Update February 2019: we have now officially launched the balenaFin v1.1 - read the announcement here or buy now
Today is an incredibly exciting day for the balena team, one we’ve been working towards for a while: we’re announcing balena’s first entry into hardware.
Introducing Project Fin, a carrier board designed for the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 Lite.
Our mission at balena is to accelerate the path to a programmable world, and the best way we can do that is by reducing the friction that fleet owners, our users, face while building, deploying and scaling their fleets of connected devices. We’ve been working with our community and customers on thousands of use cases over the past few years, from devices on sea turtles to drones, 3D scanners, oil rigs, and all the way back to digital signage and building automation.
As we try to remove obstacles from the path to scale, it has become clear that hardware is a problem. The Raspberry Pi is incredibly successful, far beyond what anyone expected, to the degree where it’s getting deployed as a production device in industrial scenarios. As its creators will tell you, that was not the original intention. It is used in these scenarios, however, because the next step up, a “serious” industrial board, brings with it a whole heap of pain. All of a sudden, issues around the software ecosystem, licensing, and obscure bugs become real, while costs and time to market skyrocket. The result of this dearth of options is that our customers take much longer than they planned to scale, some of them never managing to scale at all.
This is why we decided to start what we've codenamed "Project Fin." It’s a carrier board that can run all the software that the Raspberry Pi can run, hardened for field deployment use cases, and adding some of the things we’ve seen our users needing the most. It includes 8/16/32/64 GB of on-board eMMC depending on the model, has dual-band connectivity for both 2.4 and 5GHz WiFi networks, can take an external antenna for WiFi and Bluetooth, and can accept power input from 6v to 24v (or 5v if you power through the HAT) via industrial power connectors.
It also comes with two special features. The first is a microcontroller that has its own Bluetooth radio and can operate without the Compute Module being turned on. This enables the Fin to perform well in real-time and low-power scenarios. The Compute Module, along with its interfaces, can be programmatically shut down and spawned back up via the microcontroller, which can access the RTC chip when the Compute Module is OFF for time-based operations. In addition, the Fin has a mini PCI express slot, which can be used to connect peripherals such as cellular modems. The Fin also has a SIM card slot to make it even easier to connect a cellular modem.
It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway, that the Fin also has all the ports you’re used to in the Raspberry Pi 3, other than the 3.5mm output jack: a HAT connector, an HDMI port, 2x USB 2.0 ports, and display and camera connectors. The board also has on it a fully user-controllable RGB LED that you can use to signal status to your end customer.
And it will, of course, come with purpose-designed enclosures for consumer and industrial use cases.
And for all of you out there looking for the details on exactly what’s on the board, here’s the laundry list for the complete package, once you've added the CM3L:
|Main processor||Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 Lite - BCM2837 quad-core ARM® Cortex A53 (ArmV8) at 1.2GHz|
|Memory||8/16/32/64 GB eMMC 5.1|
|Radio connectivity||Dual-band 802.11ac/a/b/g/n 2.4 & 5GHz WiFi + Bluetooth 4.2|
|I/O||Raspberry Pi 40-pin HAT|
|Co-processor||Artik020 - 32-bit ARM® Cortex M4 core at 40 MHz|
|Radio connectivity||Bluetooth 4.2 Smart|
|I/O||I2C, SPI, UART, GPIO, ADC|
|USB||2 x 2.0 Type-A|
|PCI||Mini PCI Express subset socket (USB, UART and I2C with nano-SIM card reader)|
|Power||6 to 24V (5V @2.5A via HAT)|
|RTC||Via I2C chip, with dedicated coin-cell Battery. RTC is on dedicated i2c bus (i2c-3)|
|Ethernet||1 x 10/100 RJ45|
|MIPI||1 x Raspberry Pi camera connector, 1 x Raspberry Pi display connector|
|HDMI||1 x HDMI Type A with CEC|
|User feedback||1 x RGB LED, 9 x Status LEDs|
|Temperature||-25 to 70 celsius degrees|
In designing the Fin, it’s been extremely important to us that we keep the cost accessible. Our main goal in making this board is to help our customers scale, and we will price the board accordingly. We’re still finalizing the supply chain, but we’re targeting a price point around $129 for the basic 8GB model, not including the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 Lite, which runs about $25-$30. Given the add-ons you have to stack onto a Pi to get a board with this level of capability, this price feels both fair and achievable.
We also want to emphasize that we will continue supporting a wide variety of boards, including all those we support today, and these boards will work just as well as the Fin on the balena platform. And, of course, the Fin will work fine outside of the balena platform, too.
In terms of availability, we’ve now finalized the design of the board, have been beta testing it with a select group of balena customers, and expect our first certified production batch to be available later this spring. Over the next few weeks we’ll tell you a lot more about the board, its design history, and availability timelines.
In the meantime, if you have a use case for the Fin and would like to get in touch with us, please drop us a line at email@example.com. And if you'd like to stay updated on our progress and availability, you can sign up for our mailing list:
July 12th 2018 we updated this post correcting a typo regarding input voltage range
6-30V => 6-24V