“Hi, My Name is Bob, and I’m a Hardware Addict”
Posted by rbpasker on August 19, 2007
I am addicted to hardware. Not gadgets, per se, although I have too many of those collecting dust, too. I mean that I love working on hardware projects.My first exposure to hardware was in my teens, during the 70’s home hobbyist years that launched the PC industry, when I read read and re-read magazines such as Byte, Kilobaud, and Creative Computing. But I soon realized I had no talent for building stuff, having failed at basic skills such as soldering, breadboarding, and socketing ICs (I’m sure I kept more than one EEPROM manufacturer in business from all the pins I bent).
Career-wise, I also started working on hardware projects early, contributing to a VMS device driver for the DV11 Communications Multiplexer (34 meg pdf) in ’83. Since then, I’ve written embedded software for a number of hardware projects, including the Opcode Studio 4, the TribeLink8, and the Sun HSI/S, and I’ve been involved in a number of hardware and embedded systems software companies, including Azul Systems, Rapid Logic, db4o, and Tervela.
Over the past few years, I have been elated to see the resurgence in homegrown hardware, evidence by the success of Maker Faire, Make Magazine, and Make Blog. But even those projects require handicrafting skills I don’t possess.
Last week, however, I may have finally found the solution to my quest to design and develop my own hardware devices. I attended happy hour at the Bug Lab‘s first Bug+Bar, the first of many buzz-building geek fests presaging the launch of Bug Lab’s new product.What you see in the picture (thanks Make) is the “bug” (bottom), a camera “module,” and an accelerometer “module” (top). The Bug itself is an approximately 4″x 2″ ARM-based system running Linux and Java that lies at the heart of Bug Lab’s vision. These two Modules are among the first of the Bug’s peripherals, which plug into one of the four Bug sockets. The hardware vision, at least, is to build one’s own portable devices, without requiring any more hardware skills than someone like me possesses. Support is planned for USB and other device interfaces. I believe they are are also going to provide the specifications for the modules themselves, so that you hardware developers can build your own.
Beyond the Mr. Potato Head-style hardware is an software suite based completely on GPL’d software, and the developer’s kit will come with source code for the entire Bug and Module stack. Applications can be written in Java, and there will be Java library support for all of the Modules, so you can control the devices from your embedded application without writing drivers.
From a tooling perspective, there is Eclipse support, and the ability to run and debug on your own machine, before loading your app on the Bug. The big difficulty with developing for embedded systems is the workflow, and I hope Bug Labs will pay a lot of attention to end-to-end developer productivity.
I heard a lot of tastier details, but I’m going to leave those for the official launch. My 30-year quest to build my own stuff may finally be coming to a happy ending. I can’t wait to get my spastic little digits on one of these devices.