Today is an exciting day for the balena team as we officially release the balenaFin, our carrier board designed for the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 & 3+! The announcement coincides with the launch of the v1.1 revision, featuring many improvements to the original v1.0 board we and our customers have been working with for the past 9 months. To top it off, we’re making the first 100 v1.1 developer kits publicly available to order today!
We first announced Project Fin in March 2018 and made it available to balenaCloud customers with challenging use cases. We couldn’t be happier at the initial reaction. There are now nearly 1,000 balenaFin boards deployed across a variety of use cases, from smart manufacturing and drone base stations to home automation and digital signage. We’ve been working closely with early balenaFin customers to learn about their deployment environments and understand what we can improve to better suit their needs. Our customers have provided great feedback and inspired many of the design improvements incorporated in this new hardware revision.
What’s new in v1.1
BalenaFin v1.1 incorporates everything we’ve learned since launching v1.0 and all the feedback from our customers who’ve been using the board in production environments. In addition to minor tweaks and incremental improvements, there are a number of new features:
|Dual camera capability||The DSI connector on the balenaFin has dual functionality. It can act as a camera port or as a display port, allowing for stereoscopic camera functionality|
|PoE compatibility (802.3af)||balenaFin is now PoE compatible via a HAT (not included)|
|USB headers||An additional USB port exposed through headers. This can be leveraged by custom balenaFin HATs for extended functionality|
|Single cable flashing||The micro-USB debug port can power the balenaFin for flashing with a single cable, which previously required a full power supply. Note: the debug port can’t be used for powering the device in operation|
|Improved operating temperature range||We’ve extended the temperature range from -20°C to +70°C for use in a wider range of environments.|
|Dimmable RGB indicator LED||The board now includes a dimmable RGB indicator LED.|
|Color-coded GPIO header||The 40-pin GPIO header is now color-coded to assist with prototyping and connection of peripherals.|
|Extra mounting point for the Compute Module||We have improved vibration resistance with the addition of extra mounting points for the Raspberry Pi compute module. (CM3/CM3+).|
|Unique ID||Each unit now has a uniquely identifiable data matrix printed on the board.|
When we started shipping balenaFin, we guaranteed availability for 5 years. Since v1.1 is fully backwards compatible, we’re proud to say that this hardware revision extends availability for v1.0 compatible boards to at least 2024.
Our mission at balena is to unlock the potential of physical computing by removing the friction faced by fleet owners when developing, deploying, managing, and updating fleets of connected devices. As we’ve worked to cut obstacles to scaling, it’s become obvious that hardware is an issue for a lot of fleet owners. Our users often get stuck between two non-ideal options: either go with the Raspberry Pi, which is incredibly successful and developer-friendly but not necessarily intended for commercial and industrial applications; or try their hand with a “serious” industrial board, which comes with its own set of problems, and is often more expensive and difficult to use.
This why we started Project Fin, which has evolved into the board now known as balenaFin. It’s a carrier board for the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 and 3+ (CM3/3+) Lite, which means balenaFin can run all of the software that the Raspberry Pi can run, whilst being hardened for field deployment and adding some of the features we’ve seen our users needing the most.
The balenaFin includes 8/16/32/64 GB of on-board eMMC depending on the model, has dual-band connectivity for both 2.4 and 5GHz WiFi networks, can be connected to an external antenna for WiFi and Bluetooth, and can accept a wide range of DC power input via either the barrel jack or 2-position phoenix connector.
There are two additional features that will solve problems for many fleet owners:
- The on-board coprocessor, which is a microcontroller that has its own Bluetooth radio and can operate without the CM3/3+ being powered on. This enables balenaFin to perform well in real-time and low-power scenarios. The CM3/3+, along with its interfaces, can be programmatically shut down, powered off and powered back up again via the microcontroller. The microcontroller also has access to the real-time-clock (RTC) chip even when the CM3 is off, allowing for time-based operations. Inputs and outputs of the coprocessor, along with I2C and SPI, are brought out to their own header.
- The mini PCI-express slot (mPCIe), which can be used to connect peripherals such as cellular modems and LoRa modules. Complimenting the mPCIe slot, balenaFin also has a SIM card slot to make adding a modem even easier.
Alongside these added features, balenaFin has all the ports you’re used to on the Raspberry Pi 3/3+: a HAT connector (compatible with Pi 3/3+ pinout), an HDMI port, 2x USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet jack and PoE header pins. The only thing we’ve left out is the 3.5mm audio output jack.
On the accessories front, we are continuing to offer our modular DIN-rail case, designed to protect the Fin and, if required, mount seamlessly on a standard DIN-35 rail. The case has openings for ethernet, USB, power and options for mounting an external antenna. We also offer an addition to the modular case that presents a 15-position phoenix connector, allowing you to bring a selection of GPIOs or other connectivity out for connection to external peripherals. The case is available on our store today.
We have updated the balenaFin datasheet to include the full specification for v1.1. You can always find the latest revisions of all our balenaFin datasheets on GitHub.
The first 100 v1.1 developer kits are available to order now and will ship by the end of February. BalenaFin v1.0 will continue to be available for immediate shipping, and we have good stock of the 8GB variant.
Early adopters of v1.1 will receive one of 100 8GB balenaFin boards with green PCBs in their developer kits, as it’s faster for us to make the green boards, and we wanted to get them into your hands as quickly as possible. Future batches will return to the classic balenaFin black. Along the same lines, in order to allow as many people as possible to test out the new v1.1 boards, we’re limiting the first batch of 100 to one kit per customer.
But don’t fret: we’ll be assembling thousands more balenaFin v1.1 over the coming weeks and expect them to be available at scale in late March, with the full range of storage options from 8 to 64GB becoming available.
As an extra bonus for those ordering our new v1.1 developer kits, we’re pleased to say they will be shipping with the recently released Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3+ Lite! These are still new and relatively hard to find, but we’ve worked hard to secure enough for our customers to use with the first 100 balenaFin v1.1. We’ll continue to work with distributors to source as many as we can going forward until the supply chain is fully up and running.
As always, please reach out with any questions, and do let us know what you think of the new balenaFin v1.1. And if you are planning to use balenaFin at scale or would like to get in touch with us to discuss your project, feel free to drop us a line: [email protected] or meet us in our forums.