Development Kits Help Makers and Designers Test and Explore New Ideas
Development platforms like Arduino and Raspberry Pi enabled an explosion of creativity among electronic designers at every level. Development kits make it easier to design, build, perfect, test, and manufacture electronic products.
In little more than a decade since its release, the tiny British single-circuit computer board known as the Raspberry Pi and the Italian controller board called Arduino have inspired a new generation of engineering talent and helped develop countless new electronic devices.
The latest Raspberry Pi features up to 8 GB storage plus an SD card slot; is capable of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Gigabit Ethernet connectivity; and includes MIPI, HDMI, and USB-A ports to build out a system. Pretty good for a $35 computer that fits into your hand. Meanwhile, the Arduino is a microcontroller that can be programmed via open-source software and a USB connection. Adding an Ethernet port gives this device, even smaller than the Pi, the ability to access a network. Devices such as these are at the heart of a variety of development kits available from the Raspberry Pi and Arduino organizations, as well as from connector suppliers and electronics distributors. These kits enable engineers — at the OEM level as well as the student or DIY/maker level — to immediately build prototypes, test designs, and even develop functioning devices.
Development kits are typically comprised of the board unit and a basic selection of hardware components — a prescribed bill of materials for the average small IoT or robotic application. Parts include connectors, sensors, battery interfaces, cables, transistors, motors, LEDs, resistors, and capacitors, to start. Buying a kit eliminates the need to research and source compatible parts, especially for design projects that are focused on a specific intention.
Samtec offers development kits for the specific task of testing signal integrity, FMC, optical modules, as well as connector expansion kits for creating small devices.
“Many companies provide kits for their high-volume OEM customers for use in testing high-speed applications or other one-off tests; customers need it when they are reaching speeds of 224 Gb/s, 112 Gb/s, or doing industrial or embedded projects. You can look at simulation tests or data, but that doesn’t replace actually trying something out,” said Matt Burns, technical marketing manager at Samtec. “We saw a need to offer that to customers of every kind as part of our Sudden Service program. Giving the means to evaluate SI issues at the earliest stage shortens design cycles and helps them get to market sooner.”
Mouser Electronics is offering Clairitec’s capacitive starter kit, which includes a capacitive intelligent display and everything needed to start a touchscreen-based human machine interface (HMI) application. The kit is available with a 4.3”, 7.0”, or 9.0” display and includes all required connecting cables, as well as the GraphConverter HMI software, which allows engineers to create a custom GUI and download it to the Clairitec module.
Avnet offers the RASynBoard, a development kit that helps hardware and software design engineers and embedded AI developers integrate AI capabilities into their products. RASynBoard targets industrial and consumer applications needing battery powered, always-on, smart sensing capabilities, such as sound recognition, command recognition, vibration sensing and environmental sensing.
“The RASynBoard provides a powerful, low-power solution that allows our customers to seamlessly implement IoT design using BLE or Wi-Fi,” said Mohammed Dogar, Vice President of Renesas’ MCU Business Development Division. “This opens up new possibilities for AI-enabled systems across a broad range of use cases.”
Kits for the maker space
Samtec also offers development kits for the maker side of the market, which includes DIY inventors and hobbyists as well as students and educators working on lessons, research projects, or events such as FIRST robotics competitions. The Samtec kit evolved from the explosion of interest in maker faires and tinkering that was getting underway before the pandemic. “The huge interest in maker activities we saw hasn’t totally recovered yet, so it will be interesting to see where that goes in terms of big events and corporate support,” said Burns. “People are still making things, of course, so this kit lets us offer some support in terms of products and resources, such as our YouTube channel. It fits into our mission to contribute to education and philanthropy.”
Most distributors offer development kits, either proprietary and branded selections of products or packages from the Raspberry Pi foundation or other organizations. The SparkFun development kit, available in a range of options from Arrow, Digi-Key Electronics, Mouser Electronics, and other distributors, include a board, controller, interconnects, and all the optoelectronic parts needed to complete a circuit or varying levels of complexity. RS offers a range of kits that address every design challenge, from clock and timer kits and microcontroller development tools to FPGA development and encryption and authentication tools.
No matter what level of project or designer, a good development kit makes life easier, said Burns. “I used to be an engineer before I came to Samtec, and I was always looking for things that would make my job easier and shorten development time and time to market. We are constantly adjusting our kits and making new products available to help our customers do just that.”