Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Effective Use Of The UDOO Arduino-Linux-Android Mashup

So I don't know if you've heard of UDOO, but I read about it yesterday in a press release 'article' and had to read more about it to figure out just what it is. I also want to figure out how one might use it effectively, i.e. the use cases for which it is most appropriate in terms of cost and function.

UDOO is (I think) an ARM prototyping single-board computer with an Atmel microcontroller (MCU) and other hardware and firmware components that make it an Arduino-compatible board. Not sure I said that correctly or accurately, but that's at least sort of what it is. Here's how Electronics Weekly describes it:
"...the development board is based on a dual or quad core ARM cortex-A9 CPU with a dedicated ARM processor for IO management...the board runs an ARM-optimised version of Linux Ubuntu called Linaro. This means developers can use the Arduino IDE to build and upload sketches to the Arduino-compatible embedded board, without additional or external cable connections...Other Linux distributions and tools, such as Debian Wheezy armHF, Ubuntu Studio armHF, OpenMediaVault, Volumio, Yocto, Debian, XBMC, Archlinux and ROS are also available. The platform also allows users to switch between Linux and Android 4.3 Jelly Bean in a matter of seconds simply by replacing the Micro SD card and rebooting the system."
UDOO successfully funded as a Kickstarter campaign in June 2013. It was one of those Kickstarter booming success stories, with their initial funding goal set at $27,000, which they immediately blew past, ending up with $641,614 in Kickstarter funding. On their Kickstarter page the UDOO team explain what the board is and at least part of who it is intended for, hinting at the use cases.
"UDOO is a mini PC that could run either Android or Linux, with an Arduino-compatible board embedded...UDOO merges different computing worlds in one; each world has its strengths and weaknesses, and all of them are useful today in education as well as Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and rapid prototyping endeavours. UDOO is an open hardware, low-cost computer equipped with an ARM i.MX6 Freescale processor for Android and Linux, alongside  Arduino DUE’s ARM SAM3X, both CPU integrated on the same board! UDOO’s size is 4.33 inch x 3.35 inch...Give a new vision to the educational framework: the idea is to train up a new generation of engineers, designers and software developers skilled in digital technology: physical computing, multi-media arts, interactive arts, IoT..."
I haven't learned enough in the past few months about MCUs and prototyping to know exactly how I'd want to use the UDOO, and I certainly don't know enough to be able to effectively use all its capabilities. But I think I do see the value of UDOO versus having three separate computing devices; a single-board computer to run Linux, a smartphone or some other computing device that runs Android, and a single-board microcontroller, e.g. Arduino.

The value I see in UDOO is that young people who are introduced the wide world of computing with a device that encompasses a personal computer OS, a mobile computing device OS, and an embedded computing MCU development board are apt to look at that wide world differently than someone who uses or develops only or primarily one of those three computing approaches. Someone whose equipment switches quite easily from the desktop / laptop world to the mobile / smartphone world to the embedded / IoT world is likely to see more ways to approach computing solutions. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Young people who learn computing have more of a Leatherman than a hammer. The Leatherman isn't the tool for every need, but it can sure do a wide variety of tasks.

New types of computing devices are being created every day, and only time will tell if the UDOO board will create a large and vibrant community in the same way that Arduino and Raspberry Pi have. If UDOO doesn't create enough buzz and provide enough value, it may not be a long term success. If it doesn't successfully deliver a good experience for all three of those computing paradigms, though, I'm pretty sure other incarnations of PC, mobile and embedded will come along, either inspired by UDOO or at least developed for the same reason that UDOO was launched. If I had a young son or daughter right now, I'd buy them an UDOO for Christmas and help them learn how to use each of the three computing approaches.

There are three versions of the UDOO board, and I would buy a young person the top-of-the-line one. It's not all that much more expensive, and the greater capabilities make it well worth the extra cost. The Open Electronics article about UDOO breaks down the three versions of UDOO this way:
Thingiverse UDOO case
"The UDOO board is available in three versions, the UDOO Dual Basic, the UDOO Dual and UDOO Quad...The three versions, give the possibility to choose a suitable board the project in development, based on the best combination of power and ease, functionality and price. All three cards can accommodate both the operating system GNU / Linux, Ubunto Linaro, Debian, and Android version 4.4.4 Jelly Bean...The Quad sports a SATA connector for connecting an external hard drive. In this way we can transform UDOO into a real PC, complete with a desktop interface, video, mouse and keyboard. The other two boards do not have SATA connector. The other notable difference between one card and the other is the processor: in the Quad you’ve a Freescale Cortex A9 CPU with four i.MX6 while the other mount a Freescale Cortex A9 CPU with two i.MX6DualLite. Finally, the difference between the Dual and Dual Basic board lies in the presence of the WiFi module (not available in the Basic)."
Yesterday was the first I remember reading about the UDOO (even though it was launched a year ago). I'm going to do some more background reading about it, including research about what type of community is growing around UDOO. Also on the check-it-out list are the tutorials and projects pages on UDOO's website. It might even be that I'll end up buying an UDOO Quad (you can order from their website), and if I do, you can bet there will be a few posts written about it on this blog!


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