Sfera Labs Unveils First Programmable I/O Module Based on Raspberry Pi’s MCU

October 04, 2021 by Jake Hertz

With this release, the usability of Raspberry Pi may now be accessible to the industrial market.

While beginning as a hobbyist/maker resource, the Raspberry Pi project has grown to be a staple in the industry for prototyping, development, and even full-fledged designs. Earlier this year, Raspberry Pi released its first-ever in-house silicon MCU, the RP2040

Sfera Labs, an Italian-based company with a long history of modular design based on Raspberry Pi platforms, has taken notice of the RP2040 for industrial automation and control. Today Sfera Labs is announcing Iono RP, its new industrial I/O module—and the first in the industry to be built around the RP2040. 



The Iono industrial I/O module. Image used courtesy of Sfera Labs

All About Circuits interviewed Alderico Arcidiaco and Maria Chizzali, CEO and COO of Sfera Labs respectively, to hear about the new module firsthand. 


Tapping Into the Open Raspberry Pi Environment

Of all the MCUs on the market, why did Sfera Labs tap Raspberry Pi’s RP2040 for Iono? RP2040 is the Raspberry Pi's first in-house silicon, marking a significant development in the maker world.


Block diagram of the RP2040

Block diagram of the RP2040. Image used courtesy of Raspberry Pi

The RP2040 was built to offer high performance at a low cost. To this end, the chip was designed around dual Arm Cortex-M0+ processor cores. The chip reaches frequencies up to 133 MHz, integrates 264 kB of on-chip SRAM in six independent banks, includes a 12-bit ADC, and supports up to 16MB of external memory. The chip, meant to support the Raspberry Pi environment, is compatible with C/C++, MicroPython, and even the Arduino IDE. 

Arcidiaco explains that Sfera Labs choice to use the RP2040 goes beyond the hardware; instead, the decision was largely inspired by the resources provided by Raspberry Pi.

"The RP2040 was introduced in January of 2021 and was an entirely new MCU. In eight months, we already have a product that is in production and ready to ship," he explains. "The praise for this really goes to Raspberry Pi for the effort they put into delivering an MCU not only as a piece of silicon, but for providing all the firmware, development tools, infrastructure, and knowledge base that is really crucial to develop something and create products." 

Chizzali claims that the Raspberry Pi development environment also improves security and reliability. "If you have a proprietary product and you want to change something, all you can do is wait for the next release and hope that the manufacturer will go in the direction you want," she says. "In an open environment, however, changes and upgrades are developed in the community by millions of members." 


Iono RP: The First Industrial I/O Module Built on RP2040

Today, Sfera Labs is releasing its new Iono RP, the industry’s first industrial I/O module based on the RP2040. 


The Iono RP is built around the RP2040

The Iono RP is built around the RP2040. Image used courtesy of Sfera Labs

The new module from Sfera Labs is a relatively standard I/O module that is, as Arcidiaco says, "useful for automation, control, and sensor interfaces in different environments.” 

Operating with a 12 to 24 V power supply, Iono offers users four power relay outputs, four multi-mode (digital or analog) inputs, two dedicated digital inputs, one analog output, and 16 MB of embedded memory.

The device includes three optional hardware features: a real-time clock (including an onboard lithium/manganese dioxide backup battery), a secure element chip, and an earthquake sensor module.

In terms of communication, the module utilizes a standard RS-485 interface to the RP2040 serial lines and also integrates a convenient USB programming/debugging port. Thanks to the RP2040, Sfera Labs has been able to open doors for "rich applications on something that is apparently just a simple I/O module." 

The real selling point of Iono, however, is the programmability and usability that comes with leveraging a Raspberry Pi product. Arcidiaco explains, "Our customers can leverage the knowledge and familiarity they have with the Raspberry Pi."


Blending Hobby and Industry 

Commonly associated with hobbyist/maker projects, Raspberry Pi is taking strides into the “professional industry” with its new RP2040. Designers can access the open-source firmware libraries created for the Iono RP on Github. 

Sfera Labs has leveraged Raspberry Pi’s new silicon for a new industrial application—a testament to the weight and strength of Raspberry Pi’s community and the maker community as a whole.