Microcontrollers. Single Board Computers (SBC). Close but not exactly the same. Microcontrollers tend to be easier to learn and interface with sensors and actuators but at the cost of slower or less processing horsepower. SBCs offer raw computing power but have a steeper learning curve as they tend to be just credit card in size, but limited but still rather fully capable computers in terms of architecture and interface. Often they run some flavor of the Linux operating system.
Maker grade microcontroller platforms include the Arduino and the less popular, but equally unique Parallax Propeller. On the SBC side of the house things have been dominated by Beaglebone and the Raspberry Pi. But thanks to some collaboration between the industry giants behind these platforms, these two worlds are on a collision course. The Intel Galileo and the Arduino Tre promise to change everything you though you knew about the Arduino microcontroller platform.
Both the Galileo and Tre have at their “physical layout” core, the hardware layout necessary to support the plethora of Arduino shields (the Arduino name for daughterboards that attach to the main Arduino boards) that have been around since the original Arduino. However, both the Tre and Galileo cocoon that original layout core with upgraded processing and I/O capability making them more akin to their SBC brethren than the original Arduino microcontroller.
I will spare you any review of the tech specs of either of these boards as that has already been written about dozens of times over. For more information about the Arduino Tre click here, and for the Intel Galileo check out over here.
What I will do is to add my thoughts though on how I see this as a game changer for makers who are seeking to turn their electronics hobby into a business. By moving electronics design from the guilded halls of engineering powerhouses, we are seeing a blossoming of the DIY-turned-Entrepreneur business. These boards represent the right mix of complexity, cost, and processing power to create extremely useful consumer and light commercial grade products. The ease of sensor and actuator interfacing of the Arduino combined with the processing capability of Raspberry Pi will allow designers and engineers alike to rapidly iterate cost-effective solutions to problems where custom circuits and more “heavyweight” solutions such as PLCs, FPGAs and ASICs will prove to be too costly. Obviously these boards are not a threat to the heavy industrial control hardware where more robust failsafes are needed, but these new tools will prove to be useful learning environments for those seeking to eventually move into the more complex world “from scratch” electronics.