The emergence of platforms like Raspberry Pi, Arduino, Beaglebone or STM32 Discovery Board should gladden the heart of engineers everywhere. But are these boards really easy to integrate with a display and other peripherals? How stable are the designs? Will it make it easier for my design to be ripped off?
Contrary to the common belief these platforms involve endless potential hidden costs, which we highlight in this week's blog post
Countless outstanding electronics engineers got their start by tinkering in school and university labs – and these boards allow that fine tradition to continue. They are cheap, flexible and allow endless opportunities for creativity. The features, capabilities and performance offered by these platforms at the price are exceptional and it isn’t surprising that the cry “Just use a Raspberry Pi, and you’re almost done” is often heard. The devil is in that word almost, because there are no end of potential hidden costs.
All of the issues with integration discussed in last week’s blog apply in this case too – though they can be harder to address as essentially you’re left to rely on the community rather than the supplier for support on the board. Although Pi and Arduino come with standard interfaces, as with any platform, it is essential to check how easy it will be to interface the platform to the target display. Does the board run at the same voltage as other system components or will an extra power supply be needed?
The second is longevity of supply and support. It is well known that Pi is based on a Broadcom processor that isn’t commercially available, and all these platforms are sole-sourced. The manufacturers can amend or discontinue their product at any time to address shifts in their bread and butter markets, leaving you high and dry.
Finally, remember that your competitors can buy a Raspberry Pi or Arduino as easily as you can. Unless you’re adding something genuinely innovative and hard to replicate, you are making it easy path for others to copy your solution.
Some customers use these boards to produce low cost proof of concept prototypes etc – but even here the invisible costs are often greater than the benefits. There are platforms available specifically designed to create proof of concept prototypes. The hardware is supplied working and pre-integrated out of the box – all you need to do is load your software.
The lesson is, if time to market and predictable long term availability are a concern to you, leave these platforms to hobbyists and students, and develop using platforms that long term will cost you a great deal less.
Next week the focus of this moves back to displays, and we’re going to talk about some challenges that we’re seeing in the design-in of resistive touch panels. In the meantime, don't hesitate to contact our experts for more info about Embedded Components.