Sfera Labs has launched what it said is the first industrial product based on the new Raspberry Pi RP2040 microcontroller. Its new Iono RP programmable I/O module combines the ease of use of the Raspberry Pi with a choice of digital and analog input and output interfaces, resulting in a fully CE, FCC, and IC compliant easy-to-connect module for installation in industrial and residential environments.
Iono RP incorporates the RP2040, the first high-performance microcontroller chip designed by Raspberry Pi and aimed at both industrial and hobbyist markets. It features a dual-core Arm Cortex-M0+ processor, clocked at up to 133MHz, plus 264kB internal RAM and a very flexible input/output internal architecture with several standard interfaces.
Along with a wide range 12-24V power supply input and power relay outputs, Iono RP supports industry-standard 0-10V/4-20mA analog inputs, a 0-10V analog output, digital input/output lines, and an RS-485 serial interface. All of this is housed in a compact DIN rail case, ready to be installed in electrical cabinets and integrated into automation control systems.
Committed to an open platform philosophy, Sfera Labs designs, manufactures and sells servers, embedded systems, I/O modules and sensors for industrial automation, IoT and edge computing based on open-source, community supported technologies such as Raspberry Pi and Arduino.
Hence, the Iono RP leverages the already vast community support built up around the RP2040, as well as the powerful development tools and documentation accompanying it. Control software development is enabled using the popular MicroPython and C/C++ programming languages and the convenience of drag-and-drop programming using mass storage over USB and the on-chip boot loader. The Iono RP internal 16MB Flash memory can accommodate highly complex application logic. A dedicated EERAM chip also allows the storing of persistent information without wearing out the flash memory.
Optional features available for the Iono RP include a real-time clock with battery back-up and a secure element chip for encryption and safe storage of digital certificates. An earthquake sensor can also be factory installed as an option, which may be used, for example, to disconnect electrical loads or perform other safety-related automation tasks when an earthquake is detected.
By tapping into the Raspberry Pi RP2040 development ecosystem, engineers can use the Iono RP as the basis for creating new automation and control applications. Furthermore, the firmware libraries developed specifically for the Iono RP are all open source and may be freely accessed via Github – thereby helping to accelerate project completion.
Open-source is key to security and reliability
In an interview with embedded.com to announce the new Iono RP module, Maria Chizzali, COO at Sfera Labs, explained the importance of and advantages of using open platforms in industrial automation to enhance security and reliability.
She said, “We believe the use of open platforms also improves security and reliability. Why? Because if you have a proprietary object and you need to change anything in it, the only thing you can do is wait for the next release or the next model. However, in an open platform, if anything has to be changed, many times the community sorts this out without the need for a new release. That has happened many, many times both in the Raspberry Pi and Arduino world.”
In addition, she said using an open platform has an obvious cost reduction and supports technology acceleration. “That’s because if a project is based on a proprietary platform, the maintenance is dependent on the availability of specialized people with skills for that platform; that means many projects are frozen because those people are scarce, not available, or expensive. In contrast, using an open platform, designers always have the option of many skilled resources that can help them improve, evolve or change any project they are working on.”
She continued, “There’s also a faster prototype to production process. If an open platform is used for developing prototypes, once the prototype is complete – as is the case with our new product – you can just install the software onto one of our devices for example, or any other device using an industrial standard, and this is ready to go: you don’t have to engineer a new product from the beginning.”
Giampiero Baggiani, the founder of Sfera Labs, added, “One of the mantras in cryptography is that you never want to use a proprietary or unknown algorithm, as that will never be secure. That’s because security is enabled by having something that is public, that everybody can analyze, that everybody can try to break over and over again, and that is how you get to a secure platform. That’s why we say open platforms are a way to improve security.”
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