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Meet ROCK, a Customisable Range of Single Board Computers Formed With Superior Hardware, as Standard

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Battling availability shortages of semiconductors, OKdo is introducing an exciting addition to their range of single-board computers, the ROCK series – a robust, customisable, high-performing range of single-board computers (SBC). Richard Curtin, the co-founder and CTO of OKdo, talks about the latest solutions introduced by OKdo, aimed to tackle supply chain constraints and drive SBC design innovations – the ROCK boards. 

Let’s dive into this exciting interview with Richard Curtin, the co-founder and the Chief Technology Officer of OKdo, to discover OKdo’s new class-leading range of single-board computers, ROCK, and the excellent solution OKdo has launched to facilitate the design and development of next-generation technology – SBC customisation. 

Portrait photo of Richard Curtin
Richard Curtin, the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at OKdo 

Why ROCK? Let’s meet the new single-board computer, solid as a ROCK! 

So, what is ROCK? It’s a range of reliable and low-power single-board computers developed in collaboration between OKdo and Radxa. It offers class-leading capabilities, hardware and performance in a similar form factor as other popular SBC boards.  

ROCK 4 SE product GIF image

ROCK series are versatile boards formed with high-performing hardware, as standard. What’s more, the ROCK boards can be fully customised and configured just the way you want it because it’s your board, in your way. This brings huge financial and environmental benefits during current supply chain challenges, allowing professional design engineers to leverage cutting-edge technology for developing high-volume end products. 

It offers professionals, industrial OEMs, IoT enthusiasts, hobbyists, PC DIY enthusiasts and makers a reliable and capable platform for bringing their ideas and projects to life, supporting the most extraordinary next-generation technology applications. 

Rockchip – a powerful processor at the heart of ROCK 

The ROCK boards are designed around processors provided by Rockchip, a fabless semiconductor company based in China. Although Rockchip have sales of billions of dollars in China or the APAC region, they have a very modest market share position in Europe and North America. Nevertheless, they’ve gained an outstanding reputation outside of Asia and continue to grow and expand globally.  

What’s great about using the publicly available processors from Rockchip is that they offer detailed product information, such as comprehensive datasheets. If you are a professional user and you’d like to internalize the technology, the bill of materials (BOM) used by Rockchip is openly available in the market. 

One of the greatest advantages of Rockchip is the diversified model they use to produce their wafers in fabs. Considering the supply chain constraints that Taiwan Semiconductors have had lately, there is a significant risk of stock shortages when the production of semiconductors is solely located in Asia or in one wafer fab. 

Rockchip, on the other hand, use several different fabs to produce their wafers, meaning that they have been able to ride the supply chain storm better than some other semiconductor companies. This was one of the main attraction points when we initiated the design, manufacture and distribution partnership with Radxa, a Rockchip design partner, to solve our customers’ problems. 

Rockchip

ROCK products are designed by a talented engineering team from Radxa in China. They’ve approached their engineering by considering how they can provide everybody, from education and makers to industrial customers, with scalable, robust platforms using next-generation technology. It has been another key differentiator that laid the foundation of our partnership with Radxa and Rock Chip. 

We are also expanding our semiconductor design strategy with some of the largest semiconductor suppliers in the world. 

What ROCK products is OKdo bringing to the market? 

Discover the ROCK 4 SE

OKdo ROCK 4 SE product image

Nowadays, customers who have been designing using single-board computers have been impacted by severe supply chain constraints that caused projects to stagnate. To help resolve the SBC availability issue, we’re excited to partner with Radxa and bring to market a robust roadmap of ROCK products.

At first, we’re introducing the special edition board, the ROCK 4 SE, and the ROCK 4C Plus, which meet most of the design and cost requirements previously satisfied by other SBC brands.

compatible with ROCK single-board computers that will play an essential part in the customer journey, offering additional capabilities and flexibility. 

N.B. What is a SoM? A system on a module (SOM) is a board-level circuit that integrates a system function in a single module. It may integrate digital and analog functions on a single board. A typical application is in the area of embedded systems. Unlike a single-board computer, a SOM serves a special function like a system on a chip (SoC). 

ROCK compute modules – the perfect solution to bypass customisation  

Customers may be able to satisfy their design needs with off-the-shelf single board computers, such as the ROCK 4 SE and the ROCK 4C Plus. However, the customer can sometimes bypass the customisation journey using a compute module, what we also call a SoM. We at OKdo can then help them with the distribution, the logistics and the supply chain to meet specific requirements. 

