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Open source platforms afford infinite design capabilities

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:open source? embedded? Arduino? Internet of Things? Rapsberry Pi?

However, not all embedded projects require a network-aware OS such as Linux and a high-performance processor; the majority of embedded devices still have an MCU at their heart, and there is a growing adoption of open-source embedded operating systems such as FreeRTOS and eCos, supporting popular architectures such as AVR and ARM Cortex-M. It is also here where open-source hardware is now really making its mark, using these and other leading 16bit and 32bit MCUs.

Open-source fundamentals

While the very nature of open source implies no limitations, the ethos behind it is the power of collaboration. And to this end, anything released under an open-source license will normally require the developer to make available all the design files necessary to replicate the design at no charge.

Commercially, this doesn't preclude the sale of products based on open-source IP, and while the consumer sector has enjoyed the benefits of open-source software for many years, the use of open-source hardware in end products is less well established.

But thanks to some early pioneers, there are now several thriving communities based on open-source hardware targeting embedded applications.

Perhaps the best known is Arduino, which comprises both hardware and software.

Arduino board

Arduino board

In fact, there is even an open-source real-time operating system targeting this platform, called DuinOS, which is itself based on FreeRTOS, perfectly illustrating the power, flexibility and extensibility of open source.

More recently, Raspberry Pi has caused significant ripples in the engineering and maker communities, due to its low cost and high level of performance, as well as a range of computer-like peripheral support.

Rapsberry Pi board

Rapsberry Pi board

While this undoubtedly offers all would-be programmers easy access to a development platform running Linux, many much simpler projects require little more than a way to interface to a sensor and actuator, coupled with some relatively simple decision-making software.

This class of device is now possible thanks to the likes of Arduino and more recently BeagleBoard. These and other open-source platforms regularly form the basis of crowdsourced projects appearing on sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, as well as community sites that share the joy of engineering such as Instructables.

It's not unheard of for projects on sites such as these to reach many times their original fund target; projects looking for $20,000 have raised in excess of $1 million.

With the potential to launch a successful commercial venture off the back of tinkering with some low-cost hardware in your spare time, it's no wonder that open-source hardware is fuelling an entirely new movement.

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