A New Arm-Based Carrier Board Nods to a Shift Toward Off-the-Shelf Hardware

March 19, 2020 by Sophia Valente

Arm processors are dominated by proprietary design. But a new adaptable 3.5-inch carrier board highlights the virtues of commercial-off-the-shelf systems.

Recently, German technology company congatec announced the expansion of their commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies. congatec now offers a standardized carrier board that can be adapted without additional hardware development. 

Before dipping into the details of the new carrier board, let's first take a brief look at congatec as a company.


Who Is congatec?

Reporting $133 million in sales in 2018, congatec describes itself as “the global market leader in the computer-on-modules segment.” The company, headquartered in Dusseldorf, Germany with its US subsidiary in San Diego, develops computer-on-modules and solutions for applications in industrial automation, medical technology, transportation, and telecommunication.  

In regards to industrial automation, congatec's embedded boards and modules are designed to satisfy the challenges that Industry 4.0 and industrial IoT put on computer system design, including edge server and IIoT gateways. congatec explains that they address these challenges by applying embedded computing standards and keeping an eye on vast scalability.

By combining embedded vision and embedded computing technologies, congatec’s self-described adaptable technologies may be of use in applications such as collaborative robots and autonomous robotic vehicles. 


The New Carrier Board

In the press release, congatec expressed pride in their 3.5-inch single-board computer released earlier this year before announcing the new carrier board. 



The conga-SMC1 3.5-inch board. Image used courtesy of congatec


The new model contains a socket for Arm-based SMARC modules. The solution platform is compatible with congatec’s entire NXP i.MX8 processor series module portfolio and includes 12 distinctive processor configurations.


Highlights of the Platform

The noteworthy highlights of the new platform are rooted in integration and adaptivity. The SMARC connector allows designers to scale processor performance and adapt to the various requirements associated with different applications.

The new conga-SMC1 3.5-inch board is developed to integrate MIPI cameras directly—without additional hardware. Two MIPI-CSI 2.0 connectors allow for three-dimensional vision. This is an increasingly useful tool to develop autonomous vehicles since it permits situational awareness.


A Shift to Off-the-Shelf

Keep in mind that the Arm processor sector is dominated by proprietary design. In this light, the adaptable 3.5-inch carrier board indicates a shift toward commercial-off-the-shelf boards and systems. According to a press release from congatec, equipment manufacturers can implement the carrier boards "in their system solutions without any hardware development effort, using the large ecosystems of standard form factors.”

Not only are the carrier boards’ I/O’s optimized for usability with the entirety of congatec’s NXP i.MX8 module portfolio but they are also customizable and conducive to small and medium-sized projects.



A close-up image of the carrier board. Image used courtesy of congatec

Engineers and developers could use the module’s processor-integrated support for artificial intelligence and neural networks to optimize smart vision systems. The new commercial-off-the-shelf offering is fortified with comprehensive software support with precompiled binaries.

The product aims to fill a market need in Arm product design. Martin Danzer, Director Product Management at congatec, elaborated on this in a press statement, stating “Our new modular 3.5-inch carrier board makes Arm designs also increasingly attractive for small industrial lot sizes, which until now have been dominated by x86 technology due to a lack of suitable Arm products.”



What's your experience with modular carrier boards? In what ways do they simplify the design process? What are the trade-offs? Share your thoughts in the comments below.