Our global application engineering team will be able to advise if one of the available compute modules would be better suited for the requirements of their end application or would help reduce costs or improve the time to market.  

Still, if it doesn’t, and they have more technical requirements around customisation, our customers can visit OKdo’s website, complete an enquiry form and get in touch with our sales and applications engineering team to discuss personalisation in detail. 

Why is ROCK the perfect single-board computer for your next design application? 

  1. Designed with world-class hardware, providing advanced functionality and performance. 
  1. Developed to benefit from a wide range of existing accessories available on the market, assisting developers to discover new products during this time of constrained supply while also pushing the limits of what’s possible. 
  1. Supported by a System on Module (SoM) & carrier board strategy. Compute modules (also called SoMs) have industry-leading expansion options beyond anything else in the market today while still retaining backwards compatibility with existing OEM products that have hit production stops due to chip shortages. And carrier boards enable developers to quickly make use of the never seen before features.  

Whereas not a single product can solve every single problem, we at OKdo will continue to build the broadest SBC range in the world to be able to offer each and every customer what they need to be successful. 

How customising your single board computer can boost your project?  

Historically, engineers and designers used development boards/evaluation boards to evaluate the silicon before integrating them into their bespoke design, the performance of the microprocessor, its power consumption, and how it interacts with other software stacks. But, this has changed quite dramatically in the last ten years.  

Now, single-board computers are increasingly becoming an integral part of end applications due to their form factor, cost, excellent connectivity, I/O interfaces, and the most up-to-date processing power. 

Aggregating the compute and I/O elements to a single product that is manufactured by us represents a massive resource-saving when it comes to these times of supply constraints. By aggregating the volumes, we, together with our global manufacturing partners, are able to leverage the combined power of the SBC users vs. single smaller customers who only source for their individual boards. 

Here at OKdo, being able to offer our design customers a customisation service is really important to us. We know that engineers using SBCs and modules as part of their final design face several obstacles they need to overcome, and we are ready to help them solve these problems. 

For example, customisation allows engineers to change how SBCs connect to their end applications, change the form factor of the SBC to better meet the need of those end applications, remove or add functionality that will enhance their design performance and ultimately, the end product. Therefore, customisation is so important for us, and we’re pleased to offer it to our customers. 

Customisation with OKdo starts with the problem that the customer is trying to solve – either the platform that they’ve got right now doesn’t quite meet their needs, or they need to make fundamental changes. Still, they see customisation as a path of least resistance because the circuit and the platform already work. So, if they can make some adjustments to that and add it into their final design, that might overcome problems linked to design delays, supply chain and cost, both financially and ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance).  

Who can benefit from OKdo’s customisation service? 

We will customise a board based on the volume demand. Unfortunately, today OKdo can’t customise a board for home use, for a maker, like myself, or somebody who is doing a project on a small scale. However, we’re constantly watching the market and listening to our customers’ needs, therefore in future, we may consider building derivative boards to satisfy the growing demand. 

We’re focussing on bringing the customisation service to industrial professional design engineers, who have an application that is produced on a large scale of thousands of units. This makes customisation much more viable. 

What elements of an SBC can be customised? 

The advantage of customisation is that it’s flexible, and the single-board computer can be tailored to a customer’s specific requirements.  

For example, a customer may use ROCK 4 C Plus but doesn’t need the Ethernet connector. Removing the Ethernet connector from the board will only slightly reduce the cost over 500 units, but it will help the customer to solve the problem of space or efficiency. 

Some connectors (Ethernet being one of them) imply other hidden costs too. The controller chip can also be removed along with its clocks and supporting components. Then just imagine how heavy 500 metal Ethernet RJ45 plugs weigh and the loss supported in terms of baggage charge on a plane or the CO2 footprint of shipping if the excess is not going to be used for the intended application. 

Another example is where a customer may not need any of the connecting interfaces on the board, any of the USBs or the Ethernet connector; the only thing they want is the power supply. They might also say they need to increase the board’s memory. For example, ROCK 4C Plus is currently available with 4GB RAM, but the customer may need 8GB memory to run dual displays or develop other applications.  

Our customisation service allows us to do that for them, but that would be quite a complex design service. To accommodate that, there are a few steps that need to happen. 

Firstly, we will test the board again for compliance because we’ve changed it significantly. Secondly, a design service cost would be applied, a cost called non-refundable engineering (NRE). In addition, we would give a price for the new board with the NRE as a separate cost or amortised into the build of each unit. 

For example, if a customer needs 5000 boards, and the NRE would be £5000; we might propose adding £1.00 to each board we deliver to amortise the engineering cost into the final board’s cost, which some customers will prefer. 

