and a considerable price at the same time? Many IoT enthusiasts consider there is. Celebrating its 5-year anniversary, The Raspberry Pi Foundation reported about 12.5 million microcomputers they have sold. Of course, this figure sounds not too impressive in the midst of sales of Apple or Samsung. However, it should be kept in mind that the IoT world is much younger than the smartphone or laptop markets, for example. The microcomputers’ market is young not because of it is based on some novice immature equipment (a microcontroller itself is old enough to be native to such “ancient” programming facilities as the assembly language and machine code being at the same time relevant to the high-level programming languages when installed in the boards such as Raspberry Pi compute module 3) but due to the public recognition which acquired the IoT paradigm quite recently. There are many famous microcontroller manufacturers such as Cypress, Dallas Semiconductor, Philips, Siemens, Fujitsu, Mitsubishi Electronics, Temic, National Semiconductor, Oki Semiconductor etc. So, what does the Raspberry Pi Foundation offer to deserve the wide public acceptance?
What do Raspberry Pi microcomputers look like
First of all, the series of Raspberry Pi microcomputers provides both the characteristics and package contents capable of satisfying the majority of the IoT vendors creating different hardware solutions for a vast variety of applications. The newest Raspberry Pi model 3 (the third generation of Raspberry Pi computers) has the following features:
Quad-Core 1.2GHz Broadcom BCM2837 64bit CPU
BCM43438 wireless LAN and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) on board
40-pin extended GPIO
4 USB 2 ports
4 Pole stereo output and composite video port
CSI camera port for connecting a Raspberry Pi camera
DSI display port for connecting a Raspberry Pi touchscreen display
Micro SD port for loading your operating system and storing data
Upgraded switched Micro USB power source up to 2.5A
The main functional difference between Raspberry Pi microcomputers and ordinary computers (desktops/laptops) is the number of connection ports. Of course, the “heart” of the microcomputers - the Raspberry Pi compute module can be integrated into an ordinary laptop just as a board, but that is another case. Raspberry Pi microcomputers have four times as many ports to be used for various purposes. The question arising with regard to the “extra” ports comes to a possible confusion of “who are those users capable of figuring out both the purpose of each port and the general application of Raspberry Pi microcomputers and the Raspberry Pi compute module in particular?” Even though a special laptop-like module with a keyboard and a monitor is available as a carrier for the Raspberry Pi, the question is worth considering.
Who are the Raspberry Pi products for?
Here, the strategic objective of the Raspberry Pi Foundation is worth mentioning: “We provide low-cost, high performance computers that people use to learn, solve problems and have fun”. It means that Raspberry Pi microcomputers are offered to a different audience than the ordinary personal computer users who used to deal with the “out-of-the-box” products. A buyer of the Raspberry Pi model 3 is to be able to handle the package kit consisting of a microcomputer itself with a Raspberry Pi compute module as a basis, an 8GB memory card with a preinstalled NOODS operating system, a casing, an HDMI cable, an optic keyboard and a mouse, a power supply unit, and a book ”Adventures in Raspberry Pi” (the kit’s price is about $130, by the way).
Some may say that Raspberry Pi microcomputers are developed just for kids, nerds, and the minority of hobbyists who cannot imagine their life without a solderer in hands. However, besides the successful sales, one more aspect determines much wider customer community – the list of organizations that continually support the Raspberry Pi Foundation: The British Cabinet, Google, ARM, European Space Agency, Oracle, Samsung, Adobe, Bloomberg, Lloyds Banking Group, University of Cambridge etc. It does not look like a craft-ganistan.
The nuts-and-bolts course
The Raspberry Foundation has carved a very peculiar niche which size is hardly definite and barely limited to those 12 million actual customers. Apart from its fully-fledged functionality, the Raspberry Pi compute model 3 represents the IoT enthusiasts something more valuable – the chance to become above average in this digital world leaving behind the sorrowful computer illiteracy. As the issue is claimed in the Raspberry Pi Foundation Strategy 2016-2018, “Whether in school or at home, we have become consumers not makers. The result is that, while all of our lives are increasingly mediated through digital technologies, most of us don’t understand how computers work or how to make things with computers. This has profound economic and social consequences. Skills shortages in key industries, missed opportunities to solve social problems and innovate, widening inequality gaps, and too many people who are ill-equipped to take full advantage of, much less shape, the world in which they live.”
Thus, the important social mission of the Raspberry Pi Foundation is aimed at adopting the contemporary population for a living and effectively acting in the coming totally computerized world. They see the future with the tech-savvy citizens who feel confident interacting with the IoT, AI, robotics, and many other digital technologies, the ones who are not going to whinge about the doomsday-like AI-induced unemployment.
That’s why the professionals in the IoT industry such as Indeema (having, by the way, its own industry-scale IIoT hardware-software ViDiSy system) appreciate the Raspberry Pi Foundation very much taking it as a co-pilot rather than a competitor in the realm of the true creativity along with the IoT paradigm propagation.