HP makes webOS an open source platform

Hewlett Packard has finally decided what it wants to do with the webOS platform it acquired from Palm, following its decision to end production of the TouchPad and Pre devices based thereon: it’s releasing the platform under an open source licence.

“webOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected and scalable,” claimed Meg Whitman, HP president and chief executive officer, during the announcement. “By contributing this innovation, HP unleashes the creativity of the open source community to advance a new generation of applications and devices.”

HP has indicated that it wishes to ‘engage’ the open source community in order to develop a charter for the handling of webOS, in order to encourage its continued improvement and further adoption in embedded and mobile markets.

For now, only the underlying operating system code will be provided. HP has, however, indicated that the ENYO application framework, plus additional user-space code, will be provided at a later date.

Twine project gains funding for sensor networks

Supermechanical's Twine - a Wi-Fi connected sensor platform

Supermechanical's Twine - a Wi-Fi connected sensor platformA Kickstarter project founded by MIT Media Lab graduates David Carr and John Kestner in the form of start-up Supermechanical has blown past its funding goal, thanks to a simple but disruptive premise: an easy-to-use device for ‘if-then’ monitoring.

Dubbed ‘Twine,’ the project takes the form of a compact 2.5-inch square block containing two internal sensors – thermometer and accelerometer – connectivity for external sensors, a Wi-Fi radio and two AAA batteries.

Combined with a simple web platform the pair has developed, the Twine allows non-programmers to set up ‘if-then’ rule sets with no coding required: “WHEN moisture sensor gets wet THEN tweet ‘The basement is flooding!” is but one example.

Although alternatives exist – such as the London Hackspace Nanode, an open hardware Arduino variant designed for Ethernet and RF sensor networks – the Twine is designed to be as simple to use as possible, and runs for ‘months’ on a single pair of batteries.

The concept has won the pair some serious support: with 36 days to go, the Kickstarter funding push has already smashed past its $35,000 goal with more than $100,000 raised. The pair has promised to use the excess to fund development of additional sensors, including the possibility of adding RFID compatibility.

More information is available on the official KickStarter project page.

Intel’s 4004 microprocessor turns 40

Intel 4004 Microprocessor Schematic

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Intel 4004, generally recognised to be the first commercially available microprocessor and the start of a revolution that would change the face of the world forever.

Nowadays, microprocessors are everywhere: phones, laptops, TVs are a given – but they’re also found in watches, microwaves, washing machines and fridges. They’re the digital brains behind modern technology as a whole and often feature hundreds of millions of transistors.

The Intel 4004 was a different matter. Back in 1968, Intel was approached by the Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation for a design of 12 custom chips for its upcoming Busicom 141-PF printing calculator. Seeing – and hating – inefficiency, the hackers at Intel proposed an alternative solution: reducing the design to just four chips, including a general-purpose programmable microprocessor.

The MCS-4 family would include a read-only memory chip for the calculator’s application code, a random-access memory chip for holding data, a shift-register chip for handling IO and – last but by no means least – the Intel 4004 microprocessor.

Realising that the hackers in the engineering department were on to something, Intel’s beancounters offered the Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation a reduced rate on the chips if Intel could retain ownership of the microprocessor design. The company agreed, and the Intel 4004 became the first general-purpose microprocessor to hit the open market, advertised to the public for the first time on November the 15th 1974 in Electronic News.

Produced on two-inch silicon wafers – significantly smaller than the 12-inch wafers in common use today – the Intel 4004 had a mere 2,300 transistors spaced 10 microns – or 10,000 nanometres apart. By contrast, Intel’s current generation of processors hold around 530 million transistors at a spacing of 32nm to 28nm.

The sheer scale of the growth seen in the world of integrated circuits in 40 years is staggering, but hackers still have plenty of room to innovate. “The sheer number of advances in the next 40 years will equal or surpass all of the innovative activity that has taken place over the last 10,000 years of human history,” Intel chief Justin Rattner claimed during the company’s celebrations today.

To help celebrate the 4004’s success, Intel has produced the below video which should prove of interest to those who marvel at microprocessor design.

Final Raspberry Pi PCB design unveiled

Raspberry Pi - Final Circuit Gerber

Raspberry Pi - Final Circuit GerberThe creators of the Raspberry Pi ARM-based computer have published a shot of the Gerber for the sub-£25 computer’s near final design – and, at around the same size as a credit card, it’s even smaller than the prototypes.

