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.

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.

Linux 3.1 adds OpenRISC, WiiMote support

The Linux kernel 3.1 has been officially launched by project founder Linux Torvalds, and there’s one particular feature that should cause a stir in maker and hacker circles: support for the OpenRISC architecture.

As of Linux 3.1, support for the OpenRISC family of open source GPL-licensed processors is now built-in to the kernel, making it significantly easier to get software up and running on the chips.

While the OpenRISC hardware doesn’t rival processors from the likes of ARM, Intel or AMD for performance – current implementations of an OpenRISC 1200 design with 32KB of cache on a Xilinx ML501 achieve around 67 points on the CoreMark benchmark at 50MHz – it’s a promising project for anyone interested in microprocessor design.

In addition, support for Near-Field Communications – NFC, short range radio chips designed for inter-device communication in mobile applications – has been baked in, along with the ability to address a Nintendo WiiMote controller as a human interface device.

The new kernel is available now from Kernel.org.

The IKEA effect – why we love what we do

Image of IKEA by Wikimedia Commons user Sbotig

Image of IKEA by Wikimedia Commons user SbotigAlthough it sounds like another name for flat-pack rage, the IKEA effect is at the heart of hacker culture: it’s the term used for the phenomenon whereby we love something far more if we have made it ourselves.

In a fascinating blog post over on NeoAcademic, psychologist Richard Landers explains recent research that has seemingly proven the IKEA effect – even, as the name suggests, when the only ‘making’ involved is inserting Tab A into Slot B.

“I can attest personally to the power of the IKEA effect,” Landers writes. “We actually purchased an entire kitchen from IKEA, which I assembled and installed myself.  And it is a hundred times better than anything professionals could have made!

“Is this the reason that open source software proponents are so ‘enthusiastic’ about their products while the general market resists them,” he wonders, “because those proponents had a hand in developing them?”

While Landers admits that more research is required to see whether the IKEA effect holds true for complex projects like software development and electronics manufacture, it’s been proven – anecdotally, at least – over and over by the hacker and maker communities.

Making things is fun, and something you’ve made yourself will give far greater satisfaction than something you’ve bought, no matter what the thing.

Image of Ikea Headquarters by Wikimedia Commons user Sbotig, provided under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

The Android MegaPad – a 23″ homebrew tablet

Hacker Martin Drashkov has created a device he believes predicts the future of mainstream computing: a 23″ touch-screen tablet running Google’s Android operating system.

While Drashkov is keeping the details of the build under wraps for now, he has released a video showing the tablet – which appears to be running Android 2.3 ‘Gingerbread,’ rather than the newer but still proprietary Android 3.0 ‘Honeycomb’ – in action, with impressive results.

“The Android MegaPad is the next logical step,” Drashkov argues in a blog post on the subject, “a modern touch-based computing device with a screen size that will enable a whole different set of experiences. Unlike tablets, devices like this will make simultaneous use by two users a practicality and will let users more fully immerse themselves in apps and games.”

Drashkov isn’t the only person to believe touch is the future: both Canonical’s Unity interface and the Gnome Shell include a primarily touch-driven user experience, while Microsoft’s Windows 8 looks to be going the same way with the Metro UI.

The Android MegaPad, as Drashkov has labelled the machine, cost around $600 (about £390) to build using purely off-the-shelf parts, putting it on a par with the higher end of the real Android tablet market.

There’s just one slight issue, Drashkov admits: it’s not exactly portable.

Hacker turns an Arduino into an oscilloscope

SourceForge user OLeuthold has been hard at work creating an oscilloscope-like device from something many hackers are likely to have lying around: an Arduino Uno.

The lxardoscope project creates a pleasingly oscilloscope-like display on a Linux host system to which the Arduino Uno board is connected. With a resolution of around 3,000 samples per second, the open source project won’t replace a real oscilloscope but is noteworthy for the sheer hackiness involved.

To get a clean signal, OLeuthold explains that users need to remove the ATMega chip from the Arduino Uno board post-programming and insert it into a custom-built circuit which includes a power source with ground set to -2.5V and VCC set to +2.5V.

While it’s a clever hack, some users are questioning the viability of the project as a tool. Comments on a Hack a Day post where lxardoscope was discussed range from incredulity at the poor bandwidth of the psuedo-oscilloscope to unfavourable comparisons to the rather more polished Xprotolab project.

If the naysayers haven’t put you off, the SourceForge project page has full construction details and source code.

NASA opens up the International Space Apps challenge

NASA has announced the opening of the International Space Apps competition, which aims to solve real problems using publicly available data as part of the Open Government Partnership.

“The competition embraces the concept of ‘open innovation’ to improve performance, inform decision-making, encourage entrepreneurship, and solve problems more effectively,” explained NASA’s Nick Skytland.

Despite being primarily a US-focused programme, the OGP extends to global – and, given NASA’s involvement, beyond – issues. Using publicly available data, teams or individuals develop software which addresses problems including the impact of weather on the global economy, depletion of ocean resources, and other hot-button topics.

The agency is already asking for ideas for projects, with users suggesting such things as a ‘NASA API’ for easy integration with the agency’s data stores, public access to medical data on how the human body responds to extreme conditions, and a distributed data storage system to provide high-speed high-throughput storage for scientific data.

Full details of the challenge, which is open to developers world-wide, are available on the official page – along with the link to make suggestion of your own.