Still low-cost, but no longer just an educational tool
There has been a gradual shift in thinking about the proper role of small yet powerful single board computers (SBCs) that follow a modular approach in providing extensibility for the basic compute module. Some boards were originally devised as development platforms targeting professional designers, but have since made their way into the hands of hobbyists and makers. Other boards, originally developed for hobbyist and educational applications, are now making their way into professional use, with the result that the distinctions between these various uses is starting to blur.
Take, for instance, the Raspberry Pi. In its original incarnation it was intended to serve as a low-cost platform for teaching school-age children about programming. Using Linux as its base operating system and with a powerful Broadcom microcontroller at its core, the Pi quickly proved itself capable of handling much more than fledgling programming efforts. A solid operating system, reasonable development tools, hardware expansion capability, and a growing body of users fostered growth of a substantial support infrastructure containing both open source software modules and mezzanine cards. That, in turn, began to attract the attention of professional developers looking for a low-cost yet powerful platform for rapid product development.
Recognizing that its educational tool was attracting commercial interest, the Raspberry Pi Foundation devised a streamlined form-factor Pi called the Compute Module, now in its third generation. A noted in this report from EETimes' sister site Electronic Products, this version of the Pi has seen substantial, if quiet, commercial adoption. For the most part, vendors adopting the Raspberry Pi are keeping that fact concealed as part of their "secret sauce."
Among the few commercial products publicly linked to the Pi are industrial computers such as the Strato Pi series from Sferra Labs and controllers like the Revolution Pi from Kunbus. It is the advent of such devices that prompted Aspencore (parent company of EE Times) to launch a special project on the Professional Pi so you can explore aspects of the Pi's application in depth:
For more on the Compute Module and how the Pi is being used in commercial applications, see the article in Electronic Products on When the going gets pro, the pro go Raspberry.
Notes on the design of Hardware Attached on Top (HAT) for extending the basic Pi during the prototyping stage are available in the Electroschematics article Tip of the HAT to the RasPi – A Discussion on the Pi HAT Hardware Specification.
Since most industrial applications for computer modules like the Pi involve sensing and control, we have also included in the Special Project a Beginner's Guide to Sensor Interfacing Beginner's Guide to Sensor Interfacing on EE Web, and design information on the latest generation of MEMS and other sensors in EDN's Design solutions: Latest MEMS and Sensor signal conditioning architectures.
Such use of the Raspberry Pi is likely only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the blurring of lines between hobbyist/educational SBCs and professional/prototyping development boards. An increasing number of electronics development projects are coming not from traditional engineering houses but from entrepreneurs with only basic electronics knowledge but substantial subject matter expertise. These non-traditional developers are empowered in their efforts by the availability of powerful and well-supported platforms that can form the core of their product design, platforms like the Raspberry Pi.