Posted by Liz Upton to the official Raspberry Pi blog, the Gerber visualisation reveals a final circuit board measuring 85.60mm x 53.98mm – exactly the same size as a standard credit card. The layout, designed by Pete Lomas, represents the finished product, modulo any tweaks required to compensate for low yields in the test production ahead of the initial run.

Sadly, the team isn’t quite ready to start taking pre-orders for the cut-price computer. “We’re in the process of making a very small initial test run of what you see above,” Upton writes, “and will move to larger production when we’re happy that there are no early-life bugs. Because we can’t predict whether or not there will be any, we can’t give you a firm release date, but Pete has engineered what you see here nigh unto death, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed for an easy ride.”

The Raspberry Pi system has taken the hacking community by storm since its announcement by project founders Eben Upton and David Braben. Powered by a Broadcom BCM2835 system-on-chip module, the credit-card sized computer will cost under £25 and run a fully-featured version of GNU/Linux.

It is hoped that the system will help drive computing education by providing less well-off families with an affordable platform for hacking, without running the risk that a child will ‘wreck’ the family PC with their ‘incessant fiddling.’

PCB Circuit Boards.co gets faster gear

Printed circuit board manufacturing specialist PCBCircuitBoards.co has announced the installation of a new circuit assembly system which doubles the speed at which boards can be produced and delivered to customers.

Developed in Germany, the new system encompasses a faster ‘shut and cut’ speed on the belt lines compared to a standard production system, allowing boards to be produced at up to twice the rate previously possible.

“We here at PCBcircuitboards.co have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to delivering high quality and value to our customers, but we wanted to go one extra step and provide them a faster turnaround time than they are presently getting,” explains the company’s head of assembly Jeff Bridgeland.

“With this new printed circuit assembly technology that we have adopted, we are at last in position to deliver inside a time scale that many of our competitors in the industry will find difficult to match.”

Pachube goes free for all

Popular cloud-based sensor monitoring service Pachube has announced that it will now offer its server free to all, ditching its previous for-pay tiered membership model.

Replacing the tiered account structure is a single account for all, offering 100 API requests per minute to all members – up from the 40 requests per minute currently enjoyed by ‘Pro’ members – with ‘Premium’ members receiving a boost to 250 API requests per minute for their support.

“So, why go free? No, we haven’t decided to become a non-profit. No, we’re not just super-nice. What we are is ambitious,” explains Pachube’s Conan Reidy of the changes. “And having worked with and talked with many people in the Pachube community, we know that they’re ambitious too.

“By making the Pachube service free, we’re removing a small barrier today, and we’re committed to removing more barriers in the coming months. Pachube will continue to get simpler, better and more capable. Our intention is that many of these new capabilities will be free. Some of them won’t. We hope that you’ll want to pay for the stuff we decide to charge for.”

All accounts will be upgraded within the next few hours, and users who have paid for an annual subscription in the last 60 days will receive an automatic refund. More information is available on the Pachube blog.

Carmack confirms Doom 3 source release

John Carmack, id Software founder and creator of the popular Doom and Quake series of first-person shooters, has confirmed that the source code for Doom 3 is due for release in the very near future.

Founded on principles of ‘shareware’ – where large chunks of id’s early games were released for free, in the hopes that users would register in order to unlock more levels – id recently adopted an open source ethos, releasing the code to its last-generation titles as new games are launched.

Carmack had promised the community that the code for Doom 3, which is based on the idTech4 engine, would be released under an open source licence when Rage, the company’s latest game, hit shops – but id’s acquisition by Zenimax left people wondering if Carmack would be allowed to fulfil his promise.

Thankfully, it looks like everything’s go: in a post to Twitter, Carmack announced that the source code is ready for release. “Doom 3 source is packaged and tested,” he writes, “we are waiting on final lawyer clearance for release.”

While the source code releases don’t include right to in-game assets such as audio, texture or models, they provide a handy leg-up for hackers looking to get into game development.

WyoLum offers open hardware grants

WyoLum, a group which supports open hardware projects, has announced the launching of a pair of $1,000 grants to help drive the next exciting development in free and open hardware.

The WyoLum grants offer a much-needed cash injection for makers and hackers with ideas but little funding, covering the cost of equipment, materials and any fabrication required to bring a project to fruition.

