Giant chipmaker Qualcomm is “upping its game” — all as part of a major initiative to attract Makers to its quickly proliferating Qualcomm Snapdragon mobile-device processors. Its efforts on that count will be on display this weekend in New York as it showcases a new, impressively powerful, and aggressively priced DragonBoard 410c development board from Arrow Electronics.
At its World Maker Faire New York exhibit (Zone 3, Maker Pavilion) Qualcomm will be running demo applications on Linux and Android, as it did at mid-June’s Maker Faire Shenzhen. The DragonBoard 410c debuted at Maker Faire Bay Area in May. Visitors can use smart phones to drive 3D printed robotic micro-rovers, and they can also explore Qualcomm’s computer vision technology.
While that sounds like a lot of fun, the DragonBoard 410c represents serious business. Qualcomm is using the developer board as a spearhead product with two main strategic objectives.
The first is to put the power, depth, and breadth of its Snapdragon 410 processor into the hands of Makers. Just this month Qualcomm announced it has shipped more than 200 million Snapdragon 410 processors since its commercial launch a year ago. The processor is used in more than 550 mobile device designs, including those in smartphones from HTC, LG, and Motorola.
Ready for Your Most Ambitious Projects
“Typical Maker applications require low power, low heat, high performance, and a small code footprint,” says Mike Roberts, Senior Director for Qualcomm’s Global Product Marketing. “We want to bring our graphics, imaging, and CPU horsepower to the Maker community, and let them throw their most ambitious projects at it.”
The second reason the San Diego-based wireless computing giant is integrating its powerful 64-bit quad-core 1.2GHz processor into a development board for Makers: It’s the out-sized role Qualcomm anticipates they’ll play in burgeoning new markets.
“There are applications for gaming, automation, IoT, robotics and more,” Roberts says. Plenty of hardware startups are coming out of the Maker Movement, and Qualcomm is betting that getting Makers to use the DragonBoard 410c will pay off with innovative new solutions for its technology. Roberts cites surveys indicating, for example, that, even now, 56 percent of all IoT developers are hobbyists and pros working on personal projects — Makers by definition, for sure. Technology research firm Gartner Inc. recently issued a report estimating that half of all devices for the Internet of Things will come from companies less than 3 years old. That means a large part of the innovation is going to come from the maker community, Roberts says.
What’s on Board?
Along with its 64-bit quad-core 1.2GHz processor, the DragonBoard 410c, which is about the size of a playing card, has 1GB of mobile low power DDR3 RAM and 8GB of flash storage. The 400MHz graphics processor can drive 1080p HD video through the HDMI port at 30fps, or capture 1080p video with H.264 Advance Video Coding.
Along the bottom of the DragonBoard from left to right are slots for the microSD card, the HDMI video port, a USB device port, and two USB host ports. The board can act either as a USB device or a USB host but not both at the same time.
The 40 pin black connector along the top is for low-speed interfaces to sensors and actuators. It includes UART, SPI, I2S, I2C x2, GPIO x12, and DC power. Next to that are 16 pins for analog interfaces such as stereo headset/line-out, a speaker and analog line-in.
The white 60 pin connector above the HDMI port is for high-speed interfaces such as 4L MIPI-DSI, USB, I2C x2, and 2L+4L MIPI-CSI.
The DragonBoard 410c is compliant with the 96Boards open specification to encourage compatibility. The 96Boards group also has a mezzanine specification that will soon include an Arduino-compatible I/O board. This will allow the DragonBoard to work with most Arduino-compatible shields — another way Qualcomm is upping its game to compete in the Maker market.
For wireless communications the DragonBoard has antennas for WLAN 2.5GHz 802.11a/b/g/n communication and Bluetooth 4.1. There is also an onboard GPS with its own antenna.
The board currently runs either Android 5.1 (Lollipop) on Linux Kernel 3.10 or Linux based on Ubuntu 15.04. Support for Windows 10 has been announced and is coming soon.
‘Not a Bad Price’
There was immediate demand for the DragonBoard when it was announced at Maker Faire Bay Area, but it was not yet for sale. The board’s showing at Maker Faire Shenzhen was the first chance visitors had to see it running with several full video demo applications integrated with off-the-shelf light, color, and gesture sensors. Qualcomm has already set up a developer site.
The DragonBoard 410c is available for purchase now in limited quantities for $75 through Arrow Electronics and should be fully available in the next month. Roberts says one young girl visiting Maker Fair Bay Area pointed out, “For all that’s on your board, that’s not a bad price.” That’s hard to argue with.