The New Arduino Portenta

Designed for industry, and the Internet of Things.

Alasdair Allan
9 months agoInternet of Things
The Arduino Portenta H7 module. (📷: Arduino)

Announced today at CES is the Arduino Portenta H7 module. Despite visual similarities to their other MKR form factor boards, and putting aside the lack of classic Arduino blue color, this new board isn’t really like other Arduinos. Designed for industry, not makers, the new Portenta is rather different.

The first Arduino boards were arrived back in what seems almost like pre-history now, all the way back in 2005, but it wasn’t until the introduction of the Arduino Uno, which didn’t come along until 2010, that the boards really become one of the pillars of the maker movement.

However, a lot has changed over the course of the last decade. Distracted as they were by their legal troubles, many would argue that Arduino lost track of the things that made them successful.

The plummeting price of hardware, which led to the capable computing movement, computing that is “good enough,” as well as the arrival of boards running MicroPython and JavaScript, changed the hardware landscape rather profoundly, and Arduino didn’t seem to adapt. Or at least, not quickly enough.

But over the last year (or two) things have started changing a lot more quickly. While the classic Arduino form factor may be iconic, it is also dying. The ‘legacy’ Uno form factor is still around, and it’s likely to stick around for more than a few more years yet, but increasingly newer boards from Arduino use the more modern MKR form factor, while the return of the Arduino Nano has allowed the company to remain competative at the cheaper end of the market.

Other changes have been a bit more subtle than new hardware, but in a way, far more significant, and may be indicating a change of direction for the entire company.

It’s arguable that the original Arduino Development Environment was one of the things that, a decade ago, drove the success of the Arduino. However these days, it is showing its age. So perhaps the biggest amongst the indicators was the arrival of the Arduino Pro Development Environment, announced at the tail end of last year at Maker Faire Rome. A step down a path by Arduino towards support for small manufacturers rather than its core maker audience.

The Arduino team has also made “…a range of Arduino reference design assets, from validated component symbols and footprints to schematic and layout templates” available in Altium Designer to shorten times between prototyping and production.

The new Portenta module is the first product in what will be a new family of boards. It is built around an STMicroelectronics STM32H747 with a dual-core Arm Cortex-M7 and a Cortex-M4 on chip, running at 480MHz and 240MHz, respectively. Designed and rated for industrial applications, it can operate in temperatures between -40° and 85°C.

Though the Portenta H7 module is capable of running Arduino code natively, there is also support to run Arduino code on top of the Arm Mbed OS open source IoT operating system, to provide “enterprise grade” features while still retaining the familiar Arduino development environment.

Yet, in what is a a big departure for Arduino, the Portenta H7 module can also run Python and JavaScript code out of the box, making it much more accessible to a broader range of developers that have grown up with those languages rather than C.

The new Portenta H7 will be made generally available next month, although it is available in limited quantities now for beta customers — initially it is being targeted towards enterprise and SMB customers — and if you happen to be at CES this week the Arduino team is in town showing off the hardware here in Las Vegas.

Alasdair Allan
Scientist, author, hacker, maker, and journalist. Building, breaking, and writing. For hire. You can reach me at 📫 alasdair@babilim.co.uk.
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