Have you heard the term Single Board Computers (SBCs) bandied around these days? Did it make you wonder what purpose they serve? Before we expound upon the uses of SBCs, we will discuss what they are:
What are SBCs?
Traditional computers are different from SBCs. This is because the latter can simply be described as a device with the functionality of a computer but in a single board! Multiple board computers or full-fledged ones, such as the PCs and Mac are equipped with a motherboard. If you have ever seen one, you might know that they are powered by an Intel® Core™, Athlon™, or, AMD® processor. Besides this, the motherboard also has other circuitry and peripheral slots. This is where the RAM, Hard Disk, ROM, LAN Card, Heat Sink, CPU Fan, LCD monitor, etc. go. It means the peripherals are attached separately to make a PC work.
SBCs, on the other hand, have everything, including the processor, circuitry, and peripherals, placed on a single board. That is why it possesses the functionality of a full-fledged computer. Since SBCs can operate like any other computer, they can also boot into Linux and other OS.
Now that you know what an SBC is, let us look at the other part of the equation, i.e.:
What are SBCs used for?
The small size of SBC makes it perfect for appliances where it can be easily embedded, such as mobiles phones, vending machines, etc. Besides this, they have also been a part of:
1. Creative projects
The ways in which SBCs can be utilized are innumerable. For instance, by embedding one in a vending machine, it is possible to control all the functions of the machine. So, NPOOLE built a chocolate vending machine. When the machine’s users submitted their work, the machine paid them in the form of candy!
2. Low cost electronic projects
Look at the BeagleBoard. This SBC was created in the US by people who wanted to provide kids and hobbyists with a way to make low cost electronic projects. Moreover, this SBC may also be used to reduce the distance between electronics and computer software projects. It might be hard to believe, but its creators were employees of a computer chip manufacturer called Texas Instruments. But they weren’t the only group to attempt such a thing.
Find out other kid-friendly uses of SBCs here.
3. IoT devices
Did you know that SBCs can be embedded within IoT appliances? Or that by 2020, 30 billion IoT devices would flood the market? Besides holding an educational value, SBCs are also a part of the IoT progression. They are used in edge computing for the Internet of Things (IoT) and Cyber Physical Systems (CPS). These embedded systems containing SBCs would make storage decentralization possible among other things.
4. At-Risk environments
Imagine an SBC with a cost so low that it is ideal for single-use. Don’t understand what good a disposable or expendable computer can do? Then widen your horizons and visualize a hostile environment like a war zone where ad-hoc networks could do some unbiased reporting. Alternatively, think of high risk environments in the wild, like volcanoes and rainforests where unmanned SBCs can be used to gather data.
5. Portable clusters and disaster recovery
While the idea of a portable cluster isn’t new, it has been improved by the advent of SBCs. Before they were made of specially ruggedized units that could be as gigantic as a shipping container. At best, they were useful in places where mains or generator were present to supply power. With the SBCs forming portable clusters, they can easily fit in a backpack! They don’t eat up as much power so you can control yours with batteries or even clean, renewable energy.
How is this advantageous? Well, imagine a large scale disastrous event, such as an earthquake or a storm hitting a densely populated area. First responders to the site or disaster recovery units could retrieve useful data from drone-, personnel-, aircraft-, and even ground vehicles-carried clusters on the scene. Check out these emergency response scenarios for a better idea of how useful SBCs can be.
Epic Single Board Computers have broadened the spectrum of what technology can achieve. It might not be an exaggeration to think of them as computational game changers. Low cost, compact size, and the capability to be customized for a wide variety of applications are just some of the reasons for their popularity. Looking to use an SBC for educational purposes? Then build a cluster. Want a good testbed for your new visionary of a data center? SBCs will be great for architectures based in ARM, and high core-density uses. Want to push the computational power until it borders Edge Computing, then the size and power requirements will be an advantage in that area, as well. Do you see now why answering the question: what are SBCs used for isn’t as simple as making a list? We thought you do!