Internet of Things (IoT) is evolving at an alarming rate. There is still more room for exploration in this promising area. But first things first, one needs the best microcontroller for IoT.
IoT is growing fast due to the continued increase in the connection of various devices and systems to the internet. From cars, household gadgets, security systems, and agri systems etc.
A microcontroller unit (MCU) is a tiny, self-reliant computing component that is built on a microchip or single integrated circuit. They are usually designed to perform a single function, unlike a personal computer.
Microcontrollers are ideal for IoT projects due to their simplicity, security, and low cost. To select the ideal microcontroller for you, one needs to consider its tech specs (based on intended application), support (especially online communities), and of course cost.
Best Microcontroller for IoT Prototyping
After hours and hours of research, testing, and analysis, the following are the best microcontrollers for IoT.
If you are either a beginner or an expert and are looking for a multipurpose, stable, and easily programmable developer board, the very best microcontroller for IoT is the Android Uno R3. It has an ATmega328P having 14 digital input/output pins combined with six analog inputs. A Flash memory of 32 KB and 16 MHz crystal oscillator. Arduino has top support including community participation. Manages sensors, actuators, and libraries effortlessly. It is highly affordable. Check its current price on Amazon. Read our full analysis below.
If you are looking for a microcontroller with inbuilt wireless features such sas Bluetooth and WiFi , we recommend the Raspberry Pi 3. This our second best microcontroller for IoT prototyping. It also offers a micro SD storage option. The Pi operates on a Broadcom BCM2837 chip. Its CPU runs at 900MHZ and it has a 64KB SRAM.
IoT Boards Comparison Table
|Arduino Uno R3||16 MHZ||Atmega328||2KB||$$$|
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|Raspberry Pi 3||900 MHZ||Broadcom BCM2837||64KB||$$$$|
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|Adafruit Flora||8 MHZ||Atmega32U4||32KB||$$|
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|Particle Photon||120 MHZ||Broadcom BCM43362||128KB||$$|
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1. Arduino Uno R3 – Best Microcontroller For IoT
Arduino Uno R3 is a highly dynamic, flexible, and easy to program the microcontroller. It benefits from a huge community of contributors both online and offline. You are sure to find almost any information or help when prototyping with it. Trust me, I built a prototype autonomous cleaning robot using this board. However, once I added more sensors and actuators to the bot I had to switch to Arduino Mega 2560.
Arduino Uno Specs
Microchip – Atmega328
Voltage (Operating) – 5V
Input voltage (Recommended) – 7-12V
Input/output pins – 14 (6 PWM pins)
Analog input pins – 6
Clock speed (Crystal oscillator) – 16MHZ
Flash Memory – 32KB
EEPROM – 1KB
Arduino Uno R3 Review
The Arduino Uno R3 is a good board to get you started with your IoT projects. This high-quality board is made in Italy. Be sure to obtain the original since the market is flooded with clones mainly from China.
Arduino Uno R3 is built on Atmega328 chip. It offers 14 digital input/output pins (six of them can be used as Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) outputs suitable for controlling motors precisely). Uno’s crystal oscillator operates at 16 MHZ.
Arduino Uno also comes with an ICSP header, USB connection, a reset button, and a power jack. It has all the features need to support the running of the microcontroller. One just needs to connect it to a PC using a USB cable to get started. The power supplied by the USB is enough to keep it running for easy applications.
You can also power it using an external battery or AC-to-DC adapter. To run more sensors and actuators you might require such shields as a motor shield.
Arduino R3 is different from older boards since it does not make use of FTDI USB-to-serial driver chip. Contrary, it has an Atmega16U2 which is programmed to work as a USB to serial converter.
The Revision 3 (R3) of this Arduino board has the following additional features:
- 0 pinout: extra SCL and SDA pins positioned close to the AREF pin and 2 additional pins located near the RESET pin.
- The RESET circuit has been strengthened.
- The Atmega 8U2 was replaced with the 16U2
It is very easy to program this board through the free to download Internal Development Environment (IDE) provided by Arduino. This is definitely the best microcontroller for IoT related Arduino projects.
With this developer board, you can build useful and cool Arduino projects in IoT
2. Raspberry Pi 3 – In-Built Bluetooth and WiFi
We found this to be the second best microcontroller for IoT. It has an in-built Bluetooth and WiFi which means it’s a standalone and compact computer. Raspberry is suitable for the Internet of Things applications that are wireless.
The Raspberry PI is ideal for non-technical users. We used successfully to configure surveillance cameras and digital media systems with minimal tech knowhow.
