Hallsten Innovations loves the Arduino / Raspberry Pi movement!
2020 UPDATE: Raspberry Pi Compute Module – A Viable Commercialization Path?
Hallsten Innovations celebrates this movement as it has brought a wide variety of talent to the entrepreneurial community not necessarily classically trained in electrical engineering or software. Super-charged inventors are creating world-changing proof-of-concept devices every day. Napkin ideas are coming to fruition without roadblocks getting in the way.
My favorite part of the revolution: the quick to proof-of-concept and quick-to-customer feedback methodology is the same approach that Hallsten Innovations evangelizes with our clients. Getting feedback from customers as fast as possible and allowing designs to pivot quickly (allowing fast iterations) is our own internal methodology that brings success.
As such, Hallsten Innovations, as a professional engineering product development company, uses Arduino and Raspberry Pi platforms in early stage Proof of Concept work. These tools are simply indispensable in our tool box.
However, when it comes to commercialization… many of our clients are puzzled with the shortcomings of these platforms when it comes to taking a cost effective and functional device to commercialization.
Below are some insights from our front line experience – we hope that these below warnings are not scary, but showcase the stepped differences between Proof of Concept design and that of a commercialized product.
Price to Feature Optimization
With an OEM solution, the clear opportunity is to optimize hardware for the specific use case and functionality. Designing specifically for the application means that extra bells and whistles are not delivered to the customer – especially ones that are not used! This optimization of cost sits in stark comparison to the Raspberry Pi, which is designed for a broad, versatile use case.
Parallel with feature optimization is power consumption optimization – a required effort for battery operated devices. By designing down to the crucial feature specific components, and optimizing hardware to only power specific components when they are in use, can greatly improve battery life.
Availability and Quantity
Raspberry Pi hardware delivery is a difficult and uncertain gamble. The supplying organization does not promise to deliver a certain version or provide timeframes for that version’s “guaranteed” availability. Quantity of boards is also highly dependent on the market, and others purchasing devices in the community.
Finding out that the model your application is based on has ceased production in preference of a new model can rattle your supply chain! This significant risk to your organization is side stepped by moving to a custom design. Why? You May ask? OEMs are in the game to see you succeed – and provide production schedules, firmware and hardware updates AND will provide forecast for certain models and future availability.
Because of its removable disk and open community support, the Raspbian core is more prone to hacking. For market ready devices, additional security steps include hardening the end device and making the entire ecosystem secure. And, as with any fleet deployment, if one device is compromised in the field the knowledge gained should not compromise the rest of the population of the units- this means using unique credentials for each unit produced.
When building the hardware for a device from individual components, you automatically get powerful friends. Every component manufacturer on the planet is eager to offer helpful engineering technical support and product design guides. This technical support from OEMs is a huge benefit – one that Hallsten utilizes every day. Alternatively, going the Raspberry Pi route, you do become dependent on the community to solve whatever issue you are facing. And that’s tough to win support from those with no skin in the game.
While the Open Source Movement has given the world so very much, it can be a mind field for those looking to produce a proprietary product slated for production. You must note that the proprietary software included with the Raspbian Linux kernel cannot be included in products meant for commercial sale – this includes Mathematica and the Oracle Java Virtual Machine.
If you’re forking the Raspbian Linux kernel to make your own operating system, then you need to open source the kernel and any changes you made to it, since it’s GPLv2. This is fine, but leads to some issues with your device being your own.
Now, additional libraries might be licensed for open source under GPLv3 or AGPLv3. Those licenses require that anything you built on top of libraries or programs licensed by GPLv3 must also be open sourced and licensed as GPLv3. Honestly, it’s quite toxic for businesses.
The bottom-line here is to tread carefully with software from a licensing perspective!!
Consider Alternative Platforms
The focus of the Raspberry Pi foundation is on education and not on commercialization. As such, we leverage the BeagleBone platform often on our projects, which is entirely open source (both hardware and software unlike the Raspberry Pi which in only software) and is supported by strong Texas Instruments documentation. This platform is an easier stepping stone to commercialization that still leverages many of the speed to market advantages of the Raspberry Pi.
You can find more information on the BeagleBone platform and how we leverage it here.
Help for Commercialization
Whether you need a Proof of Concept created around your napkin idea or need help taking your existing Proof of Concept to commercialization and manufacturing… we can help you! The best time to switch away from your Raspberry Pi is before you get too far down the commercialization path only to realize some of the pitfalls mentioned in this post.