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Trickle-down tech: It's not just the Pi

Posted: 23 Apr 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Raspberry Pi? embedded? processor? single board computers? computing boards?

Editor's note: Tech and semiconductor marketing insider David Blaza takes a look at the wave of new embedded computing boards rapidly coming to market. Raspberry Pi is the most visible example of this wave, but there's a lot more ARM-based products available in the market.

For those of us who have been around the embedded business for a couple of years, it's been fun watching the incredible rise of Raspberry Pi, which has now sold over four million boards. The newest Pi 2 (as shown below) even has a quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 processor running at 900MHz which gives 6X the performance of the original at the same $35 priceits Moore's law in action, folks.

Raspberry Pi

However, I think it's important to note that the Raspberry Pi is just the most visible example of a whole wave of new embedded computing boards (a.k.a. single board computers and system/computer on modules) that are rapidly coming to market. Looking back two years, there were just a handful of ARM-based embedded computing boards available for prototyping or for production systems, but now there are hundreds of vendors offering products. So what happened?

My interpretation is that we're seeing "trickle-down technology" at work in its purest form. By this I mean that leading-edge technology is first developed and deployed in critical or high-growth applications, and then costs come down and the technology moves (or trickles down) into mainstream use. The history of technology is full of trickle-down technologiesthink microwaves, radar, Teflon, minicomputers, PCs, andin this casesmartphone technology.

Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson

It's the amazing advances in mobile technology in terms of low-power multi-core processors being produced in massive volumes that is trickling down to other applications and industries. I'm not alone in this thinking, Chris Anderson, the former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine and now CEO of drone start-up 3D Robotics attributes the rise of drones to the trickle down of mobile technology (specifically processors, batteries, and connectivity).

The entire Internet of Things (IoT) phenomenon might be viewed as the ultimate example of trickle-down technology because the IoT is a combination of sensors, processors, connectivity, and storage technology falling in cost so fast that a whole new market can emerge. But getting back to our embedded board example, let's consider what's driving the market in more detail. Looking beyond the Raspberry Pi, below we see some innovative, production-ready, long-life-span, and often ruggedised boards you can buy today using processors from Freescale, Texas Instruments, Atmel, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, and Xilinx (full disclosure; I am currently consulting for ARM).


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