User Services Platform

Small Computers Will Connect Everything

By Incognito on April, 15 2014

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Aside from having a small footprint and price tag, these single-board computers also draw very little power. These attributes make them ideal in the M2M (machine-to-machine) market, where upkeep and maintenance should be kept to a minimum. Attach a couple of sensors and you can have a device that provides remote monitoring or control. Using this foundation, the possibilities are endless, ranging from pushing notifications and alerts to making decisions based on telemetry. This extensive customization is the killer app for these computers.

The Raspberry Pi operating system is variety of Linux and other builds are available depending on need. Anyone comfortable working with Linux will find themselves at home. For many uses, there are apps and utilities available off-the-shelf and ready to be installed, leading to shorter deployment times. Those who choose to tinker will find an active community of enthusiasts online to ask for advice.

And the Raspberry Pi isn’t the only option. Android smartphones are also small, inexpensive, and low power computers. When the Android phone manufacturers responded to Apple, they looked at emerging and mid-range markets, launching several inexpensive smartphones. As smartphone refresh cycles are rather frequent, many last-year phones can be bought at a discount. A smartphone from five years ago is only technologically obsolete. They may not be as cheap, but many folks– myself included– tend to keep a spare — or two — in the drawer.

Though smartphones don’t readily accept new sensors, they come with a few of their own e.g. camera, compass, accelerometer etc. They can connect over Bluetooth, WiFi, and mobile broadband — the last is suitable for more remote deployments. With its battery, smartphones essentially have a built-in UPS. There’s also a large and healthy Android app ecosystem to take advantage of. For example, when we wanted a feed of our office view, instead of getting an IP camera, we repurposed an old Android phone for this task, and it has been running for years.

A recent survey suggests that there are more than 300 million unused smartphones in the United States alone. Many are simply kept as spares, given our increased dependency on these devices. As the connected home continues to gain momentum, more individuals will look into inexpensive, DIY options like single-board computers and spare smartphones. It’s not just hobbyists as industries and organizations will explore low-cost technologies to enable communication between machines. Computers will continue to shrink in size and cost, opening more possibilities. And also lead to an increase of devices on the network.

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