Raspberry Pi IoT: Is This Tiny Computer Ready for Industrial Applications?

What is a Raspberry Pi? | Raspberry Pi by the Numbers | Raspberry Pi IoT Projects in Industry: Why? | Examples of Commercial Raspberry Pi IoT Projects

If you head to raspberrypi.org, the website for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, you may be under the impression that the Raspberry Pi is a hobbyist device or educational tool.

Raspberry Pi 4 Model B
Raspberry Pi 4 Model B – Image via Wikipedia

In fact, commercial users make up around 50% of end customers who are purchasing the devices.

However, the launch of the latest model, the Raspberry Pi 4, featuring 4GB of RAM and support for low-speed serial interfaces like UARTs, SPI, and I2C, has shown that these credit-card-sized computers are primed and ready for more industrial and business-focused applications.

Commercial users make up about 50% of end customers purchasing Raspberry Pis.

But what are companies doing with these Pis? Are they ready to be deployed at a large scale or are the projects mainly pilots? Are Raspberry Pi IoT projects really ready for industrial applications?

In short, we here at Temboo think so. That’s why we chose the Raspberry Pi as the first gateway supported on our Kosmos IoT Platform.

We’ve worked on smart building projects, Industry 4.0 factory upgrades, and many other sensor data collection applications that all used Raspberry Pis as the main gateway device.

But don’t just take it from us! In this post, I’ll go over a brief history of the Raspberry Pi, the benefits of using a Pi in a commercial environment, and finish with a bunch of example use cases of Raspberry Pi commercial applications.

Raspberry Pi & Kosmos

Interested in trying out the Raspberry Pi for your Industrial IoT Project? Check out our illustrated guide for setting up your Pi with our Kosmos IoT System (for free!)

What is a Raspberry Pi?

The Raspberry Pi is a small, stripped down computer that can be used to do many of the simple tasks that you would be able to do on a computer.

You can browse the internet on it, play games, and even play HD videos (although you’ll need to get a monitor for that).

There are currently 9 different models available of the Pi available, the most expensive costing $55 and the cheapest setting you back a whopping $5.

The models vary based on the type of SoC, speed, RAM, number of USB ports, and support for ethernet, wireless, and Bluetooth.

If you are interested in comparing the different versions, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has a helpful chart here that compares each version.

Raspberry Pi by the Numbers

Raspberry Pi logo

Raspberry Pi launched in 2012 and since then has become the 3rd best selling computer brand in the world.

Raspberry Pi is the 3rd best-selling computer brand in the world.

As of the end of 2018, there were 22 million Pis sold around the world with 5 million of those sold in 2018 alone.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation, the charity that developed the product, is based in the UK with the goal of promoting the teaching of computer science in schools and in developing countries.

Since then they’ve launched code clubs, online projects, and magazines that reach millions of people around the world. There’s even a dedicated Raspberry Pi retail store in Cambridge, UK!

It’s now known as more than just a tool for helping young students learn computer science and coding. Instead, it has become a tool for projects in commercial industries that range from hydrogen refueling stations to family-run bakeries in the Bronx.

So why are so many people using this tiny computer in their businesses?

Raspberry Pi in Industry: Why?

There are many reasons why the Raspberry Pi makes sense to use in a business environment.

First off, the cost is minimal. Depending on the model needed for your application, it can cost you as little as $5 with the most expensive version clocking in at $55. The fact that the Pi is so low cost means that starting a pilot project can be less risky for companies who are looking to implement a new technology into their workflow.

This is especially true in industrial environments, where new equipment can cost thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of dollars. Combining a Pi with other off-the-shelf sensors can make getting an Industrial IoT project off the ground a much easier task, especially since obtaining a return on investment is much easier with a $35 device versus a $100,000 piece of equipment.

a pile of raspberry pi boards

Another advantage is the availability of the devices. Pis are sold on the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s website as well as a slew of other resellers that operate all over the world like Mouser, Arrow, and even Target. Getting your hands on one is fairly easy in most places around the world which means there’s not a lengthy sales or shipping process needed to obtain one.

Finally, the Raspberry Pi has a massive community with tons of documentation, tutorials, developer tools, and forums all accessible at the click of a button. These resources are crucial for helping guide you when you are stuck or encounter a problem with your implementation.

Examples of Industrial IoT Applications Using Raspberry Pi

To paint a picture of just how diverse Raspberry Pi IoT Applications in Industry are, I’ve outlined a few examples of deployments that we’ve worked on at Temboo as well as other examples from around the web. I was also able to interview a company that worked on a Raspberry Pi IoT application in an industrial setting on his thoughts about the project.

