Your Own Open Source ASIC: SkyWater-PDK Plans First 130 Nm Wafer In 2020

You might have caught Maya Posch’s article about the first open-source ASIC tools from Google and SkyWater Technology. It envisions increased access to make custom chips — Application Specific Integrated Circuits — designed using open-source tools, and made real through existing chip fabrication facilities. My first thought? How much does it cost to tape out? That is, how do I take the design on my screen and get actual parts in my hands? I asked Google’s Tim Ansel to explain some more about the project’s goals and how I was going to get my parts.

The goals are pretty straightforward. Tim and his collaborators would like to see hardware open up in the same way software has. The model where teams of people build on each other’s work either in direct collaboration or indirectly has led to many very powerful pieces of software. Tim’s had some success getting people interested in FPGA development and helped produce open tools for doing so. Custom ASICs are the next logical step.

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FDA Approves Ventilator Designed By NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Yesterday NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced that their ventilator design has received Emergency Use Authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration. This paves the way for the design to be manufactured for use in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

JPL, which is tightly partnered with the California Institute of Technology, designed the ventilator for rapid manufacturing to meet the current need for respiratory tools made scarce by the pandemic. The design process took only 37 days and was submitted for FDA approval around April 23rd. They call it VITAL — Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally — a nod to NASA’s proclivity for acronyms.

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Make It Easier For Your Software Project To Accept Contributions

[Flameeyes] has heard complaints (and at times, he admits, has complained himself) about big companies not contributing improvements to projects they seem to find useful, or rolling their own implementation rather than use and contribute to an existing code base. Having recently left Google after seven years, he has some insights into some of the reasons big corporations (at least Google, anyway) may sometimes seem to eschew making code contributions, and some of the reasons might come as a surprise.

There are things a corporation can do differently, but there are also some things that can be done on the project’s end to make accepting contributions easier. [Flameeyes] took some time to write out a few pointers on how to make it easier for others (particularly large corporations) to contribute code to a software project.

The biggest issue is the software license. Without one, there is no legal structure to use, distribute, or contribute to the code, and no corporate entity will want to touch it. Google specifically forbids creating patches for projects with either no license, or incompatible licenses. An example of an incompatible license is one that forbids commercial use, because everything a corporation like Google does — even research –is considered a commercial endeavor. In addition, on the corporate side making contributions might trigger a code review process of some kind for some licenses, but not for others. [Flameeyes] suggests the MIT license as one that is acceptable to pretty much everyone with a minimum of fuss. Another caution: if a project’s code resides in an online repository, make sure the repository is licensed as well.

A few other small suggestions (such as maintaining an AUTHORS file to track contributors in a tidy way) rounds out the advice. It sounds simple, but software licensing is so critical to the whole affair that it’s important to get it right — he suggests the REUSE tool for anyone wanting to make sure a project’s licensing is tidy.

[Flameeyes] makes a point that none of this guidance is based on secret or institutional knowledge. Google has a public document detailing exactly how they use and deal with open source, and it’s a solid guide for how to make your project more accepting of contributions from a corporate entity like Google. (Or, if you prefer, a guide on how to set up as many barriers as possible for your project.)

In case you missed it, we just want to remind you that our favorite recent open source project from Google is definitely Pigweed.

Modular Mouse Packs Features

Not only do console gamers complain about the use of a mouse, but PC users themselves often don’t have kind words to say even about some of the higher-end options. Granted, their gripes aren’t about game experience or balance, they’re usually about comfort, features, or longevity of the mice themselves. So far we haven’t seen many people try to solve these problems, but [benw] recently stepped on the scene with a modular mouse that can fit virtually any need.

Called the RX-Modulus, this mouse has been designed from the ground up to be completely open source from hardware to software. Most of the components can be 3D printed to suit an individual’s particular grip style by making adjustments. The electronics can be custom fitted as well. Users can swap out mouse buttons and wheels in any number of positions, and replace them when they wear out. To that end, one of the goals of this project is also to avoid any planned obsolescence that typically goes along with any current consumer-level product.

While [benw] currently only has a few prototypes under his belt, he’s far enough along with the project that he’s willing to show it off to the community. His hopes are that there are others that see a need for this type of mouse and can contribute to the final design. After all, there are all kinds of other custom mice out there that would have been much easier builds with [benw]’s designs at hand.

New Part Day: An Open Source Ethernet Switch In The Palm Of Your Hand

When you can get a WiFi-enabled microcontroller for $3, it’s little surprise that many of the projects we see these days have ditched Ethernet. But the days of wired networking are far from over, and there’s still plenty of hardware out there that can benefit from being plugged in. But putting an Ethernet network into your project requires a switch, and that means yet another piece of hardware that needs to get crammed into the build.

