03 April 2009

Open source hardware

Embedded product development is on the edge of going mainstream as the main barrier for product innovators, which used to be the lack of ready-to-use, customisable & documented hardware has collapsed. Indeed companies such as Raisonance from France or Hitex from Germany now provide low-cost and full-featured devices to get quickly started on a project.

The latest Primer2 whose design is fully documented is built around the latest STM32 microcontroller from ST Microelectronics and is about the size of a cellphone, and comes with a 128x160-pixel color touchscreen, audio capabilities, a built-in USB port, a MicroSD card slot, and other features, such as an accelerometer and an infrared transmitter/receiver, that allow developers to quickly add extra capabilities to their applications.

The STM32 circle online community, named after the open source CircleOS project that powers the Primer2, counts around 6000 developers from hobbyists to professionals who want to quickly turn a concept into an attractive-looking demonstrator -rather than a conventional engineering development board- with minimal design-start investment.

The explosion of the mobile phone market has made embedded devices affordable enough for new usages in home automation or environmental monitoring for instance and this is clearly a market opportunity for innovators... which should receive a boost from Microsoft who is trying to commoditise the embedded software development process with its .Net MicroFramework... but the task is tedious given that there is a number of hardware manufacturers (Atmel, Freescale, Microchip, NXP, ST Microelectronics, Texas instruments) who are adressing vertical markets each with a significant market share... -no Intel-like company in the embedded world to partner with that is!