There are rules, of course: for a project to be considered for funding, it needs to be completely open – both the hardware and software – right through its development cycle to production, with WyoLum members offering advice and help throughout the project’s development.

Projects must also be a fairly fast turnaround: if a submitted project is likely to take more than six months to make use of the funding, it’s not eligible for the grant. As WyoLum’s Justin Shaw points out, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the entire project needs to be completed in half a year.

Aside from that the grant is open to all, including newcomers to the world of open hardware. “If you have a killer idea, but have never fabricated a PCB, programmed a micro-controller or designed an enclosure, don’t let that stop you from submitting your idea,” the team writes. “If we can’t immediately assist you, we will learn it together.”

The grant application process is open until the 3rd of December, with interested parties asked to fill in an application form and submit it along with a video – optional but encouraged – explaining the concept behind the idea.

BeagleBone ARM development kit announced

The creators of the BeagleBoard low-cost ARM-based computer have come up with a new device which drives down both the size and the cost, while providing an interesting stop-gap solution to those waiting for the Raspberry Pi: the BeagleBone.

Built around a Texas Instruments AM335x ARM Cortex-A8 microprocessor running at up to 720MHz, the BeagleBone promises over 1,400 Dhrystone MIPS and the ability to run a fully-featured GNU/Linux distribution.

The tiny package also includes an OpenGL ES 2.0 compatible 3D graphics accelerator, a USB 2.0 host port, microSD connector for storage, gigabit Ethernet, a multipurpose USB device connection featuring on-board hub, USB-to-serial and JTAG conversion with software reset, and a reprogrammable high-speed USB device interface, along with two 46-pin two-row 0.1-inch spaced female expansion headers using 3.3V IO.

Despite all these impressive features, the BeagleBone fits in the palm of your hand – and in doing so takes up little more room than an Arduino microcontroller at an impressively compact 3.4″ x 2.1″. In addition, the BeagleBone will support ‘capes’ – equivalent to Arduino ‘shields,’ minus the awkward pin spacing – to easily add more hardware to the platform.

As standard, the BeagleBone will come with a pre-installed copy of the Maemo-based Angstrom Distribution, node.js and the Cloud9 IDE on a 2GB microSD card, which will combine to allow developers to quickly and easily upload new code to the board using a single USB connection for data and power.

“We’re big fans of embedded systems at our office and think Cloud9 IDE for BeagleBone is an amazing use case. It makes writing code for your device as easy as plugging in and connecting to a port with a browser,” claims Rik Arends, chief technology officer at Cloud9 IDE. “We’re looking towards supporting embedded development from the cloud in the future. This way, our users will have all the benefits of keeping code safely online, with the ability to easily distribute to multiple devices.”

The BeagleBone is due to hit the usual suspects in the US before the end of the month, priced at $89, with UK stockists yet to be confirmed. To whet your appetite, there’s an introductory video below, and more information is available on the BeagleBoard site.

The open source Scanning Tunnelling Microscope

Sacha De’Angeli of ChemHacker has posted an update on his open source Scanning Tunnelling Microscope project, which aims to create an Arduino-controlled high-resolution non-optical microscope licensed entirely under the GPLv3.

“I’m nearly done with a complete redesign of the digital and analog electronics, now at version 0.3,” De’Angeli writes on the ChemHacker site. “The new electronics incorporates nearly complete digital control of the STM. I’m working on ways to further increase the control the microchip has over the STM to include gain control of the many op-amps.”

The aim of the project is to design a scanning tunnelling microscope: a high-resolution non-optical device which uses electric current to produce images as detailed as those of individual atoms.

A commercial STM is well out of the reach of your average hacker, costing many thousands of pounds, but De’Angeli hopes to eventually sell his open source creation in kit form as well as providing full details for hackers to build their own implementations via the GNU General Public Licence.

A video of the ChemHackerSTM v0.1 is reproduced below, but De’Angeli warns that it’s not representative of where the project is today and is a “a poor implementation of a good analogue design with a microcontroller slapped to the inputs.

“I’ve since learned that analogue is weird compared to digital,” De’Angeli admits, “and getting those two worlds to talk properly involves a lot more finesse and art than science and equations.”

If you want to be alerted when kits are available, there’s a sign-up sheet here.