How does customisation impact production costs and the time to market? 

It really depends. Here at OKdo, we’re trying to solve a customer’s problem, give them access to the latest technology and the latest content, including product datasheets and offer a solution that is available with a reliable supply chain, reduced cost and reduced time to market. These are some of the most common problems customers face daily in this current market. 

OKdo will be working closely with our customers to identify what we can do to ensure that we don’t increase costs unnecessarily, that we don’t increase time to market, and that we’re acting with due diligence. This is the number one priority of OKdo’s design and technical teams. 

The first question is, how can we improve time to market? For instance, our latest SBC ROCK is a readily available platform with a robust supply chain. So, we already tick a box if this is what the customer is looking for. It allows us to work within a timeframe of available stock, which is really powerful. 

The second question is, how can we reduce costs? We offer customers the ability to change the boards whichever way they need to. Still, they might not always be interested in reducing costs but may require stock availability in a very competitive lead time, adding additional functionality to a trusted platform that helps speed up their go-to-market time with their end product. 

Customisation is a balancing act between “what is the problem the customer is trying to solve” and “what is the solution we can offer to meet their needs”. 

How can we help you? 

OKdo is very flexible! We can do anything from implementing full-scale design changes to the boards - customisation, to the other side of the spectrum, which is linked to our sustainability agenda where we offer customers the opportunity to remove components from the SBC while maintaining the integrity of the layout, a process we call configuration.  

But we’re also ensuring that the board is compliant and the costs are transparent. What’s more, we can still offer amazing logistics and distribution services to our customers anywhere in the world. 

Here at OKdo, we offer: 

  • Off-the-self boards,
  • Customisation and configuration services,  
  • Design services 
  • A range of System-on-Module (SoM) platforms – meeting design customer needs, solving their problems, reducing costs and improving time to market. 

How to customise your boards with OKdo? 

Customisation can be as simple or as complex as the customer desires. Once the customer has contacted us, providing us with some basic information that will allow us to understand what problem they would like to solve and what they’d like to achieve, a salesperson and a technical engineer will follow up to discuss the request in detail. Then, the customisation process begins. 

Services beyond product 

Richard Curtin shares the excitement about introducing solutions that will facilitate the design and development of next-generation technology 

I feel immensely proud of the journey that we’ve been on, and it is incredibly exciting. When we established OKdo, it was always my aspiration to ensure that OKdo was a company that offered services beyond product. We had a mission to build the world’s best line card and availability of single board computers for our makers and education customers, but we also wanted to ensure we could offer product solutions to meet the needs of our global industrial, professional design customers. 

But I also knew that was never going to be enough. If we just offer products off the shelf and distribute them, we would be doing the same as many companies around the world. The aspiration in the strategy for OKdo was to build intuitive ways for us to offer services that would solve customer problems. 

When I think about where we are today in the world with these incredibly challenging supply chain dynamics with design cycles rapidly evolving, I feel that we couldn’t have chosen a better time for OKdo to launch customisation and manufacturing services backed by the RS Group’s amazing logistics and distribution. 

I think it really puts us in a very enviable position. But most importantly, it puts us in a position where we can genuinely help customers, and the introduction of the ROCK platforms in this part of our journey is just incredible. 

Who would imagine that we’ve now got a next-generation technology available with a really robust supply chain, with an amazing service wrapper that is unrivalled in the industry? I think that as we move forward, this will be something that engineers, designers, and developers will be interested in learning more about and taking advantage of. So, it’s an incredibly exciting step forward for the OKdo team and our strategy. 

What news and exciting launches are coming next to OKdo? 

As you can imagine, just like the world of technology, it never stands still, and we at OKdo are already thinking about the next steps.  

Later this year, we will announce the launch of the latest ROCK platform, a next-generation technology. There isn’t anything like it in the market right now. It will offer more scope to our engineering customers from a technology and design perspective. 

In parallel with that, we’re developing a new software journey. I’m very excited to say that later this year, OKdo will also be making available several major embedded design software packages that will continue to help our customers with their design journey. 

Customisation and Availability 

Here at OKdo, we aim to help you solve your problem and support you with identifying the right solution that will work for you! Reach out to our Sales team to discuss the availability and customisation of our range of ROCK single-board computers. Your board, your way. Have it the way you need it! Contact us today

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Keep an eye on our ROCK Shop to discover more exciting products that will be coming into our range and be the first to know about the latest boards, compute modules and accessories coming into the ROCK shop, ready to bring your ideas to life.

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