When I read the headline of the Kickstarter campaign – “UDOO Neo = Raspberry Pi + Arduino + Wi-Fi + BT 4.0 + Sensors” – I was very surprised. After such specifications, my mind instantly sparked with many thoughts.
Released in the Raspberry Pi 2 era, instantly I think that I can have a quad core processor that works together with an Arduino microcontroller. WiFi and Bluetooth for wireless connections. For a few seconds, my mind was in space.
But, can we compare the power of UDOO Neo with the power of Raspberry Pi 2?
No, we cannot compare Neo with the new Pi 2. The reason is simple: the new Pi is a quad-core prototyping board while Neo is a single core board. In the best case, the power of Neo is comparable to the power of the first Raspberry Pi.
Even so, I want to know why UDOO Neo have a successful campaign and attract over a thousand of backers only in the first few days after launch. I want to find why so many makers and hackers want to build robots and Internet of Things projects with such a mix of features.
After hours of research, I think I found why the Neo board is so successful. I found eight features that make this board one of the most attractive development platforms launched lately.
1. A computer and a microcontroller
You have in your hand a computer and a microcontroller. You have a Pi and an Arduino. You have both platforms on the same board instead marrying a Raspberry Pi Model B with an Arduino UNO.
You can use Neo only as a fully-fledged computer, only as an Arduino microcontroller, or you can use it as both: microcontroller and computer. Using it as an embedded device, you are free to build a variety of new projects, devices, and appliances.
If I dig deep inside the Neo board, I find a low-cost Freescale i.MX 6SoloX system for Android and Linux devices. The i.MX 6SoloX generation embeds a 1GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processor built for general purposes and low-power consumption.
The 1GHz processor works in tandem with an ARM Cortex-M4 I/O real-time co-processor. This second co-processor makes the board compatible with the Arduino ecosystem.
2. Operating systems: Android & Linux distributions
For a long time, we’re running Linux distributions into the DIY culture. But, what if you are looking to start moving the Android OS into the hardware?
Since the Raspberry Pi 2 community do not find a solution to run the Android OS on the board, Neo seems to be the newest option. The board offers an integrated chip solution that supports both operating systems – Android and Linux.
Because the board comes with support for the most popular operating systems, you can easily install existing applications and programs, especially if you use the Android OS.
And because Neo is designed around Pi and Arduino, you can program the board using the Arduino development environment. This is an advantage, especially if you want to reuse existing Arduino sketches.
You can start the Neo board with a Linux distribution, and in minutes, you can switch the operating system by swapping the SD memory card.
Back to the operating system, to be more precise, the board supports Android Kitkat (Vanilla Android). This means that you can install Google applications like Chrome, YouTube, Google Play, and more.
About the Linux distributions, UDOO Neo can run dedicated OS like UDOObuntu or other distributions. The Linux distribution list includes Linaro Ubuntu, ArchLinux, XBMC, Debian, Debian Wheezy armHF, Yocto Project, OpenMediaVault, Volumio and Open Elec.
3. Flexible development environments
A good development environment is a collection of procedures and tools that allows you to develop, test and debug your project or application.
According to the specifications, the new UDOO board is a flexible environment that allows you to build applications in C, C++, Java, Python, PHP, etc. In addition, the environment runs a series of libraries and software such as OpenCV for computer vision applications.
4. Compatibility with Arduino
The compatibility with the Arduino ecosystem is a strong point for makers and hackers. Arduino provides a variety of shields, modules, accessories and has a large community of users.
Neo provides the same configuration as the Arduino UNO for its GPIO pins. This detail allows you to use components and parts that you already use with Arduino UNO.
The UDOO Neo board provides access to:
- 3x UART ports
- 2x CAN Bus
- 8x PWM
- 1x I2C interface
- 1x SPI interface
- 6x multiplexable signals
- 36 GPIOs
- 6 Analog inputs
5. Embedded sensors
Depending on the functions and applications, you need a network of embedded sensors to interact with the environment.
Because UDOO Neo is a highly featured embedded system, it embeds an accelerometer, magnetometer and digital gyroscope directly on the board. All these sensors provide 9-axis motion sensing.
What these sensors can do? Well, the Neo board supports applications from robotics, drones, 3D printers and Internet of Things applications. Not all of these fields require the sensors embedded in the board. But the accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer sensors give you a helping hand if you need motion data to adjust the position of a drone or a robot.
The accelerometer sensor is a low-power FXOS8700CQ while the gyroscope is an FXAS21002CQR1. Both sensors can communicate with both cores of the board.
A good reason to use the Neo board is the compatibility with analog sensors. You can add to your project sensors including temperature, light, potentiometers, etc.
6. Built-in connectivity
The board is part of a new generation of prototyping board with the built-in connectivity. In our days, it is rare to build a robot without a wireless connection to a WiFi hotspot or Bluetooth.
A wireless connection is a required feature, especially when we talk about flying robots. You need a way to communicate with the robot without using wires.
Back to the board specification, it features a classic Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 module. These two modules allow you to connect objects with smart devices and control these on the fly.
Besides the WiFi and Bluetooth modules, you have an Ethernet RJ45 (10/100 Mbps) port.
7. The price
UDOO Neo comes in two versions: Neo Basic and Neo. The Basic version has only half of the RAM memory (512MB) and does not include the Ethernet port and the embedded sensors.
The final price is not set in stone. Even so, you can have a UDOO Neo Basic for $49 or a Neo standard at a price of $59. Nevertheless, to have one of these two versions, you have to pledge on the Kickstarter page of the project.
8. Variety of kits
Why a variety of kit? Well, the reason is simple. You can build with Neo robots, automation and Internet of Things projects. For all these three fields, you have at least a kit with all you need to start the work.
The cheapest Neo kit is the “Starter kit basic.” This kit includes the basic version of Neo, a MicroSD memory card, HDMI cable, and a USB to Micro USB Type B cable.
The second kit is the “Starter kit.” The difference between the basic and the starter kit is the Neo board. This kit includes the standard version of the board, the one with 1GB of RAM, Ethernet port, and built-in sensors.
Another Neo kit is the ‘Maker kit’ that includes the standard version of Neo, a power supply source, the micro SD memory card, and many cables.
The “IoT kit” is a special one. It includes five UDOO Neo, the version with 1GB of RAM.
The last kit, which is the most expensive, is the “Edu kit.” This kit includes five UDOO Neo and the components that you can find in the “starter kit.”