What is the most exciting development in the internet of things hardware (IoT) right now? It is the ability to quickly prototype and integrate with other IoT device tech stacks. This is why it’s so important to choose the right and top microcontroller. We recommend the most popular microcontrollers with (hopefully open-source) development kits (devkits) to help you in your search.
Even if you told me a year ago that embedded Linux was a better choice for many applications than embedded C, I would have said that you were crazy. The physical dimensions and costs of Linux-capable microcontrollers have decreased so that it is now possible to move from bare metal programming or real-time operating systems (RTOS) to a full-blown OS.
Nerves are our preferred Linux solution. It’s an IoT-specific platform written using Elixir, which allows us to build custom Linux systems. 2021 will bring Nerves to a new level of flexibility, which will allow it to be even more agile.
Integration is made easier by embedded Linux. Now, we can create minimum viable products (MVPs) in six months. This is a huge improvement over the time it took to make the same product a year ago.
What Is a Dev Kit?
A devkit is basically a small, hackable computer designed for tinkering. These pins are usually easy to access (I/O), which allows us to create custom circuitry and start developing firmware to run them. We can build upon the dev kits.
What Should I Look for in the best IoT Boards?
I look at the connectivity options when choosing the best IoT boards. After all, smart devices are defined by their connectivity.
Does our development board include built-in Wi-Fi? What about Bluetooth? Ethernet? We’ll choose a kit that meets our requirements based on the project.
Support for peripherals and features is another important factor. These could include standard ports such as USB and HDMI, buses for serial protocols such as I2C or SPI, and pin-outs to pulse width modulation devices (PWM), like dimmable lamps or servomotors. This is because we need to know the specifications of the product before we begin building.
Lastly, open-source hardware (OSHW), is always a plus. The KiCAD design files are preferred over any other CAD format. But, I am always happy to see the Gerber and schematic files (files showing the printed circuit board (PCB), designs) provided.
Top 10 IoT Boards for Development and Prototyping
Here are my top 10 IoT boards to help you with product development and rapid prototyping this year. All of these boards are under $100, so they’re a great choice for prototyping your next IoT project.
1. Giant Board
The board at the top of my list is one that I cannot wait to get my hands on. The Giant Board (single-board computer) is the first to be made in the Adafruit Feather format. This board is a serious piece of OSHW and can take advantage of Adafruit’s Blinka libraries for CircuitPython. The Giant Board comes preloaded in Debian Linux. Reflashing it with Nerves will take our favorite embedded Linux platform to a new level.
2. Discovery STMP32MP157C Crypto Board
The main draw of this board from ST is their STM32MP157 microprocessor. This kit, like the Giant Board, supports embedded Linux development. The main distinction is the 3D graphics processing unit (GPU), that powers the HDMI-attached LCD screen with a touch panel. An audio codec is also available.
Internal M4 MPU allows for hard real-time operation and low power mode. The board is also capable of connecting to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. These features combined make the dev kit ideal for IoT devices running user-facing apps.
3. OSD32MP1-BRK Flexible Prototyping Platform
The third is a breakout board by Octavo Systems. It’s based around the OSD32MP15x system-in-package (SiP). The unique integrated circuit (IC) includes an STM321MP processor just like our previous board. However, it integrates the RAM, power management, IC, and other features into a single package. This board is ideal for rapid prototyping of a custom PCB based on the Octavo SiP.
4. BeagleBone® Green Gateway
This OSHW was developed by Seeed Studio and BeagleBoard.org. It is ideal for custom IoT gateway development as it includes all the required connectivity features: Ethernet (Wi-Fi), Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), and Wi-Fi.
Other unique features include 2 32-bit programmable real-time units (PRUs) @ 200MHz. This dev kit is ideal for the industrial internet of things (IIoT), applications that require deterministic control at low latency. Ports are available for Seeed’s Grove sensors. This speeds up integration with the standard BeagleBoard headers.
This IoT board is high-end and therefore more expensive than other boards on the list.
We also have a board that is based on Espressif’s low-end ESP32 chips. Although the documentation isn’t very good and we can’t boot Linux from here, these chips are inexpensive, suitable for many consumer IoT devices, and come with Wi-Fi.
6. SimpleLink Wi-Fi CC3200 LaunchPad
These dev kits are a stand-in for Texas Instruments’s whole range of SimpleLink products and can support any number of IoT communication protocols other than the ones we’ve already seen. These can include older protocols such as Zigbee and newer ones like Thread. You can also get temperature and accelerometers onboard.
7. BeagleBone Black
The Black, another product from BeagleBoard, was one of the Nerve’s first targets. wifi development kits have many attractive features for IoT development. We love the Black and Black Wireless, besides their open-source status. They offer excellent performance. We love the Black and Black Wireless, besides their open-source status. WiFi development board provides excellent performance.
8. Raspberry Pi 4 Model B
Although the Raspberry Pi (RPi), does not provide any schematics or design files, the SBC’s low cost, common form factor, and hackability make it a worthy choice. Great use is to put an RPi in a box while you develop the product with another dev kit. It is possible to gather valuable information by just letting the device run.
There are many options available, including the RPi 4 with either 2GB or 4GB of memory, the compute module 3+ which can be easily configured as a system on a module (SOM), and the RPi 0W which is cheaper and better suited to less intensive applications.
9. Particle Boron LTE CAT-M1
The feather form factor devkit bears a greater resemblance than any other board on the list. However, there is one big difference: cellular connectivity and the fact that it’s open-source. LTE is essential for IoT devices that are located in remote areas. This board from Particle makes it easy to bring up these devices. It is also very easy to use for field testing and early prototyping.
10. SeeedStudio NPi i.MX6ULL Dev Board
This board is the last on our list and also includes something special: The i.MX6 Application Processor, which is a unique chip designed for multimedia devices that use sound, video, photos, and touch. This processor is capable of handling HD 1080p encode/decode, 3D video playback at high definition, and HD 1080p video conferencing. It’s a rare find in the MCU market.
Particularly, the dev board boasts 2x 100Mb Ethernet ports and a 24-bit RGB display interface. There is also a Raspberry Pi expansion header and a secondary 40-position GPIO header.
The IoT development kits are the core of any agile IoT project. It’s important to consider all options and select the best one for your job. We can reduce costs, speed up the market, and include all the features we need by making the right choice.