Raspberry Pi 3 Specs
SoC: Broadcom BCM2837
CPU: 1.2GHz, 4× ARM Cortex-A53
GPU: Broadcom VideoCore IV
RAM: 1GB LPDDR2 (900 MHz)
Bluetooth: Bluetooth Low Energy, Bluetooth 4.1 Classic
Networking: 10/100 Ethernet, 2.4GHz 802.11n wireless
Ports: HDMI, Ethernet, 3.5mm analog audio-video jack, 4× USB 2.0, Display Serial Interface (DSI), Camera Serial Interface (CSI)
GPIO: 40-pin header, populated
Raspberry Pi 3 Review
It is a very popular microcontroller board for a significant number of hobbyists as well as hackers. Its System on Chip (SOC) is a Broadcom BCM2837 having a 64-bit 1.2 GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 processor. Comes with a 1GB RAM and everything altogether makes it very powerful.
Raspberry Pi operates on a personalized Debian Linux known as Raspbian which offers a great user experience. For IoT developers and hackers it provides a powerful atmosphere to install various packages which include Java, the LAMP stack, Python, Node.js, and others.
It has 4 USB ports and forty GPIO pins which means one can connect numerous accessories and peripherals to the Pi. There exist several 3rd party breakout boards that allow one to connect the Pi to several Arduino shields.
Raspberry Pi 3 open source IoT platform is definitely the 2nd best microcontroller for IoT due to its unique features (such as WIFI and Bluetooth), powerful computing specs, and affordability. You can buy Raspberry Pi 3 on AMAZON.
3. Adafruit Flora V3 – Wearable Microcontroller
AdaFruit is one of the leading firms in the computing boards world. Adafruit applies top-notch technology in developing a tiny yet powerful developer board. Adafruit is one of the complete wearable electronics developer board. This qualified to be the third best microcontroller for IoT.
Adafruit Flora Specs
Microchip – Atmega 32u4
Pins– 8 digital I/O pins (5 -PWM & 3 analogue inputs)
Input Voltage – 3.5v to 9v DC
Size – 1.75″ diameter, 4.4 grams
Sewing tap pads – 14, alligator-clip friendly
Adafruit Flora Review
This is the microcontroller for people who are interested in wearables. It is built in New York City and based on the Arduino microcontroller. As a wearable electronic platform, it is similar to Arduino’s LilyPad.
The size of Flora makes it suitable for embedding in clothes and other apparel. It is round in shape and comes with a conductor thread that is sewable. The thread acts as the wire that connects the board, power source, and other external accessories.
Flora V3 comes with a micro-USB as well as Neopixel LEDs to enable one to program and test it easily. The V3’s pads are alligator clip friendly which allows one to clip it easily.
Adafruit Flora V3 is built on the 32u4 microcontroller which also drives Leonardo and Arduino Mega. It has an inbuilt 2 JST battery connector which is polarized. Flora also has a protection Schottky diode which allows an IoT developer to use external batteries from 3.5v to 9v DC.
Flora vs LilyPad
You might be aware that Adafruit Flora closely resembles Arduino’s LilyPad. However, a closer analysis revealed that Flora offers twice as much flash and SRAM as compared to LilyPad. Nevertheless, LilyPad offers more options for I/O but Flora wins because it does not use an ISP header for programming, Flora is compatible with the USB.
A Flora vs LilyPad showdown also revealed that Flora is smaller than LilyPad by about a quarter-inch which comes in handy when doing wearable IoT projects.
It is compatible with Arduino which allow the majority of the sketches to run without being modified. It is programmable using the Arduino IDE which most people are familiar with.
You can view or buy Adafruit Flora on AMAZON.
4. Particle PHOTON– Offers IoT Cloud Platform
This is a small microcontroller WIFI kit that offers free cloud access. It is plenty easy to learn IoT with it. We found this to be the 4th best microcontroller for IoT. The Particle Photon microcontroller comes in two major models PHOTONH and PHOTONNOH.
Particle Photon Specs
Microchip – Broadcom BCM43362 Wi-Fi chip
Pinnout – 8 digital pins and 5 analog pins
SRAM – 128KB
Wi-Fi – 802.11b/g/n
Flash Memory- 1MB
Ram- 128 KB
Mixed-signal GPIO -18
Processor – STM32F205RGY6 120Mhz ARM Cortex M3
On-board RGB status LED
Real-time operating system (FreeRTOS)
CE, FCC, and IC certified
Soft AP setup
Particle Photon Review
Photon is one of the few IoT cloud platforms and also among the smallest prototyping boards. Particle provides an IoT server. It is built on BCM43362 Wi-Fi microchip which also powers the likes of LiFX , Amazon Dash buttons, and Next.
Photon’s RAM is 128KB and its flash memory is 1MB. We managed to configure it to access it from the internet. This makes the Particle PHOTONH Wi-Fi Kit a good choice to develop connected applications which are very common in IoT development.
Photon microcontroller board has eight digital pins and five analog pins for connecting sensors and actuators.
It is unique in that it also offers official Android and iOS Apps which were created by Particle (company) for a direct control of the pins. It also has a good web-based IDE that allows one to write Arduino-compatible sketches.
One also has the option to buy various shields to interface the Photon with motors, relays, and extensive Arduino Uno R3 ecosystem.
The Particle Photon is without doubt one of best microcontroller for IoT. You can view more reviews or buy it on AMAZON.
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