Resin.io is one of the few successful startups dealing with the thorny issue of the provisioning, and updating, of the software on distributed smart devices. Along the way they’ve spun off software tools that we now use everyday, this includes Etcher, a tool most of us now use when burning SD cards when we’re setting up our Raspberry Pi boards.
In fact the company has a long history playing around with the Raspberry Pi, including two generations of Raspberry Pi clusters. With their latest cluster of 144 boards weighing in at nearly 320 lbs, and standing over 6 ft tall. So perhaps their latest pivot to hardware, seen by some as somewhat surprising, isn’t as big a jump as you might otherwise expect.
Meet Project Fin, a carrier board for the Raspberry Pi Compute Module.
As makers we haven’t heard much about the Raspberry Pi Compute Module, now in its third revision. I held out some hope when it was introduced that others would pick up the form factor, that it would become a standard almost by default, and pin-compatible SODIMM modules from third-party manufacturers would soon start to appear. That way I could build a custom carrier board, but not be limited by the horsepower of the latest Compute Module.
It didn’t happen. Instead the Raspberry Pi Zero arrived, free on the cover of a magazine, and history went down a different and more interesting path.
However the Raspberry Pi Compute Module has seen uptake in industrial context where the form factor, and the ability to easily update the hardware on the carrier board, are seen as really important. So today’s introduction of Project Fin is a direct appeal to Resin’s core industrial market, and potentially can be seen as Resin ‘growing up’ as a company.
While increasingly industrial prototypes are built around the Raspberry Pi, deploying it in an real industrial context—with vibration, temperature, humidity, and other environment factors—is a real concern. Hence the Compute Module, on a custom carrier board designed to withstand such problems.
The Fin carrier board can include 8, 16, 32 or 64GB of on-board eMMC, and comes with dual-band 2.4 and 5GHz WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2, along with a connector for an external WiFi and Bluetooth antenna. It can be powered by anything from 6 to 30V via a standard barrel jack, and can survive in conditions ranging from -25 to 70°C (that’s -13 to 158°F).
The addition of a mini-PCIe slot shouldn’t perhaps be that surprising, as we’re starting to see a lot of single-board computers come with mini-PCIe. Yet the really interesting thing about the Fin carrier board is the inclusion of a Samsung Artik 020 microcontroller as a co-processor.
This enables the Fin to perform well in real-time and low-power scenarios. The Compute Module, along with its interfaces, can be programmatically shut down and spawned back up via the microcontroller, which can access the RTC chip when the Compute Module is OFF for time-based operations.
The Fin carrier board also has most the ports you’d normally expect from a regular Raspberry Pi 3, including a ‘standard’ 40 pin GPIO connector, an HDMI port, 2×USB ports, and display and camera connectors. Additionally, the carrier board has a user-controllable RGB LED.
As a maker, this probably isn’t something you want to buy. But it is something that shows how maker hardware is growing up, and also how a the Internet of Things is changing. Or at least how the companies building it are changing.
The Fin is expected go on sale later in the spring for $129, for the basic 8GB model, although that price doesn’t include a Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 Lite, which will probably set you back another $25 to $30.