Arduino and Raspberry Pi dominate open hardware but there are increasingly better alternatives
There are currently two major transatlantic companies in the open-source hardware market. Arduino and Raspberry Pi are used by project developers worldwide in fields such as electronics, the automotive industry, robotics, 3D printing and that known as the Internet of Things, a business that could reach a volume of 25 billion euros by 2020; however, other dealers already have powerful alternative to both giants.
Arduino is the quintessential King of open-source hardware. There are numerous types of motherboards for different types of development projects. From robotics, 3D printing, the Internet of Things, wearables or smart textiles. All models can be viewed on the Arduino website: totaling more than 20 different products. Each has its own processor, RAM, USB ports, etc.
There are many interesting projects with Arduino: development of robots, instruments such as a xylophone, sweet vending machines, calculators, cameras, thermometers, and so on. This hardware consisting of a motherboard with a microcontroller and its own development environment (Proccessing/Wiring programming language and a boot loader) is undoubtedly the most solid alternative development under patent. Its use is universal.
Raspberry Pi has two motherboard models, A and B, and two revised models, A+ and B+. Model A has 256 MB SDRAM, a USB port, HDMI output, and an SD memory card. It does not have a second USB port or Ethernet connection to the LAN. The improved A+ model, released in November 2014, still has a single USB port, 256 MB SDRAM and no Ethernet connection, but it is smaller in size than the models that are 65 mm in length.
The Raspberry Pi Model B was the high-end board until July 2014. It has two USB ports and 512 MB SDRAM. It also has an Ethernet port to connect to the LAN. Its improved model, the B+, was launched on that date with some important improvements: more power thanks to a new supply system, a microSD card, 3.5-mm video and audio jack and 5V current limiter for HDMI output.
There are an enormous amount of projects with this type of board: some developers have used Raspberry Pi to design a universal translator, a mini laptop, a compact camera, a digital radio and an arcade machine. At websites such as Instructables you can find hundreds of ‘Do It Yourself’ developments. It's become a fever.
Competitors in the marketplace
- BeagleBone, a minicomputer costing $89
BeagleBone is one of the strongest market alternatives to Arduino and Raspberry Pi. At present it has four products on the market: BeagleBone, BeagleBone Black, BeagleBoard-xM and BeagleBoard. They are all motherboards with their own processor, RAM, microSD card reader, power supply and connection port for peripherals.
BeagleBone has a 720 MHz ARM Cortex A8 AM3358 microprocessor, with 256 MB DDR2 RAM, 3D graphics accelerator, Ethernet connection to the LAN, a reader of microSD cards up to 4 GB and a USB 2.0 port. It is a Linux microcomputer that runs on Android 4.0 or Ubuntu. It's compatible with the Cloud9 Integrated Development Environment, which runs Node.js. The Bonescript library is also included, , based on Node.js, which offers several similar functions to Arduino to interact with the hardware.
The classic BeagleBone motherboard is priced at $89.
The specifications of the other boards are available in this table:
- MinnowBoard and MinnowBoard MAX, Intel low-cost option
MinnowBoard may be the closest thing to Arduino and Raspberry Pi on the market, but instead of containing an ARM microprocessor, it is an Intel Atom, specifically an E3825 (dual-core, 1.33 GHz) microprocessor. Compared with Arduino or Raspberry Pi boards, the leap in performance is high. The file transfer speed is greater.
Other specifications: it has 2 GB DD3R RAM, 8 MB flash memory, an integrated Intel HD Graphics card, Ethernet connection to the LAN an RJ-45 port, microHDMI video output, a microSD card reader and two USB ports, one 2.0 and another 3.0. Its power supply: 5V, 2.5A connector.
The motherboard runs on Debian operating systems, Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 and Android 4.4. It is also compatible with the Yocto Project, which provides open source tools to help developers to customize their own Linux distribution for any hardware. It's pricey: the MinnowBoard MAX costs $139.
MinnowBoards are manufactured by CircuitCo, a company that manufactures customized microprocessor based in Richardson, Texas.
- Nanode: test the Internet of Things
Nanode is an open-source motherboard used by developers to experiment with the Internet of Things. Nanode allows connection to the Internet through a browser or through an open-data API such as Cosm. It can be used to detect environmental data such as temperature, air quality and meteorological elements through sensors. It was developed by Ken Boak, within London Hackspace, which is a developer community where ideas and tools are shared.
A well-known example of use was the experiment conducted by Nat Morris, who was able to feed his dog completely remotely through being connected to the Twitter social network. You can see it in this video:
- Cubieboard, great value
Four different models of this open-source motherboard have been released so far, the Cubieboard1 up to the Cubieboard4, which is the latest model launched to the market. Right now there is a new prototype, the Cubieboard5, which will soon start to be distributed. For the more advanced model, the Cubieboard4 or CC-A80 board includes four ARM Cortex A15 processors plus four ARM Cortex A7 processors with GPU PowerVR G6230. It is obviously one of the most powerful open-source motherboards.
It also has an Ethernet connection to the LAN, two wireless connections (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0), a USB 3.0 port, 2GB of RAM and 8GB storage memory. Supported operating systems with Cubieboard are Android, Debian and Ubuntu. Currently there are several different vendors: eBay, Aliexpress, rOck.me, eleduino, among others. Cubieboard provides the full list. Prices range from 40 euros for the Cubieboard1 up to 110 euros for the Cubierboard4.
UDOO Neo, the potent mix of Arduino and Raspberri Pi
UDOO Neo is open-source and low-cost hardware for Android and Linux. It has a 1 GHz ARM Cortex A9 processor, with an additional 166 MHz Cortex M4 processor. It also has Bluetooth 4.0 and an Ethernet connection. It also has 1 GB or 512 MB (basic version) DDR3 RAM, an integrated 3D graphic controller and HDMI output.
Another defining characteristic of UDOO Neo is the sensor that combines an accelerometer, magnetometer and gyroscope, which are three essential elements for projects in fields such as robotics, 3D printing or drones. There are many examples of projects with UDOO: robots, smart mini cars, virtual orchestra, coffee machines in the Internet of Things… They're all here.
UDOO Neo is fully compatible with Arduino board accessories. The different hardware models range from 73 euros for the basic model to 99 for the most powerful. They can be bought from UDOO's own site.
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