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An Introduction to IoT Development Boards

Key Takeaways

  • Learn what IoT development boards are

  • A discussion of IoT development board categories

  • Notes on selecting the right development board for your project

Engineer probing voltage of LCD screen attached to a development board

IoT development boards help with rapid prototyping and development

The world of Internet of Things (IoT) is constantly growing, evolving, and changing at a rapid pace. In general, IoT is simply a network of physical internet or wirelessly capable devices able to exchange data with the internet. As the IoT market continues to advance, more businesses benefit from this technology; everything from home automation to medicine reaps the benefits of IoT. 

What’s even more exciting is that agile hardware development through fast prototyping processes and early integration is now possible. Options for creating an IoT device using IoT development boards are more common than ever, allowing for easy integration into the IoT device tech stack. Knowing how to choose the right microcontroller or microprocessor is essential for development, and utilizing a readily available development kit can accelerate the process even more. 

What Are IoT Development Boards?

A development board is essentially a printed circuit board with circuitry and hardware for experimenting with specific microcontrollers, microprocessors, or other complex integrated circuits (IC).

Specifically, an IoT development board includes:

  • A programming interface to program the microcontroller from a computer.
  • A power circuit used to provide stable DC power to the microcontroller.
  • Input components: buttons, switches, etc.
  • Output components such as LEDs.
  • Various I/O pins used for compatibility with sensors, motors, screens, and any other components.

IoT development boards allow for tinkering and easy access to I/O pins to build custom circuitry and easily develop firmware. 

IoT Development Board Categories

There are three devkit categories:

  1. Microcontroller - based boards comprised of a small computer, usually built with CMOS processes. These are primarily used in implants, office machines, power tools, and automotive control systems

  2. System-on-Chip SoC boards have more system components integrated into the chip and have memory, audio receivers, PCI, SATA, and USB communication abilities in addition to a microprocessor. Additional electronic components and circuits are the only things required–fewer additional ICs. They allow for more miniaturization and higher processing speeds with less microchip power. This is all at the cost of specialization and development time.

  3. Single Board Computers (SBCs) contain all the features of a computer on a single device, including I/O ports, microprocessors, and memory. SBCs are usually larger but are more capable and do not need to rely on expansion slots for additional peripheral capabilities.

Breadboard, ICs, resistors, and PCBs on a worktable

Breadboards allow for easier prototyping of PCBs with microcontrollers

Important Features for IoT Development Boards

When choosing an IoT development board, consider the device you’d like to develop and its required capabilities. Then, choose a devkit that contains the features necessary for testing and prototyping.

Examples include:

  • Connectivity support: IoT applications require adequate connectivity to the outside world, either to the internet or additional devices. Features like built-in WiFi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, and/or Ethernet may all be necessary. This may be the most important aspect, as smart devices rely on their capability connections. 
  • Peripheral capabilities: Considering how your IoT device will interact with other external components is essential. Additional peripheral capabilities such as HDMI, USB, UART, GPIO, PWM pin-out, or even PCI/SPI support may be necessary to communicate to other chips and devices in a wired fashion.
  • Memory: Depending on if you want your device to store data or immediately offload it wirelessly, your IoT development board may need built-in Flash memory, with MicroSD or MiniSD data storage expansion capabilities. 
  • Processing power: Whether through a built-in microcontroller, CPU, CPLD, or FPGA, this component’s capabilities will likely also determine how you program the device.

Additional Notes on Selecting Development Boards 

Oftentimes, if you are planning on using a specific IC, manufacturers may also provide a specific associated device used for testing. Considering what process the product is built with plays a large role. Larger, more capable MPUs can run embedded Linux, but will consume more power than lower-powered MCUs that run embedded C or a real-time operating system (RTOS). If you’d like to keep costs down then consider utilizing an MCU-based solution.

Whatever IoT development board you end up selecting, utilizing Cadence’s PCB design and analysis software  can help you with your final product. Leading electronics providers rely on Cadence products to optimize power, space, and energy needs for a wide variety of market applications. To learn more about our innovative solutions, talk to our team of experts or subscribe to our YouTube channel.