A few months ago, we introduced the SheevaPlug, a 1.2GHz ARM processor with 512Mb of RAM, 2 usb ports, an ethernet port, and an SD card slot. In that article, we asked: “What would you do with one?”. We received tons of responses, 118 comments and counting. Scientific American had a similar idea and asked some “hackers”(MIT students) what they would do with it (thanks, grisspy). We thought maybe we would weigh in with our opinions. Join us after the break and in the comments.
#1. Home Automation
Summary: “I would hook it up to a Web camera and track myself in the house,” says Nikolaus Correll, an M.I.T. CSAIL postdoctoral associate.
Eliot: [Nikolaus] has an interesting idea about leveraging the extra processing power to do object recognition and then having the home react accordingly. The phrase “home automation” points out one of the SheevaPlug’s shortcomings; despite plugging directly into the wall, it doesn’t do powerline communication.
Caleb: Note how he avoids mentioning x10. It’s a nice idea, especially once he gets to the “statistical profile” bit.
#2. Desktop Replacement
Summary: It’s small and fairly powerful. It could replace your desktop.
Eliot: No dedicated video hardware means you’ll have trouble replacing even your Apple TV with this. No one is scrambling to build an ARM desktop.
Caleb: What advantage does this have over a netbook? By the time you add a display and input aren’t you close to the netbook bottom of the line, minus the easy portability?
#3. Data Center Replacement:
Summary: “If these things can compare with [server farms’]…computational throughput at a fraction of the power consumption, that’s intoxicating.”
Eliot: This sounds like a terrible cluster. Having a dedicated AC-DC converter for each processor is NOT efficient.
Caleb: For small applications, this makes sense. Like doing a cluster in your home, or possibly office. It seems like their performance would be lacking in larger applications. Anyone care to weigh in here?
#4. Data Availability
Summary: Connect a hard drive to it, access the data from anywhere.
Eliot: This is definitely a good use. There are very few applications that get the software right and we’d love to see improvements. The USB host port could make initial setup much easier.
Caleb: I like this. If it really is plug and play, it is a great solution. I’m guessing you could even have software with it that would let normal people set this up without modifying their router settings?
#5. Data Mining
Summary: Connect stuff to the internet to gather statistics.
Eliot: This is a user friendly way to add network capability to appliances. It costs more than an Arduino, but it should be much easier to get started collecting, storing, and hosting data. It has a serial interface for connecting whatever you want.
Caleb: He is talking about making every day objects share data right? The title lead me to believe he was going to have these things crawling the web collecting data. This seems like overkill. If you can rig a machine not meant to send that data,with sensors and custom code, you can probably program a development board like Arduino to relay that data for cheaper than the SheevaPlug. Am I way off base here? Assume they have a unit to collect data at the home office, that cost 5 times as much, but they save money on each cheaper unit in the machine(in the field) that calls home. That would be a more cost efficient way to do it wouldn’t it? Maybe my take only applies if you are doing a lot of appliances, like beverage machines.
#6. Life Filter
Summary: Use it to filter your email.
Eliot: Innocuous looking hardware for running interesting daemon processes on a network certainly sounds like a fun project.
Caleb: Yeah, I guess that could work. I don’t understand the necessity with all the filtering available for email as it is. Maybe he’s referring to some illusive future data that we need filtered. I’ll just stick with here and now. Email filter? Really?
Summary: connect webcams for cheap surveillance.
Eliot: This has been solved and many of them even feature external inputs already.
Caleb: IP cameras are pretty cheap, they can be found for far under $100. Is this a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist? Maybe this could add some feature like facial recognition or something.
#8. You Name It
Summary: SheevaPlug is versatile, it would make a good cheap server.
Eliot: The lack of x10, powerline networking, and WiFi makes this platform undeserving os the hype. It could be a replacement for all the router hacking we’ve covered… but it costs more.
Caleb: Web server and source code repository were mentioned frequently in the comments on our article. It seems that this thing may not be perfectly suited for anything, but it’s small and cheap enough to be used for a lot.
We saw many of the ideas above listed in our comments, as well as climate control, corporate espianage, proxy serving, media serving with a NAS, IRC, Firewall, torrent box, clustering, SSH, art installations, and more. These guys came up with some good uses, but nothing compares to our commenters.