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.

Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang on the future of the open hardware movement

Noted hacker, maker and author Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang has made an interesting prediction: the best days of the open hardware are still ahead of us.

In a reasoned and thorough blog post, Huang revisits the subject of a talk he gave at the 2011 Open Hardware Summit earlier this year: that of the future of open hardware.

“Currently, open hardware is a niche industry,” Huang admits. “In this post, I highlight the trends that have caused the hardware industry to favor large, closed businesses at the expense of small or individual innovators. However, looking 20-30 years into the future, I see a fundamental shift in trends that can tilt the balance of power to favor innovation over scale.”

These trends – including a point in the next few decades where we reach a fundamental limitation beyond which it will be impossible shrink semiconductors – will, Huang argues, lead to a return to the open hardware ideals of the consumer electronics industry’s early days.

“In the beginning, hardware was open,” Huang reminds us. “Early consumer electronic products, such as vacuum tube radios, often shipped with user manuals that contained full schematics, a list of replacement parts, and instructions for service. In the 80s, computers often shipped with schematics.”

As the race to create newer, faster, smaller components slows down, Huang argues, devices like tablets and smartphones will become inherently more open. Users will be able to drop in new processors and memory modules, much as they do with a desktop PC – one of the most ‘open’ of the proprietary hardware platforms around – or an Arduino.

Huang’s full blog post on the subject is well worth a read if you’re at all interested in the open hardware movement.