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Raspberry Pi based computer offers Real-Time Ethernet

Mar 28, 2017 — by Eric Brown — 5,916 views
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Hilscher is prepping a “netPI” computer that merges the features of a Raspberry Pi 3 with those of its “netHAT 52-RTE” dual Real-Time Ethernet RPi HAT.

German Real-Time Ethernet experts Hilscher will soon launch a Raspberry Pi 3-based industrial computer with Real-Time Ethernet support. Hilscher has yet to formally announce the ruggedized netPI computer, but the board was demonstrated at the recent Embedded World show, and was revealed in a Mar. 27 Element14 Community blog by Shabaz. The system can be used as a Real-Time Ethernet gateway or controller, and it supports add-ons such as sensors or actuators to enable additional applications, writes Shabaz.



Hilscher netPI
(click image to enlarge; source: Element14)


Hilscher netX 52

The netPI PCB essentially mates the features of a Raspberry Pi 3 with the guts of Hilscher’s netHAT 52-RTE HAT add-on board. The latter adds a pair of Real-Time Ethernet ports controlled by Hilscher’s custom netX 52 controller chip for fieldbus and Real-Time Ethernet communications. Both the HAT module and the full netPI computer support Real-Time Ethernet protocols like PROFINET, EtherNet/IP, and EtherCAT.

The already shipping netHAT 52-RTE HAT board (shown below) connects to a standard Raspberry Pi 3, 2, or Zero via an SPI interface, leaving the 40-pin expansion connector free for users to add Raspberry Pi HATs and other add-on boards. The netHAT 52-RTE is not available in the U.S., but can be purchased in Europe and the UK. In the UK it sells at Amazon.com for 35 Pounds ($44).



netX 52 SoC block diagram (left) and netHAT 52-RTE RPi add-on card
(click images to enlarge)

“This product allows for possibly the cheapest way for anyone to experience Real-Time Ethernet,” writes Shabaz, speaking of the netHAT 52-RTE HAT board. “It would even be possible to use several Pi’s and build up a controller and nodes and simulate a factory basically.”


NetPI exposed view
(click image to enlarge)
Source: Element14

The upcoming netPI system is not yet priced. The device enables the Raspberry Pi 3’s WiFi, Bluetooth, HDMI port, and four USB ports. The Pi’s 10/100 Ethernet port is exposed in addition to the dual Real-Time Ethernet ports.

Expansion for GPIO and serial bus signals such as I2C and SPI is enabled via a mini-PCIe interface, and there’s an open bay for inserting mini-PCIe expansion modules with ports exposed on the side of the box. The system also supports internal RPi expansion boards via the 40-pin connector.



NetPi detail view
(click image to enlarge)
Source: Element14

Hilscher will open up the mini-PCIe expansion interface to enable the design of third party custom hardware, says Shabaz. Possibilities are said to include more Ethernet ports, sensor modules, control circuitry, or a module that supports thermocouple probes.

The netPI is further equipped with an external antenna, a real-time clock, and a wide-range power supply with a dedicated power jack. No details were provided regarding the claims for ruggedization.



NetPi top view (left) and Linux stack architecture
(click images to enlarge)
Source: Element14

Since Real-Time Ethernet requires a real-time Linux kernel, Hilscher implemented one that shares duty with regular old Raspbian via Docker’s container technology. The Yocto Project based real-time kernel is completely separated from the higher-level container applications, which include Raspbian, Node-RED, Real-Time Ethernet drivers, and any user application you want to add.

As a result, you can safely run any Raspbian application without interfering with real-time processes, and the container technology “allows for safe upgrades because one can always fall back to an earlier container if a new one has any issues,” writes Shabaz. The container technology also supports remote upgrades.

 
Further information

No pricing or availability information was provided for Hilscher’s netPI, which is expected to ship “soon,” according to Shabaz. More information may be found in his Element14 Community blog entry, which includes a video of the Embedded World demo. More information should eventually appear on Hilscher’s website.
 

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PLEASE COMMENT BELOW

2 responses to “Raspberry Pi based computer offers Real-Time Ethernet”

  1. Bonzadog says:

    I have often wondered if the RPi’s are really suitable for industrial applications. They have EMI tests but I do not know whether that is enough. The power supply must be revamped to filter noise.

    Anyone got any factual information and real industrial applications?

    • Max says:

      AFAIK Raspberry Pi as board itself (in contrast to Raspberry Pi compute module line) is for development purposes not for commercial. ModBerry devices for example are industrial controllers dedicated to monitoring industrial processes based on raspberry compute module 3.

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