Seeing the need for a small and lightweight Ethernet switch, BotBlox has developed the SwitchBlox. This 45 mm square board has everything you need to build a five device wired network, and nothing you don’t. Gone are the bulky RJ45 jacks and rows of blinkenlights, they won’t do you any good on the inside of a robot’s chassis. But that’s not to say it’s a bare bones experience, either. The diminutive switch features automatic crossover, support for input voltages from 7 V all the way up to 40 V, and management functions accessible over SPI.

If you want to get up and running as quickly as possible, a fully assembled SwitchBlox is available to purchase directly from BotBlox for £149.00. But if you’re not in any particular rush and interested in saving on cost, you can spin up your own version of the Creative Commons licensed board. The C++ management firmware and Python management GUI isn’t ready for prime time just yet, but you’ll be able to build a “dumb” version of the switch with the provided KiCad design files.

The published schematic in their repo uses a Microchip KSZ8895MQXCA as the Ethernet controller, with a Pulse HX1344NL supplying the magnetics for all the ports in a single surface mount package. Interestingly, the two images that BotBlox shows on their product page include different part numbers like H1102FNL and PT61017PEL for the magnetics, and the Pulse H1164NL for the Ethernet controller.

Make Networks Wired Again

There’s no question that WiFi has dramatically changed the way we connect devices. In fact, there’s an excellent chance you’re currently reading these words from a device that doesn’t even have the capability to connect to a wired network. If you’re looking to connect a device to the Internet quickly, it’s tough to beat.

But WiFi certainly isn’t perfect. For one, you have to contend with issues that are inherent to wireless communications such as high latency and susceptibility to interference. There’s also the logistical issues involved in making that initial connection since you need to specify an Access Point and (hopefully) an encryption key. In comparison, Ethernet will give you consistent performance in more or less any environment, and configuration is usually as simple as plugging in the cable and letting DHCP sort the rest out.

Unfortunately, that whole “plugging in” part can get tricky. Given their size, putting an Ethernet switch into your project to act as an internal bus only works if you’ve got space to burn and weight is of little concern. So as appealing as it might be to build a network into your robot to connect the Raspberry Pi, motor controllers, cameras, etc, it’s rarely been practical.

This little switch could change that, and the fact it’s released under an open source license means hackers and makers will be free to integrate it into their designs. With the addition of an open source management firmware, this device has some truly fascinating potential. When combined with a single board computer or suitably powerful microcontroller, you have the makings of a fully open source home router; something that the privacy and security minded among us have been dreaming of for years.

Professional Ventilator Design Open Sourced Today By Medtronic

Medical device company Medtronic released designs for one of their ventilators to open source for use in the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a laudable action, and there is plenty to glean from the specs (notable is that the planned release is incomplete as of this writing, so more info is on the way). Some initial reactions: medical devices are complicated, requirements specifications are enormous, the bill of materials (BOM) is gigantic, and component sourcing, supply chain, assembly, and testing are just as vital as the design itself.

The pessimist in me says that this design was open sourced for two reasons; to capitalize on an opportunity to get some good press, and to flex in front of the DIY community and convince them that the big boys should be the ones solving the ventilator shortage. The likelihood of anyone actually taking these specs and building it as designed are essentially zero for a variety of reasons, but let’s assume their intent is to give a good starting point for newer changes. The optimist in me says that after what happened to California over the weekend with 170 ventilators arriving broken, it might be nice to have open designs to aid in repair of existing non-functioning ventilators.

The design details released today are for their PB560 model, which was originally launched in 2010 by a company called Covidien, before it merged with Medtronic, so we’re already starting with a device design that’s a decade old. But it’s also a design that has proven itself through widespread use, and this data dump gives us a great look at what actually goes into one of these machines. Let’s take a look.

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What Does GitHub’s Npm Acquisition Mean For Developers?

Microsoft’s open-source shopping spree has claimed another victim: npm. [Nat Friedman], CEO of GitHub (owned by Microsoft), announced the move recently on the GitHub blog.

So what motivated the acquisition, and what changes are we likely to see as a result of it? There are some obvious upsides and integrations, but these will be accompanied by the usual dose of skepticism from the open-source community. The company history and working culture of npm has also had its moments in the news, which may well have contributed to the current situation. This post aims to explore some of the rationale behind the acquisition, and what it’s likely to mean for developers in the future.

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