Over the past couple of years, I have routinely hinted at the rise of development kits, the Internet of Things (IoT), and how the two go hand in hand. It’s a serendipitous relationship that facilitates quick development and prototyping in a large, fast-growing market – not to mention that an increasing number of kits can be had on the cheap. Furthermore, where early dev boards offered a basic processing unit, some assortment of I/O, limited memory, and the expectation that engineers would navigate the web for open-source software and tools, today’s often provide connectivity, cloud access, and ship with low-cost or no-cost development environments and debuggers for a truly out-of-the-box experience.
While Arduino, BeagleBoard, and Raspberry Pi still dominate the space, data from Embedded Computing Design‘s 2015 Reader Study shows that more than 38 percent of engineers planning to adopt a development kit in their next design will use one from a specific manufacturer. With that in mind – and after returning from the Consumer Electronics Show where dev kits were at the heart of countless demos – I decided to start compiling a list of IoT-centric kits available on the market today. Though apples-to-apples comparisons are difficult because each manufacturer’s kit emphasizes different features based on their silicon and tools, I was able identify seven categories of interest to IoT developers that are common across most kits. Represented in Table 1 (next page), these are Wireless, Compute, Memory, I/O & Peripherals, Tools, Cloud, and Cost:
- Wireless is essential to classification as an “IoT dev kit,” and as such includes information about on-board connectivity like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 6LoWPAN, etc.;
- Compute attempts to isolate a board’s general-purpose/applications processor (or core in the case of systems-on-chip (SoCs))
- Memory can include on-chip RAM or ROM as well as any additional storage provided on the board
- I/O & Peripherals is defined loosely as physical access to any onboard resources for the purposes of low-level programming (expansion headers areassumed)
- Tools highlights software made accessible to developers with the purchase of a particular kit
- The Cloud section outlines compatibility with various backend services, either exclusive to the manufacturer or available through partnerships
- Cost is the final measure, which is subject to change
- Sensors are not included since many dev kit ecosystems rely on third-party or add-on sensors
The initial comparison includes five kits from Anaren, Atmel, Imagination Technologies, Marvell Semiconductor, and Texas Instrument, although the list will certainly grow as the price of electronic components drops and manufacturers look to eliminate barriers to entry. Over time, I hope this proves a valuable resource for the next generation of IoT app developers.
With that, I leave the evaluation to you.
* Note that this list is being developed into a searchable index. For questions, or to submit an IoT development kit, contact the editor at email@example.com.