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Raspberry Pi makes inroads into embedded systems

Has the way in which you design embedded products changed over the last couple of years? According to RS Components, 80% of all new embedded designs now start from a board, rather than being developed from the chip level.

And there is more than a suspicion that Raspberry Pi is one of the factors behind this change. Of course, Arduino and BeagleBoard, to name another couple of formats, could also be contributors.

Eben Upton, CEO of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, believes the Pi has accelerated a trend that was already underway. “People are using a device which is intended to be standalone in their products,” he claimed.

Whichever way you look at it, the Raspberry Pi has been an unqualified success. From its humble beginnings – it was originally conceived as a potential way to get computer science students programming – the device has won global acclaim.

So far, more than 10million of the credit card sized devices have been sold and there appears to be no slow down in sight – the UK’s best selling computing product is now in its fourth generation.

But it’s Pi’s success outside of its original target of the education market that has taken its founders somewhat by surprise. And that has seen the Raspberry Pi Foundation developing devices specifically for industrial applications – the latest being the CM3 compute module.

“CM3 is for industrial applications,” Upton pointed out. “It will outperform a lot of products which describe themselves as being industrial.”

In essence, the availability of the CM3 opens another chapter in that familiar ‘make or buy’ debate. The module uses the same Broadcom chip as found in the latest version of Raspberry Pi. Featuring a quad core Cortex-A53 running at up to 1.2GHz at its heart, the CM3 packs quite a wallop, whilst offering Bluetooth and wireless LAN connectivity. With such features, it’s no surprise that designers are taking advantage – even NEC is using the module in large format display products.

It’s a matter of debate whether the Pi is leading this change in design habits or whether it was fortunate to be the right board at the right time. So are your design habits changing? We’d like to know.

Graham Pitcher

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