In part one of this two-part blog, I am going to explore why the Raspberry Pi compute module is not only a suitable industrial development platform, but worth serious consideration, when planning a medical device development.
I will look at how to approach development with the Raspberry Pi in compliance with the applicable regulatory standards, the reliability of the toolchain – from set-up and debugging to 3rd party integration and component availability – and why I think Raspberry Pi can be considered and aligned with good development practise in highly regulated industries, such as that of MedTech.
Firstly, it’s important to distinguish between the Raspberry Pi Foundation – founded to promote education, learning and diversity in STEM and Raspberry Pi Limited – the commercial arm of the organisation. As well as selling hardware, through the commercial side of the organisation, Raspberry Pi offer design, development, and support to professional and industrial partners.
Secondly, it should be acknowledged that the Raspberry Pi is a serious piece of hardware, shipping in very significant volumes. Hitting 30 million units shipped in 2019, by 2020 the Raspberry Pi had become the third best-selling general-purpose computer platform after MAC and PC. That statistic on its own illustrates just how significant the development and manufacture of the Pi has become.
What are the benefits to using Raspberry Pi as a development platform?
The Raspberry Pi ticks many of the boxes professional developers are usually looking for in an industrial platform. For example:
- Stable & Predictable Product Lifecycle
While the core product continues to improve in performance and capability, it doesn’t change too rapidly or in an unexpected or uncontrolled way. The form factor of the Model B has stayed largely consistent over 4 generations. Although they continue to improve, introducing newer, faster, additional peripherals and performance, the Pi maintains a considerable level of backwards compatibility.
- In-House Development & Support
Raspberry Pi maintain their own core engineering teams as well as working with trusted partners on both hardware and software development. Their product line is also relatively tightly focused. Many microprocessor manufacturers have huge catalogues of different modules, different peripheral combinations, and different development boards, and as a result, high-quality support for one specific component can be a bit hit-and-miss. If you need detailed technical support from Raspberry Pi, it is actually possible to get that engineer-to-engineer level interaction that is sometimes needed. Development partners, in particular, (such as eg technology) can access all this knowledge directly.
- Product Life Assurances
Raspberry Pi offer longer product life assurances for the Compute Module and other products targeted at industrial applications. Meaning you can integrate their devices with the same level of confidence you will get from most suppliers.
- Industry Standard Foundations
ARM core hardware with support for a range of Linux distributions, including their own Raspberry Pi OS means the ecosystem is built on tried and tested foundations.
At this point, it is also worth noting that Raspberry Pi don’t just do high-performance desktop systems. The RP2040 microcontroller chip is a highly capable, low-cost device that is well-suited to a variety of embedded applications. Again, offering a well-supported alternative to the well-known industry names. We’ll see in part two, how and why an embedded microcontroller might form part of your medical device safety strategy for a system built around the Raspberry Pi.
So, having hopefully answered within this blog the general question of whether the Raspberry Pi is suitable for professional/industrial development, part two (which is now available on the Raspberry Pi blog) will look at how it then stacks up as an option for a more highly regulated industry like medical devices.