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Coin-sized COM could be world’s smallest Raspberry Pi clone

Jul 19, 2016 — by Eric Brown — 4,170 views

ArduCam unveiled a 24 x 24mm module with the ARM11-based core of the original Raspberry Pi, available with 36 x 36mm carriers with one or two camera links.

The promised second-generation version of the Raspberry Pi Compute Module featuring the same quad-core, 64-bit Broadcom BCM2837 SoC as the Raspberry Pi 3 will be out within a few months, according to a recent PC World interview with Raspberry Pi Foundation CEO Eben Upton. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a smaller computer-on-module version of the Raspberry Pi and are willing to settle for the old ARM11 foundation available on the current Raspberry Pi Compute Module, ArduCam could have you covered sooner.

ArduCam module with quarter
(click image to enlarge)

At 24 x 24mm, compared to 67.6 x 30mm for the Raspberry Pi Compute Module, which shares the same BCM2835 SoC with Videocore IV GPU, the ArduCam module is claimed to be the “smallest Raspberry Pi compatible module in the world.” The $5 SBC-style Raspberry Pi Zero v1.3, meanwhile, measures 65 x 30mm.

Size comparison, left to right: Raspberry Pi Compute Module; ArduCam; Raspberry Pi Zero v1.3
(click image to enlarge)

The tiny, two-gram module backs up the BCM2835 with 256MB or 512MB of LPDDR2 RAM, but it lacks the onboard 4GB eMMC flash of the Raspberry Pi Compute Module. The ArduCam module is further equipped with dual MIPI-CSI interfaces for 5- and 8-megapixel cameras, as well as 2x SPI, 2x I2c, 25x GPIO, and single USB, UART, and AV output interfaces.

Cameras and carrier boards

The module “supports dual camera interface and stereo vision which can be used in robots for machine vision applications or high definition drone camera,” says ArduCam. For hacking purposes, as opposed to production implementations, you’ll also need one of the two very similar 36 x 36mm carrier boards shown below, which offer micro-USB and microSD connections, and a choice of expansion headers and camera options. Indeed, the focus here is squarely on imaging applications.

UC-343 (left) and UC-666 carrier boards
(click images to enlarge)

The UC-343 and UC-366 carrier boards differ only in their number of expansion headers and camera options. There’s no mention of software, although a YouTube demo video (see farther below) shows the boardset booting Raspbian Linux and running various apps.

Reverse side of UC-343 carrier board showing the ArduCam COM (left), and the UC-366 carrier board cabled to a stereo camera
(click images to enlarge)

Specs listed for the UC-343 or UC-366 carrier boards with ArduCam module installed include:
  • Processor (via ArduCam COM) — Broadcom BCM2835 (1x ARM11 @ 700MHz); Broadcom Videocore IV GPU
  • Memory (via ArduCam COM) — 256MB or 512MB LPDDR2 RAM
  • Storage — microSD slot
  • I/O:
    • 2x micro-USB ports (1x power only)
    • 1x (UC-343) or 2x (UC-366) MIPI-CSI connectors supporting 5- or 8-megapixel “Pi cameras” with dual-display/stereovision support
    • A/V output header
  • Expansion:
    • UC-343 — 16-pin and 8-pin headers (unpopulated) with GPIOs, 1x I2C, UART, 2x SPI
    • UC-366 — 24-pin header (unpopulated) with GPIOs, UART, 2x SPI
  • Power — 5V via micro-USB or battery header; power LED
  • Dimensions — 36 x 36mm (24 x 24mm for COM)
  • Weight — 10 grams

By comparison, the original Raspberry Pi Compute Module has only a single 200-pin SODIMM-style expansion header to the optional Compute Module IO Board. The IO Board has a pair each of MIPI-CSI and DSI ports, plus two ports that are missing on the ArduCam carrier boards: HDMI and USB host ports. The Raspberry Pi Compute Module also offers dual 60-pin GPIO expansion headers, and a micro-USB port designed to accept 5V input. Alternatively, at roughly the same size as the Compute Module, the mini-sized the Raspberry Pi Zero v1.3 SBC adds the RPi 40-pin GPIO header plus discrete interface connectors for USB, HDMI, composite video, camera, and power.

Interestingly, another popular community-supported hacker SBC — the BeagleBone Black — also recently spawned a similar-sized module. The 27 x 27mm, chip-like Octavo Systems OSD3358 packs most of the functions of the BeagleBone Black SBC into a BGA module that only requires a few external components to boot Linux. Like the ArduCam module, the OSD3358 requires a carrier board with real-world ports and expansion headers to become a useful SBC.

ArduCam Availability uncertain

The ArduCam module has yet to go on sale, nor has a price been mentioned. As Hackaday notes, it’s possible the board will never go on sale. The last time a company tried to release a board based on the same 700MHz Broadcom BCM2835 SoC that appeared to compete directly with a Raspberry Pi board — Hardkernel with its short-lived, circa-2014 Odroid-W — Broadcom cut off their supply.

Perhaps this is why ArduCam, which is known for its camera modules and lenses, including several Raspberry Pi compatible cams, added to its teaser product page the following: “Note it is not a replacement for Raspberry Pi boards, just a supplement for Raspberry Pi ecosystem and Raspberry Pi is a trademark of the Raspberry Pi Foundation.” Now that the ARM11-based SoC is no longer featured on new Raspberry Pi boards, that may be enough to satisfy Broadcom and the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

ArduCam demo

Further information

No pricing or availability was listed for the ArduCam module and its UC-343 and UC-366 carrier boards. A CNXSoft post points to a preliminary QWaveshop product page with no pricing available. On the YouTube page, however, ArduCam’s Lee Jackson responds to a viewer’s request for availability info by stating: “It is only available for customization. Please contact [email protected] for detail.” More information is available on ArduCam’s ArduCam module announcement page.

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