May was quite a month for open hardware certifications; multiple open hardware friendly companies are now certifying their entire product lines. This month alone Adafruit, Watterott, and Olimex all have added multiple products. I did a quick check of the number of certifications in 2020. In January only 25 projects were certified. In May there were a whopping 234 projects certified! That’s almost a 10X increase in certified projects, a number that could make any start-up jealous. What’s incredible is that we’ve reached a point where there are multiple certified projects in particular vertificles. For example, we had two projects certified that roughly fit the rubric of “audio controller.” The first project is the Olimex FOSDEM Music Box. This simple, arduino compatible, project is meant as a soldering tutorial for the musically inclined at the 2020 FOSDEM conference.
In a similar vein AdaFruit certified the AdaFruit Audio FX Sound Board, which is a simple board that has a single dedicated function, to amplify and play audio based on input key presses. What excites me about both of these projects is that someone who is musically inclined could grab these designs, study them, and potentially generate a novel derivative work. I have a passing interest in modular synthesizers, and the prospect of an entirely open source analog and digital synthesizer rack would be a dream come true. More importantly, my inner engineer is excited at the prospect of being able to objectively compare the circuits used in two similar products and make a decision on which one better suits my application.
Along with AdaFruit and Olimex, Watterott has been very busy certifying a large number of their products. Since we’ve already talked about a learn to solder kit that doubles as a badge I wanted to feature a similar offering from Watterott. This Watterott badge is unique in that it has a IR LED and an IR sensor so you can send messages between badges. While Watterott certified a large number of projects I chose to feature this one as it illustrates another instance of multiple certified projects addressing a particular application. This is to say that if you are looking for an open hardware “learn to solder” kit you can now choose from a variety of them, including one that can be used to teach about audio signal generation, and another one that can be used to teach the basics of “wireless” communication. If you wanted to build your own learn to solder kit that plays music and supports IR communication you could remix these two projects into something new.
Another maker oriented business that has been hard at work certifying projects in Great Scott Gadgets. In May Great Scott Gadgets certified the LUNA, which is an FPGA based USB sniffer, monitoring device, and multi-tool. If you are a hardware developer or a hardware hacker this project is a must have tool in your toolbelt. Moreover, if you are interested in learning how to build FPGA accelerated applications the firmware is there for you to study and learn from. To that end the Great Scott website points to a great set of tutorials about getting started with open source FPGA development. If you have mastered basic microcontroller development this series is a great resource to level up your skills.
Another freshly certified project that caught my attention this month happens to be the first project certified in Portugal; it is the AgroIntelligence LORAWAN node . This piece of hardware can be used to build a solar powered, wide area network of agriculture sensors, that allows farmers to engage in precision agriculture. Precision agriculture is a newer concept, where using things like sensors, satellites, and robots, farmers can lower the environmental impact of farming while increasing the amount of food produced. Over and above its potential to improve farming efficiency, this project is interesting because it contains reference designs for a Solar/LiPO power management circuit, and a reference design for communication over the emerging LoRa WAN standard.
The last project I want to highlight for May is something near and dear to my heart: robotics. At my day job at Open Robotics we are always looking for open source educational robots to help the community learn about the field of robotics. Packing sensors, actuators, batteries, and a meaningful amount of compute power into a tiny package at a reasonable price is a really difficult thing to do. That’s why I was really excited to see the 3DoT board apply for certification. This board packs everything you would need to build a functional tiny robot into a single board. Moreover the board even has bluetooth so you can leverage your phone as either a controller or use your phone as the brains of your robot. This is a really flexible and powerful design concept and a great teaching tool for a basic robotics course.