Bright Shiny Objects

September 10, 2016 by rcroeder

Filed under Iot

Last modified September 10, 2016

A few months ago I attended the Maker Faire in the SF Bay Area. It is a carnival atmosphere of eclectic booths and people. If you have never attended, make sure you have a good pair of walking shoes. I know I never made it through the entire event, even though I put in over five miles of walking on Saturday alone.  There are many interesting vendors, youth and school projects, everything from steam punk to trendy cuisine.

I had the chance to talk to many of the different vendors over the course of those two days. It was interesting talking to both sides in the Arduino civil war. I had previously met Massimo Banzi , CEO Arduino.cc, at another event. I met Federico Musto, CEO of Arduino.org, for the first at this event. He was personable and friendly, and even joked that he is suing himself, since he owns 20% of Arduino.cc.

But onto Bright Shiny Objects or BSO. I spent most of my time in Zone 2, where most of the electronic makers reside, interspersed with two live stages. I was like a child in a candy shop, there was a lot of BSO available for sale, and I spend way too much money. I should state, most of the BSOs still retained their luster after the show, some a bit duller, and one in particular will now be donated to the local makers group. More on this later.

One of the BSO that retained its luster, if not growing brighter, was the Cypress PsoC 5LP, a 32-bit ARM Cortex development board – a small micro controller with the hint of FPGA. I bought three in Zone 7 for $10 each. I was also surprised by some of the products from DFRobots, things I would normally overlook. In particular, the URM37 V4.0 Ultrasonic Sensor and the Gravity: Digital Microwave Sensor made their way into my shopping bag. I also was lucky to win from Qualcomm a Dragonboard 410c from Arrow. Now I only need the MinnowBoard Max to complete my collection of supported Window 10 IoT core devices.

At the other at the other end of the scale, a product which I will not name, assured me that it was programmable from any browser, and connected to the internet all the time. The problem for me was that to activate the device, I needed an iPhone or Android phone. I only have Windows phones, my tough luck. But that made me think about the product concept. It is still in the donate pile.

If I invest money and time into a device and its eco system that is always connected to the Internet, that does make sense. What is the down side? What happens if the company has a short life span; can I take what I have developed and go elsewhere? In the case of this device, probably not, everything was on their website. This has caused me to delve deeper into this technology, and it scares me. I have seen many companies moving in this direction of having everything on their website. I am not happy to know that, nor only am I beholding to a particular company to maintain all of my source code and designs. What is their security model look like? When are they moving to a paid model vs free? I really need to distance my designs from products like this.

One last example of staking things on one design:  I use an Arduino Nano clones for small microcontrollers everywhere. If Arduino melts down because of the civil war, it will have little or no impact on me. Both versions of the Arduino IDE (one from Arduino.cc and the other from Arduino.org) will work as well as Visual Studio. This is one big advantage of open source software and hardware.

All I can recommend is the following to you, some BSO are interesting and fun to learn, but do your research to see the impact if the BSO manufacture goes away on your designs.