Raspberry Pi Isn’t a Go-To for Commercial IoT. Could That Change?
When building out commercial and enterprise IoT networks, Raspberry Pi is usually out of consideration as a supporting single board computer. Its open source technologies make it great for hobbyists and small-scale deployments, but critics challenge its security capabilities. However, even though it gets said anecdotal heat, Raspberry Pi is still proving to be 44% of electronics engineers’ favorite SBC for IoT, according to research from Farnell.
Regardless, commercial IoT deployments continue at scale; the energy industry, for example, saw an accelerated adoption of IoT for oil & gas applications, according to research from Inmarsat. As this enterprise demand grows, will Raspberry Pi have any part in this growth? Can it meet scale and cybersecurity standards, and can it find use cases beyond small-scale projects like content distribution? Andrew Rindfleisch, software engineer & developer at Devetry, gave his thoughts.
“Historically, Raspberry Pi has been known as champions in the DIY maker space and in STEM education as small, affordable computers. However, when I am looking for components for a commercially-viable product in the IoT space, I'm not thinking about Raspberry Pi.
“I’m looking for microcontrollers. I'm looking for low-energy devices, and Raspberry Pi's take up way more energy than what my requirements are going to let me use. So Raspberry Pi hasn't really been a staple in the IoT community except for gateways or things that can be plugged in.
"In general, it's not something that I'm seriously looking at.
“But that kind of changed at the beginning of this year when Raspberry Pi introduced the RP2040 which is an honest-to-goodness microcontroller. It has everything you would expect from your microcontroller. It's based on an arm processor, it's got I²C communication, SPI--all that's built into it.
"But one thing that sets it apart is the price point. You can pick up one of these chips for a dollar, which is great when you're mass-producing an IoT product and trying to reduce costs.
"It does have its downsides though. It doesn't come with a built-in wireless module which is kind of a drag because we think about the ESP32 or the ESP8266, they both have wireless communication modules built into them.
"So if you're going to use an RP2040, you're going to have to pick up some kind of Bluetooth or wireless bridge which can somewhat complicate your PC design. I know it's not that bad but it's something that you have to consider.
"Raspberry Pi, when they designed the RP2040, did so with something that they invented called PIO (programmable input output). Pio is really nifty, it's cool, but it's kind of a new concept for most embedded developers. You have to learn how to use it and it's really integral to being able to communicate with multiple devices. If you've ever had to write code that deals with multiple devices talking over at the same time, it can get a little dicey.
"PIO really helps simplify some of that complexity, but it also has its own learning curve so it's a double-edged sword, especially if you have an engineering organization that is experienced with programming for microcontrollers. It’s a new concept."
So is Raspberry Pi a viable option for IoT development?
"I think they’re close. Where Raspberry Pi really shines is as an inexpensive and really user-friendly prototyping tool. They have a great community behind them and are innovating very very quickly. I personally wouldn't be surprised if, by the end of next year, Raspberry Pi is known as a go-to solution for IoT development.”