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BB-400 NeuronEdge Smart Controller - Review

Scoring

Product Performed to Expectations: 8
Specifications were sufficient to design with: 8
Demo Software was of good quality: 10
Product was easy to use: 8
Support materials were available: 5
The price to performance ratio was good: 6
TotalScore: 45 / 60
  • RoadTest: BB-400 NeuronEdge Smart Controller
  • Buy Now
  • Evaluation Type: Development Boards & Tools
  • Was everything in the box required?: Yes - Everything was well packaged and very well presented. The only point I am still confused about is NFC capability. The documentation mentions it is an upcoming feature.
  • Comparable Products/Other parts you considered: Since the BB-400 is in essence a "carrier" board for the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3+ I would consider most other CM carrier boards to be along the same path of products. What does make the BB-400 different is it focus on industrial application. Features such as the DIN rail mount, UPS, RS485 (and MODBUS) serial options, RTC, and "pheonix-style" connectors differentiate the BB-400 from any other Compute Module "carrier board" I've come across.
  • What were the biggest problems encountered?: In my opinion, there is a serious lack of thourough documentation regarding interfacing with the Compute Module and integrated Adrunio. The only mention of loading any alternate OS on even backing up the existing BrainBox linux build in found buried in the FAQs section, and is NOT readily available to the average user. I also found myself wondering why more of the CM3s IO was not broken out (the module has 48 GPIO).

  • Detailed Review:

    RoadTest Review of the BB-400 Industrial Edge Controller

     

    The BB-400 mounted in my mini "DIN-Rail Lab".

     

    First off I would like to thank Brainboxes and Element14 for the opportunity to check out the controller; I really enjoyed experimenting with it and truthfully love this product a lot. The out-of-box experience was second to none (comparable in my mind to some of the better developer kits I’ve seen from NXP, TI, and others). The example/first-boot software makes it extremely easy to get started and also provides a bit of a dip into some of the more advanced capabilities of this unit such as containers, JSON, APIs, and decent RBAC authentication. This deafult, out-of-the-box build is why I liked the kit so much off the hop. What I found to be a disappointment though, was the lack of detailed description and documentation regarding the integration of the micro-controller (Arduino-based) and the Raspberry Pi. It would have been extremely helpful to have a schematic of the Compute Module IO board for instance. Additionally I wish some more information about how the Arduino is integrated was available. Some deeper information can be found on the Brainboxes website, but it seems to be hidden in the FAQs section and not readily accessible. I did consider reaching out and just simply asking the questions I had, but part of what I wanted to focus on here was the ease of use of this product as it came out of the box, and considering the generally widespread understanding of the Arduino and Raspberry Pi platforms by the average electronics hobbyist I thought the most responsible approach was to attempt to solve any issues myself.

     

    After I had had my fun with the included UI and tools, I decided I should attempt to load a clean Rasbian build. Since this is essentially a Raspberry Pi Compute Module “carrier board” the Brainbox website just links you directly to the RaspberryPi documentation for instruction on how to load alternate OSs, which I actually found to be very frustrating. I was very much hoping to have the schematics available, or at least some more technical documentation provided. Alas, after no trouble at all I was able to image a stock Rasbian OS and the BB-400 was off to the races.

     

    I originally set out to integrate the BB-400 into my 3 vessel, electric brewery which was loosely based on work here (http://www.theelectricbrewery.com/node/4); built that probably around 6 years ago now. The brewery build involved 220V water heater elements, PIDs, SSRs, contactors, and a lot of AC power principles I was previously not used to working with, but the system is highly manual and whenever I brew with friends no one is “comfortable” turning the dials so to speak without first confirming with me what they do exactly. I guess you could say my brewery build was not well documented.

     

    A few photos of the Brewery control panel:

    Brewery control panelInside the control panel

     

    I had heard about a Raspberry Pi based brewery controller (http://web.craftbeerpi.com/) and began looking at how I could integrate that into my system. All that CraftBeerPi required was a fresh Rasbian install. So...that is the genesis of my initial hope with the BB-400. As it turns out, I believe I will actually require more of the CM3+ GPIO to be broken out than what the BB-400 allows for.

     

     

    I decided to set the brewery project aside and mount the BB-400 in my “mini-DIN lab” (see the first photo). I do a lot of projects with SSRs, pumps, and solenoids so I thought the out of the box UI may serve very well for such an environment.

    In the future, I still do hope to integrate the BB-400 into my brewery setup and if I do I will certainly try to share the progress and final outcome, but until then I will most likely use the unit to experiment more with Node-RED.

     

    Summary

     

    As I mentioned, I really do like the BB-400 and I think the overall package is reasonably priced considering the demographic. I do however tend to wish products such as this consider that the actual end-user is more than likely going to want the ability to adapt the platform for thier specific use and not use the bundled webUI and management suite. I felt that Brainboxes devoted too much of the product design on their UI and associated management suite. In my opinion it could have been more appealing to end users if more effort was put into documenting and programming tools which would assist in making the BB-400 fit more truly what the user needed in an edge controller.

     

     

    Pros:

    -     excellent integration of an ARM-based linux system (RaspberryPi) and microcontroller (Arduino) with industrial-focused features such as uninteruptable power supply, DIN rail mounting, phoenix connectors, and RS485/MODBUS capabilities

    -     widely adopted and understood development platforms (RPi and Arduino)

    -     well rounded default OS with a very functional webUI

     

    Cons:

    -     while initial "getting started" documentation was very well done, there is a lack of any technical documentation such as CMIO schematics

    -     the DIN casing is a bit too big in my opinion and I wish it were oriented to not stick so much off the rail (in my intended application I hoped to mount it in a 8 inch deep steel panel box but with the enclosures backer plate and any mounted DIN rail the         BB-400 will not fit in the enclosure

    -     no interface for the UPS

     

     

     

    Feature Requests:

    - Portainer integration – I would really like to see something like Portainer integrated into the BB-400 out-of-the-box, I really think that containers are the killer feature for having the CM3+ module integrated here and having a dedicated and widely familiar container management UI could really highlight some of the more networking-focused use cases of a RaspberryPi such as Firewall or DHCP/DNS server.

     

    - More IO – I also think there needs to be at least an option for the end user to utilize more of the 48 GPIO available on the CM3+

     

    - IC2, SPI broken out?

     

    - integrated SSD1306 OLED?

     

    - Some sort of UPS control/monitoring from the WebUI

     

    - integrated relays (even 5V or 12V would be useful)

     

    - dedicated and easily accessible UART – I certainly do understand that in an industrial environment or building control use case, accessible terminal access is not usually desirable but I think requiring the user to power down the unit and remove it from the DIN rail and the casing is perhaps not the best user experience


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