The best tools to make your project dreams come true

Login or Signup

How to Choose the Right Board for the Digi-Key IoT Studio

1/6/2020 | By Maker.io Staff

One of the key steps to having a successful product or prototype is choosing the right hardware for the job. In this how-to, we will look at the in-depth steps to choosing the right board for your next Digi-Key IoT studio project!

Defining Your Needs for Your Project

When making decisions in a project, it is always a good idea to create multiple lists outlining project specifications and requirements. Therefore, to choose the right board for a Digi-Key IoT Studio project, we will start by making a project outline list.

Processing Requirements

One of the most important criteria when deciding what hardware to use in a project is to determine the processor and memory requirements for your project. However, this can be difficult to determine as you often find out your requirements after you have built and coded the project. Therefore, it is important to outline what your project needs to be able to do and make some assumptions as to what requirements those tasks require.

For example, if a project simply records sensory data, then almost any processor can handle this, and RAM requirements will be small. Running basic AI, on the other hand, often requires faster processors and larger RAM requirements, so low-end development boards (such as the PIC18 and lower range) are out of the question. Since Digi-Key’s IoT studio is a unified platform, all targeted devices are capable of running most projects, so this might matter more to our most ambitious designers.

IO

IO is a very important factor to consider and is multidimensional in nature. To start, many projects will need to connect to external hardware (such as sensors and drivers) that require data signals. Therefore, it is important to outline what hardware the project will need, and the number of IO needed to connect all the devices together. Then, the type of IO needed must be properly identified (whether it be analog, digital, or a protocol such as I2C and SPI), and from there, the appropriate device can be selected.

Just because a device has all the IO needed does not make that device appropriate for the task. For example, some small devices may be significantly harder to prototype (such as the SensorTile with its miniature size), while others may be too bulky (such as the Arduino Mega). Fortunately, all supported boards by the Digi-Key IoT Studio come in a wide range of configurations, with some being small modules (such as the ESP32) and others being in expanded boards (such as the Adafruit Huzzah32).

Connectivity

Connectivity is an area that rarely affects projects in the Digi-Key IoT Studio platform, mainly because most supported devices must have some level of wireless connectivity. However, there are some devices that have inherent limitations that can make or break projects -- the Huzzah32, in particular, might not be ideal for some Wi-Fi and Bluetooth projects.

While the ESP32 supports Bluetooth and Wi-Fi as wireless connectivity options, it cannot support both at the same time. This means that when designing projects using the ESP32, the designer needs to choose if their device is to be either a Wi-Fi device or a Bluetooth device. Other devices, such as the SensorTile, do not have Wi-Fi and are Bluetooth-only, which can be restrictive.

Cost

While large companies can afford to pump money into projects in huge numbers, the average maker’s budget will almost certainly be more limited. Therefore, when designing a project, it is a good idea to list all requirements of a project and then, out of 10, score each requirement as to its importance.

For example, a weather station project is absolutely required to record air temperature, but it may not be so important to record cloud footage or the color of the sunlight. Then, hardware for each requirement can be chosen, and if the project goes beyond the budget, the least important requirements can be dropped to help bring the price of the project down. Another factor that a designer needs to keep in mind is that some development boards integrate multiple sensors (such as the SensorTile), which can be a better value than purchasing all constituent parts separately.

Environment

The environment that the project needs to operate in can be a make or break decision and must be given extreme care. While many applications are involved with controlled environments (such as an office or home), others can be potentially damaging. For example, outside applications are exposed to large temperature swings, humidity, and rain.

Another example would be an industrial environment which can consist of explosive atmospheres, corrosive chemicals, and mechanical damage. Therefore, when choosing a board, it is essential that the environment is fully understood, and components chosen around said environment.

The Lesson? Think it Through from the Beginning!

Processing requirements, IO, connectivity, cost, and the environment dictate some of the basic realities of designing your project in a smart and effective manner from prototype to finished product. The Digi-Key IoT Studio incorporates a wide range of boards that can accommodate many types of projects, and we’ll continue expanding what it can do in the next year!