Raspberry Pi Has Never Tasted So Sweet

A black-and-white cookie from Zaro's

If you’ve ever been to Grand Central or Penn Station in NYC, you’ve been nearby a Zaro’s bakery. Famous for their delicious black-and-white cookies and mouth-watering rugelach, Zaro’s has been delivering baked goods to locals in the Tri-State area since 1927.

Recently, they encountered a major issue in their freezers, causing them to lose thousands of dollars in product and putting them out of commission for a full day.

Obviously, something needed to be done to make sure this situation never occurred again.

We worked with Zaro’s to set up a commercial freezer monitoring IoT application using a Raspberry Pi, our Kosmos IoT System, and industrial wireless sensors from NCD so that they could get alerts in case the temperature rose above normal thresholds.

As a bonus, they were able to simplify their compliance by automatically importing temperature readings into a spreadsheet, saving employees time on manually taking the temperature of the freezer throughout the day.

How sweet is that?

Unencumbered Cucumber Sorting

If you are familiar with Google’s TensorFlow machine learning library, you probably have heard of Makoto Koike’s cucumber sorting application. It’s one of the examples of a use case of the library that Google likes to cite when sharing examples of TensorFlow use in real-world applications.

For the uninitiated – the project used machine learning to sort thorny cucumbers at a Japanese farm saving the farmers eight to nine hours of work every day. The cucumbers were graded so that they could be sold by price based on which ones were the straightest, most colorful, etc.

Makoto used a Raspberry Pi 3 as the controller for the camera that was taking photos of the cucumbers and also ran a neural network on TensorFlow for image recognition. The Pi then forwarded the image to a server for more detailed classification.

A Raspberry Pi Grows in Brooklyn?

As a New York City-based company, Temboo is passionate about helping to improve our local neighborhoods and communities.

We do this through various efforts: participation in The Grid (a community of organizations in NYC focused on developing urban tech), our work with local educational organizations, our NY State Certified PDH course for engineering hours, and more.

In fact, right now we’re in the process of developing a project with a local nonprofit who is gathering data on rainwater absorption in tree beds in the neighborhood.

During heavy rains in this particular neighborhood, the sewer systems frequently overflow sending sewage into a body of water located in the community. (Yuck!)

One way to combat this is by planting trees to absorb some of that rainwater so that it doesn’t flood the sewer systems.

Stormwater management illustration

Our project is actually measuring which types of trees serve this purpose best, and allow the nonprofit to collect enough data to receive more grants for trees in the area.

We’re doing this by implementing NCD soil moisture sensors that send soil moisture data to a Raspberry Pi gateway device hosted by a local volunteer. The Raspberry Pi then sends the data to our Kosmos IoT platform where the nonprofit can view trends, get predictions, and export the data in any format that they need.

Sometimes making a big difference, can start on a small scale – just like the Raspberry Pi itself!

Over the Air and Through the Raspberry Pi…

radio tower

Founder and CEO of remote.it, Ryo Koyama, needed a secure gateway for a project he worked on with a national provider of telecom and connectivity solutions. He decided to go with the Pi because of its low cost and easy customization.

Koyama says they used the Pi, “…to remotely provision and update equipment without compromising the security of their firewalls. They used the Pi as a secure gateway across a firewall to the customer premise hardware at 1500 locations and growing.”

He also described the setup to me: “The customer VOIP equipment is connected to a Pi enabled with encrypted tunneling and with port forwarding and SSH shut down to prevent attacks from hackers. Our client encrypted tunneling to provision and update the customer hardware quickly and reduce physical visits.”

The project was a success thanks in part to the ability to log in and connect to the VOIP equipment remotely. They were able to reduce on-site visits to customer locations, saving time and money in the process.

The Story of the Raspberry Pi Who Lived in a Warehouse

Online bookshop Wordery offers many titles about the Raspberry Pi to readers all over the world. But when it comes to factory automation, they’re doing more than just reading about the Pi, they’re implementing it!

Workers in a warehouse

The team at the Wordery wanted to improve their productivity and customer service, especially around automation in sorting and distribution operations. They liked the Pi for its small size and the fact that it doesn’t take up a lot of power.

According to a post from Raspberry Pi, the project was a success – so much so that Wordery has installed 40 Pi-based terminals in their warehouse. These changes have allowed the company to increase their packing productivity by 30% and process 11% more volume through their warehouse than the previous year.

Sounds like the Wordery had a fairy-tale ending to this Raspberry Pi IoT project!

A Raspberry Pi IoT Solution for Everyone

Kosmos IoT dashboard on ipad

If you have a Raspberry Pi already, you can get started with our Kosmos IoT System right now! We are offering a free trial for anyone looking to test out the product which you can sign up for here.

We designed Kosmos with you, the people using the product, in mind which means that you can quickly setup and deploy applications on your Raspberry Pi IoT gateway – no coding required.

Feel free to reach out to us at hey@temboo.com for more information on Kosmos or for help on getting your project started.