Friday Hack Chat: Open Source Startups

If you want to found a company, you’ll find pages and pages of advice scattered around the Internet telling you exactly how to do that. What if you want to found an Open Source hardware company? That’s a bit harder — you can’t do hardware as a service, and that Open Source moniker will drive away investors.

[Zach Fredin] is one of the rare founders that are making an Open Source hardware company work. In 2015, he developed NeuroBytes, a system of electric neurons designed in such a way that if you get two hundred or so, you can replicate the brain of a flatworm. NeuroBytes was a finalist in the 2015 Hackaday Prize, the team received an NHS grant, and now these PCB neurons will be on the market late this year.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking to [Zach] about the challenges about creating a company from nothing and doing it the Open Source way. Topics for this Friday’s Hack Chat will include the experience of building an Open Source hardware company, manufacturing, building a community around a product, and business spelled with dollar signs.

This Hack Chat will be Friday, noon, PDT. If you have a question for [Zach]. here’s a spreadsheet we’ll be drawing questions from. Continue reading “Friday Hack Chat: Open Source Startups”

Hackaday Prize Entry: MappyDot, a Micro Smart LiDAR Sensor

[Blecky]’s entry to the Hackaday Prize is MappyDot, a tiny board less than a square inch in size that holds a VL53L0X time-of-flight distance sensor and can measure distances of up to 2 meters.

MappyDot is more than just a breakout board; the ATMega328PB microcontroller on each PCB provides filtering, an easy to use  I2C interface, and automatically handles up to 112 boards connected in a bus. The idea is that one or a few MappyDots can be used by themselves, but managing a large number is just as easy. By dotting a device with multiple MappyDots pointing in different directions, a device could combine the readings to gain a LiDAR-like understanding of its physical environment. Its big numbers of MappyDots [Blecky] is going for, too: he just received a few panels of bare PCBs that he’ll soon be laboriously populating. The good news is, there aren’t that many components on each board.

It’s great to see open sourced projects and tools in which it is clear some thought has gone into making them flexible and easy to use. This means they are easier to incorporate into other work and helps make them a great contestant for the Hackaday Prize.

Open Source Digital Cinema

Years in the making, Apertus has released 25 beta developer kits for AXIOM–their open source digital cinema camera. This isn’t your point-and-shoot digital camera. The original proof of concept from 2013 had a Zynq processor (a Zedboard), a super 35 4K image sensor, and a Nikon F-Mount.

The device today is modular with several options. For example, there is an HDMI output module, but  DisplayPort, 4K HDMI, and USB 3.0 options are in development. You can see several sample videos taken with the device, below.

Continue reading “Open Source Digital Cinema”

Drop-in Controller for eBay K40 Laser Engraver Gets Results

[Paul de Groot] wrote in to let us know about a drop-in controller replacement he designed for those economical K40 laser engravers that are everywhere on eBay. With the replacement controller, greatly improved engraving results are possible along with a simplified toolchain. Trade in the proprietary software and that clunky security dongle for Inkscape and a couple of plugins! [Paul] felt that the work he accomplished was too good to keep to himself, and is considering a small production run.

Laser engravers are in many ways not particularly complex devices; a motion controller moves the head in x and y, and the laser is turned on or off when needed. But of course, the devil is in the details and there can be a surprising amount of stuff between having a design on your screen and getting it cut or engraved in the machine. Designing in Inkscape, exporting to DXF, importing the DXF to proprietary software (which requires a USB security dongle to run), cleaning up any DXF import glitches, then finally cutting the job isn’t unusual. And engraving an image with varying shades and complex dithering? The hardware may be capable, but the stock software and controller? Not so much. It’s easy to see why projects to replace the proprietary controllers and software with open-source solutions have grown.

Cheap laser engravers may come with proprietary controllers and software, but they don’t need to stay that way. Other efforts we have seen in this area include LaserWeb, which provides a browser-based interface to a variety of open-source motion controllers like Grbl or Smoothieware. And if you’re considering a laser engraver, take a few minutes to learn from the mistakes of other people.

