I have quite a selection of embedded development boards to choose from when it comes to prototyping devices and telling you about them in my electronics DIY books, project-based lab assignments for my students at the school I teach, and, of course, Design News articles here. Occasionally, I become overwhelmed by trying to incorporate the best I/O interfacing or programmable features of these development boards into one single project device. Often, I imagine of designing a universal embedded development board that would provide a powerful FPGA synthesis capability along with the programming ease of Arduino with the computing power of a Raspberry Pi or Beaglebone Black. Now, there is such universal embedded development platform called the "snickerdoodle".
What Is snickerdoodle?The creator of snickerdoodle, a startup company called Krtkl, describe it as "A Raspberry Pi, with 5.5 [times] the I/O, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy, and a FPGA for I/O flexibility/reconfigurability. It has the same price as a wireless-enabled Raspberry Pi. It's a design tool you need for controlling robots, flying drones, and computer vision. In other words: Raspberry Pi is designed to interface with the "real world." I Snickerdoodle is professional-level hardware at maker-friendly prices and a democratization of advanced technologies, not just another ARM/Linux/IoT board."
The snickerdoodle took two years of design iterations to achieve the design goals and user experience that Krtkl wanted in an embedded development design tool.
The company consists of three engineers (Ryan Cousins,CEO; Jamil Weatherbee,CTO; and Russell Bush, CDO) with backgrounds in mechatronics, hardware, and software development. In a Design News conversation, Cousins explained the motivation behind creating snickerdoodle was to provide a design tool to accelerate embedded development for makers, engineers, inventors, and electronics hobbyists.
Cousins continued tosay the concept behind snickerdoodle is to extract the best development features from existing embedded design technologies listed below.
- An ARM-based processor integrated with an FPGA
- Can emulate an Arduino with an FPGA
- Has multicore processing for high-end computing applications
- Provide a cost-effective price point competitive with an Arduino, Beaglebone Black, and Raspberry Pi.
Cousins and his cofounders were able to build the universal embedded development platformwith a price point of $55. The key question asked of Cousins is, What is the major differentiator of snickerdoodle compared to the existing embedded development platforms. Cousins replied that it's the first development board with this flexibility, functionality, and connectability at this price point. He continued:
"You'll be able to easily and affordably build projects that can perform at the levels demanded of the most high-end applications. When we say its "flexible," we mean the I/O can be totally customized to suit your application needs. The first maker board/development platform tied to a mobile app that plays a central role in development and deployment. Snickerdoodle can either be wired up on the desktop for learning, prototyping, and general experimentation, or it can be plugged into pre-built baseboards and instantly become pre-built vision systems, drones, or tabletop/mobile robotic devices."
Currently, Krtkl is working on achieving its Kickstarter campaign goal of raising $55,000 to make the initial production run of boards.
To achieve the high-end development features of WiFi connectivity, multicore processing, and ease of software development, Ryan explained that the design iteration process was quite challenging. The goal of maintaining a cost-effective price point along with ease of embedded application development took the team painstaking research of reviewing datasheets of embedded devices and chipsets that would achieve these two main design goals for the snickerdoodle. The snickerdoodle's embedded architecture is quite impressive in terms of the feature chipsets used in its hardware design. Also, the optional upgrades, such as the Xilinx Zinq-7020 FPGA, provides additional flexibility in developing sophisticated embedded device applications at a reasonable cost.
Comparison to existing embedded development platforms
In addition to the variety of functional features, the snickerdoodle is quite competitive with existing development platforms, as well. For example, it uses an ARM Cortex A9 processor with computing power of 34.4 GFLOPS (Giga-Floating Point Operations). That performance rubric exceeds a Raspberry Pi 2 model B, which uses a Cortex A7 with a computing power of 31.2 GFLOPs. Therefore, the snickerdoodle is able to process vast amounts of data in such a small PCB footprint (3.5" x 2.0") quite effectively. Also, wireless connectivity by way of onboard WiFi, Bluetooth LE chipsets is available on the snickerdoodle board as well.
Pre-built Plug-and-Play Baseboards
Krtkl has also provided I/O expandability by offering pre-built plug-and-play baseboards. These baseboards will allow makers, inventors, and hobbyists to explore applications in robotics, drones, physical computing, and video-entertainment development. The traditional software development tools in building these devices can easily be used with the snickerdoodle's embedded tool library. This programming reuse method reduces the learning curve of software development, thereby allowing emphasis to be placed on building the physical application. For additional information about the snickerdoodle, see Krtkl's crowdfunding page.
Don Wilcher is a passionate teacher of electronics technology and an electrical engineer with 26 years of industrial experience. He's worked on industrial robotics systems, automotive electronic modules/systems, and embedded wireless controls for small consumer appliances. He's also a book author, writing DIY project books on electronics and robotics technologies. His latest book, Make: Basic Arduino Projects, published by Maker Media, is on the Alabama State Department's approved Career and Technical Education (CTE) reading list. He's currently developing 21st century educational training products and curriculum focusing on Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Physical Computing for makers, engineers, technicians, and educators. Besides being an Electrical Engineer, he's a Certified Electronics Technician with ETA International and Alabama State Certified Electronics Instructor.