The New York Times reports that we are seeing a A Hardware Renaissance in Silicon Valley. In recent years, Silicon Valley seems to have forgotten about silicon. It’s been about dot-coms, Web advertising, social networking and apps for smartphones. But there are signs here that hardware is becoming the new software.
But I would like to point out the importance of open source hardware platforms and the Makers movement behind this hardware renaissance. The open source nature of these platforms makes possible to experiment and to create new things for many more people than before.
The most popular open source hardware platforms are:
The Raspberry Pi and the BeagleBoard are based on ARM processors, and the Arduino will be soon powered by ARM with the Arduino Due.
The Raspberry Pi (short: RPi or RasPi) is an ultra-low-cost credit-card sized Linux computer which was conceived with the primary goal of teaching computer programming to children. It has a 700 MHz ARM11. Linux is the main OS.
The BeagleBoard is a low-cost ($149), fan-less single board computer that unleashes laptop-like performance and expandability without the bulk, expense, or noise of typical desktop machines. It uses an ARM Cortex-A8 superscalar core ~600MHz. For more info on the specs see here. Linux is used to power the board.
The BeagleBone, is a low-cost, high-expansion board from the BeagleBoard and sells for $89, it is based on the 720-MHz superscalar ARM Cortex-A8, more info on the specs here. The Beagle Bone can be used either standalone or as a USB or Ethernet-connected expansion for a BeagleBoard or any other systems. Linux on ARM can be preloaded.
Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. Arduino boards are powered by Atmel processors.
Arduino is more focused on hobbyists and artists that want to experiment with electronics. As they say “It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.” The Raspberry Pi and the BeagleBoards are integrated solutions that offer a desktop like experience. However, this is not always the case, as they also offer modules and the possibility to connect with sensors and smartphones. Arduino uses the Arduino OS, which is basically the loader that allows to upload the sketches (the programs) on the processor. The Arduino programs (sketches) are written in Processing. The other boards use Linux. Arduino has focused on low power processors and low costs boards. But now this could change as Arduino moves to ARM with the Arduino Due. The Arduino Due features the Atmel ATSAM3X8E ARM Cortex™-M3 processor-based MCU, also known as the Atmel SAM3 MCU. It runs at 84MHz. This processor would eventually be able to run Linux. The advantage of running Linux on these embedded systems is the ability to reuse programming languages, software, libraries and tools already used on the desktop. Will Arduino move to Linux?
You can interact with all those boards with sensors and smartphones. See Alasdair Allan post Blinking the BeagleBone’s heartbeat LED from the iPhone and the same has been done with the Raspberry Pi by David House.