The GNU GPL Is An Enforceable Contract At Last

It would be difficult to imagine the technological enhancements to the world we live in today without open-source software. You will find it somewhere in most of your consumer electronics, in the unseen data centres of the cloud, in machines, gadgets, and tools, in fact almost anywhere a microcomputer is used in a product. The willingness of software developers to share their work freely under licences that guarantee its continued free propagation has been as large a contributor to the success of our tech economy as any hardware innovation.

Though open-source licences have been with us for decades now, there have been relatively few moments in which they have been truly tested in a court. There have been frequent licence violations in which closed-source products have been found to contain open-source software, but they have more often resulted in out-of-court settlement than lengthy public legal fights. Sometimes the open-source community has gained previously closed-source projects, as their licence violations have involved software whose licence terms included a requirement for a whole project in which it is included to have the same licence. These terms are sometimes referred to as viral clauses by open-source detractors, and the most famous such licence is the GNU GPL, or General Public Licence. If you have ever installed OpenWRT on a router you will have been a beneficiary of this: the project has its roots in the closed-source firmware for a Linksys router that was found to contain GPL code.

Now we have news of an interesting milestone for the legal enforceability of open-source licences, a judge in California has ruled that the GPL is an enforceable contract. Previous case-law had only gone as far as treating GPL violations as a copyright matter, while this case extends its protection to another level.

The case in question involves a Korean developer of productivity software, Hancom Office, who were found to have incorporated the open-source Postscript and PDF encoder Ghostscript into their products without paying its developer a licence fee. Thus their use of Ghostscript falls under the GPL licencing of its open-source public version, and it was  on this basis that Artifex, the developer of Ghostscript, brought the action.

It’s important to understand that this is not a win for Artifex, it is merely a decision on how the game can be played. They must now go forth and fight the case, but that they can do so on the basis of a contract breach rather than a copyright violation should help them as well as all future GPL-licenced developers who find themselves in the same position.

We’re not lawyers here at Hackaday, but if we were to venture an opinion based on gut feeling it would be that we’d expect this case to end in the same way as so many others, with a quiet out-of-court settlement and a lucrative commercial licencing deal for Artifex. But whichever way it ends the important precedent will have been set, the GNU GPL is now an enforceable contract in the eyes of the law. And that can only be a good thing.

Via Hacker News.

GNU logo, CC-BY-SA 2.0.

JeVois Machine Vision Camera Nails Demo Mode

JeVois is a small, open-source, smart machine vision camera that was funded on Kickstarter in early 2017. I backed it because cameras that embed machine vision elements are steadily growing more capable, and JeVois boasts an impressive range of features. It runs embedded Linux and can process video at high frame rates using OpenCV algorithms. It can run standalone, or as a USB camera streaming raw or pre-processed video to a host computer for further action. In either case it can communicate to (and be controlled by) other devices via serial port.

But none of that is what really struck me about the camera when I received my unit. What really stood out was the demo mode. The team behind JeVois nailed an effective demo mode for a complex device. That didn’t happen by accident, and the results are worth sharing.

Continue reading “JeVois Machine Vision Camera Nails Demo Mode”

Help Wanted: Open Source Oscilloscope on Rigol Hardware

We’ve often heard (and said) if you can’t hack it, you don’t own it. We noticed that [tmbinc] has issued a call for help on his latest project: developing new firmware and an FPGA configuration for the Rigol DS1054Z and similar scopes. It isn’t close to completion, but it isn’t a pipe dream either. [tmbinc] has successfully booted Linux.

There’s plenty left to do, though. He’s loading a boot loader via JTAG and booting Linux from the USB port. Clearly, you’d want to flash all that. Linux gives him use of the USB port, the LCD, the network jack, and the front panel LEDs and buttons. However, all of the actual scope electronics, the FPGA functions, and the communications between the processor and the FPGA are all forward work.

Continue reading “Help Wanted: Open Source Oscilloscope on Rigol Hardware”