DIY pushes open hardware from kindergarten to Kickstarter

Resurgence of the Do It Yourself (DIY) community has driven a range of open networking platforms, giving aspiring technologists cheap and easy access to embedded development. Outside of hobbyist toys and educational devices, however, “hacker” boards are increasing performance and I/O flexibility, and have become viable options for professional product development.

The “maker” movements of the past few years quickly gained traction in the education and hobbyist markets, as organizations began producing open hardware boards with a “less-is-more” architecture at a price to match. DIY boards like the Arduino, BeagleBoard, and Raspberry Pi provide “known state” programming platforms that allow easy exploring for novice developers, and enough flexibility for advanced hackers to create some pretty remarkable things – which they have solutions.

Now, Kickstarter projects like Ninja Blocks are shipping Internet of Things (IoT) devices based on the BeagleBone (see this article’s lead-in photo), and startup GEEKROO is developing a Mini-ITX carrier board that will turn the Raspberry Pi into the equivalent of a PC. Outside of the low barrier to market entry presented by these low-cost development platforms, maker boards are being implemented in commercial products because their wide I/O expansion capabilities make them applicable for virtually any application, from robotics and industrial control to automotive and home automationsystems. As organizations keep enhancing these board architectures, and more hardware vendors enter the DIY market, the viability of maker platforms for professional product development will continue to increase.

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Technical implementations for technology

With that said, the solutions is going to be moving with an industry that has a definite consumer bias, with product development and release embedded systems of six months or less. In an industry where the average life expectancy of an automotive production line is eight years, it is impossible to expect the networks in an industrial setting to keep up with modern IT standards. Therefore, we turn our attention to the technologies that have existed the longest, with the most open standards and the very best support. These are the protocols we wish to use and keep, and this article highlights and explains some of these technologies.

This article does not focus on the technical implementations of each piece of technology. Rather, it is assumed the reader will be using packaged solutions such as a function block for a PLC. These packages typically require only that the user specifies the relevant server to connect to, the data to be gathered and an activation bit. The particulars of each protocol and concept are, ideally, transparent to the user, and therefore it is not pressing that the user understands what is contained in each packet passed between the server and the client. As each protocol described in this article is openly documented and supported, a simple search on the Internet for the technical details will likely yield the relevant implementation details.

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The big challenge with open source que

With the increasing availability and associated complexity of a wide variety of 32-bit microcontrollers and microprocessors, the possibilities for embedded product designs are exploding. Leveraging a myriad of embedded computer and integrating advanced graphical user interfaces and multimedia formats requires the availability of supporting software stacks from the underlying operating system. And, more than ever before, embedded software teams are turning to open source software and embedded Linux as the platform on which to base these systems in the “Internet of Things.” But while open source has proved itself incredibly technology enabling, it can also make the workflow excessively unwieldy. The good news is that solutions and best practices exist to help development teams improve their software development workflow when open source is an increasingly large part of the mix.

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