While many applications require large, rugged industrial PCs, an emerging category of intelligent systems demands light, flexible, low power, development friendly hardware. ARM is rising. But many “embedded” ARM boards offered by IPC companies are problematic: there’s little developer support and little in the way of a community for many of these boards. They require (compared to x86) a substantial investment to get applications to run and connectivity to work. Custom projects require a custom board, with 10,000 unit MOQs.
So where do you turn if you’re in need of a more flexible development platform?
OnLogic Introduces BeagleBone as a Core ARM Offering
OnLogic recently took the unusual step of bringing in a “maker” ARM board — the BeagleBone Black. Why? Roland Groeneveld, OnLogic’s CEO and head engineer, explained the decision this way: “The introduction of the Black version of BeagleBone was clearly a monumental leap forward in ARM functionality, and it was amazingly economical. It easily lends itself to prototyping and additional functionality through add-on capes. Frankly, this board was being described in the same vein as Raspberry Pi and Arduino, but the BeagleBone is much better suited than these to industrial and commercial applications, with its 1GHz ARM Cortex A8 RISC processor and dual 200 MHz Programmable Resource Unit.”
Of course, BeagleBone.org’s BeagleBone Black is a community supported project, not intended to be applied to commercial applications. The manufacturer, CircuitCo has worked to keep the cost of the board low to maintain it’s consumer accessibility and to help ensure that enthusiasts adopt and build on the platform. As BeagleBone Black’s popularity has grown, BeagleBone.org and their community have continued to innovate. A new Rev C version was recently launched, expanding on-board storage from 2GB to 4GB and updating the pre-loaded version of Linux from Angstrom to Debian. In order to respect BeagleBone.org’s non-commercial intent, OnLogic has limited customers to the purchase of 1 board. But we’ve been struck by the number of our core customers — professional developers at Fortune 100 companies and startups alike — prototyping for projects on BeagleBone. We get daily requests for larger volume orders intended for commercial projects. Typically, these don’t involve customization and don’t hit the 10,000 unit volumes most custom ARM boards need to make sense financially. In other words, we see a strong market for an “off-the-shelf” BeagleBone Black for commercial projects.
The Emergence of the Commercial Embest Board
BeagleBone Black was designed and released as open source hardware, so the PCB design is manufacturable by others. Element14’s subsidiary, Embest, has been making BeagleBone Black replicas for the Chinese market with great success. OnLogic has begun working with element14 to build out a supply chain of commercial BB Black “clones” and we’ve recently received our first shipment. We’re now able to sell the Community version of the board by CircuitCo, and a Commercial Version by Embest. This opens the door to shorter-run embedded projects — without the need for board-level customization, and without the limitations imposed by minimum order quantities.
OnLogic’s ARM Capabilities & the Commercial BB Development Path
OnLogic has developed a series of capes, introduced several enclosures, and built-out an ecosystem of compatible products. Our mechanical and electrical engineering teams have been working to stay ahead of the curve by developing a suite of value-add services for future commercial clients. Our ARM & BeagleBone-related engineering services include:
- Enclosure design
- Cape design
- Board design
- Full system consulting
Customers can prototype on the Commercial BeagleBone Black, and take one of three development pathways to meet the needs of their project: (1) standard BB, capes and enclosures, (2) standard BB, custom capes and enclosures, and (3) fully custom BB. We can work with customers through production, into product roll-out, and lifecycle/support management.
Broadly, we are seeing more and more IPC vendors embracing ARM as the technology is increasingly standardized, facilitating more commercial solutions like the BeagleBone. Stay tuned for board introductions that meet the needs of the more rugged segments of the IPC market.
(For an excellent primer on the state of BeagleBone, see this recent piece on LinuxGizmos.com – http://linuxgizmos.com/beaglebone-black-rev-c-doubles-flash-moves-to-debian/).