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.

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 aMini-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 automation systems. 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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Leveraging IT Technology for industrial controls

With that said, the controls world is going to be moving with anautomation that has a definite consumer bias, with product development and release cycles 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 networking in an industrial setting to keep up with modern IT standards. Therefore, we turn our attention to the technologies that have existed the industrial, 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.

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Source licensing for embedded products

The use of each type of open source license in an embedded product design imposes a unique set of obligations on the development team that is incorporating this software into their products. Because of this, some embedded computer maintain a list of open source licenses approved for use by their developers. Other companies go further, explicitly listing which specific version of each open source package has been approved for possible incorporation into the company’s embedded computer  products.

Ensuring that the development team is aware of – and in compliance with – the obligations associated with each of these open source licenses takes time and effort. Tools that can help to identify and track the underlying licenses that apply and enable license obligations to be met can prove quite valuable when trying to hit aggressive solutions  from product development milestones.

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