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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?

But more than that, it's fundamentally changing the way new products are brought to market.

Hacker was originally a term used to describe people who wanted to get under the hood of a product, and that invariably involved decompiling code to see how it worked or how it could be modified.

Manufacturers reacted by making it more difficult to deconstruct a product, but there's a new generation of manufacturer that is embracing the open-source ethos and actually allowing customers to modify the product post-sale.

The benefits of this approach are that, if implemented well, a community rapidly builds up around the product, which shares hacks and modifications.

One recent example is Red Pitaya, an open-source instrument based on a Xilinx FPGA.

Red Pitaya board

Red Pitaya board

It uses the dual ARM Cortex-A9 processors in the FPGA to implement the functions of a range of instruments including an oscilloscope, signal source and spectrum analyser.

All the source files for the FPGA are available from GitHub, allowing customers to modify the functionality of the instrument, which integrates analogue inputs and outputs, digital and analogue extension connectors with Ethernet access, enabling it to be used remotely via the Internet.

Furthermore, it supports an "application marketplace" where customers can share their own instrument configurations.

The commercial opportunities around open-source hardware are limited only by the imagination of an ever-growing community of makers. The idea that "giving away" intellectual property is commercially damaging is rapidly being replaced with an appreciation of the value of imagination.

Hardware and software are fundamental to product design, but the consolidation around a relatively small number of solutions means differentiation at this level alone no longer represents a commercial advantage.

More important, at least in emerging applications, is the ability to rapidly formulate ideas and create customised solutions. Open source enables this by delivering a proven platform on which innovation can take place. It proves that, even if the building blocks are all the same, you can't commoditise creativity.

- Dan Radic
??EE Times

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