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There's a trope in TV and film called the "Pint-Sized Powerhouse." If you're not familiar with it, it refers to a character whose modest physical size belies an unexpected physical prowess. Remember Trinity in the opening scenes of the first Matrix? We first see her -- alone and unarmed -- take on a geared-up tactical team; she's the only one left standing in less than a minute flat. There are a bunch of examples of this trope at work: Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass, Yoda in Revenge of the Sith (when he fights Darth Sidious) and numerous others.
The point is, sometimes something in a small package can have an impact disproportionate to its size.
The Intel Edison could be one such artifact -- it's a small platform that some feel is highly likely to have a disproportionate impact on the entrepreneurial and hobbyist landscapes.
What is the Intel Edison platform?
Before unpacking the impact the Edison platform might or might not have, it's important to start with what it is. The Intel Edison is a small computing platform that Intel describes as the "first in a series of low-cost, product-ready, general purpose compute platforms that help lower the barriers to entry for entrepreneurs of all sizes -- from pro makers to consumer electronics and companies working in the Internet of Things (IoT)."
The Edison is about the size of an SD card -- 35.5 mm by 25 mm by 3.9 mm to be specific. It's designed to facilitate applications that would be difficult to achieve utilizing larger components -- for example, those where power consumption or size could be a factor, such as wearable technologies, smart devices, sensors or really any other IoT use case that one could imagine.
Per the product brief, the Edison utilizes a system on a chip with a dual-core Atom processor and 32-bit Quark microcontroller, integrated Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, 1 GB DDR, and 4 GB flash. It runs Linux (Yocto) and works with IDEs many in the hobbyist and developer communities will already be familiar with, specifically the Arduino IDE, the Intel XDK and Eclipse. At retail, it's about twice the price of the better-known Raspberry Pi, but when you factor in the cost of components that you'd have to add to a Pi to match the onboard functionality of the Edison, the overall price is similar.
Nor is the Edison platform just a "smaller Raspberry Pi". Though use cases overlap on occasion, the Intel Edison platform is really for product development, whereas the Raspberry Pi still finds its roots firmly in the world of education. The Raspberry Pi is as ready to be a cheap Linux computer as it is to be an IoT platform, with USB inputs for keyboard and an HDMI port for a screen. The Edison platform, by contrast, is a headless platform unless you take the trouble to make it otherwise. Its potential use cases, including IoT prototyping, involve scenarios -- for example, a fire alarm or toy bulldozer -- that won't require a monitor, keyboard or mouse.
Another advantage to the Edison package that comes into play in IoT products is its comparatively low power consumption. It's a 3-volt circuit as opposed to the Pi's 5, and it comes with charge management circuitry on board. It lends itself to Li-Poly batteries in a way that Pi won't without an add-on charge circuitry board.
Of course the standard Raspberry Pi board isn't the only Raspberry game in town these days -- the Zero is headless and a bargain at $5 -- but the dual processor aboard the Edison means there's no contest when it comes to raw compute power.
What's the impact of the Intel Edison Platform?
In a business context where "things" are going to be manufactured using Intel chipsets, the Edison board is probably the prototyping platform of choice. It's certainly the most "developer friendly" environment out there, at least from the point of view of working developers in a corporate shop, for two reasons: Eclipse support and x86 architecture. While the Arduino IDE is probably the most familiar of those Edison supports from a hobbyist point of view, the commercial development world is another story entirely. Eclipse, on the other hand, is the software equivalent of a lingua franca -- almost every working developer has at the very least a passing familiarity with it. Likewise, the x86 architecture has advantages -- in terms of familiarity -- from a development point of view. Even when working in a higher level language, there can be tasks -- for example, debugging -- where an understanding of the instruction set of the underlying architecture can make life easier.
For an organization looking to do rapid prototyping -- particularly when what's being prototyped might ultimately live on higher-end Intel hardware down the road -- the Intel Edison platform is a low-cost and developer-friendly choice.
Explore the other ways Intel is submerging itself in IoT