Computing stuff tied to the physical world

Open – Some notes (5/5)

In Musings on Jan 11, 2010 at 00:01

(This is the last part of a 5-part series on open source – parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)


Jee Labs is an open source shop – both open source hardware and open source software.

Nothing earth-shattering: I’m exploring what’s possible in the domain of physical computing, and have been focusing on simple ATmega-based wireless sensor networks for in and around the house. A simple variation on the Arduino theme, really. In fact, it’s pretty hard not to be compatible with an Arduino when your stuff is based on the same Atmel AVR chips. Because in terms of basic functions and software, an Arduino is (at least right now) essentially simply an ATmega on a board. Plus a serial port boot loader.

This “computing stuff tied to the physical world” is a lot of fun. And a lot of work.

There’s a substantial amount of software required for all this, from dealing with wireless to collecting, storing, and presenting measurement data. And that’s just going one way – to also robustly (and securely) control things in the house, there’s also this whole field of domotics to go into.

I love doing software development. I spend most of my time on it.

And with Jee Labs involved in both OSH and OSS, there is finally a way to dedicate all my time to this stuff.

It’s a very simple mechanism: the hardware side funds the software side.

Does that make Jee Labs a commercial undertaking? Yep. Small shop, but it’s about as direct as it gets:

Stuff sold => food on the table => hunger gone => happy coding.

So I’m hired by the shop to do the hardware and software side of things. As long as there is funding, I get to spend all my time on this stuff. All of it in the open, described on a public weblog, and with all designs usable by anyone to do whatever they like with it. Try it out, hack it, extend it, rip it apart, get rich with it, or ignore it – it’s all up to you. There’s nothing to steal, because your gain is not my loss. On the contrary.

Quite a few people have already done things like take the RF12 driver (software) and use it with their own hardware designs. Many others are taking some sensors (hardware) and tying it into their stuff with their own software. Cool – way cool, in fact. Hardly a day goes by without something encouraging or rewarding happening on some front.

The trick is sustainable funding. Which means I need to stay on the ball, and figure out what others would like to see from me. That’s good – normal market economics, really. There’s a lot of uncharted terrain, still waiting to be discovered, explored, and turned into projects and products. Just gotta look, listen, and keep moving. Which is a lot easier when everything is out in the “open” – hardware, software, … and ideas.

This concludes my mini-series on Open Source. It’s time to return to the techy stuff again!

  1. So you can really live from running Jee Labs? No other part time job or anything else? Congratulations.

    Want to know what I think you could add: cases. Of course I could built my own. But I’m lazy. And if there would be a case available with battery holder and some concept to fix the jeenode and some plugs I’d buy it (if they aren’t above 15-20 EUR).

    Just play around a bit with your new CupCake printer…

  2. Thanks for these posts JCW. I waited for the last post to appear before commenting and I think this last post is a half answer to a question I had.

    ‘How-to get something done’ is the most valuable thing of all and is what your website and shop front does best at the momment. I think your processes for getting customisable wireless sensor nodes working in real life situations are valuable and the upshot(even if you don’t realise it), is that it lets you sell ANY ingredients you have used in the process on your website – easily. It doesn’t just have to be stuff YOU made because you can sell anything peripheral to the process and also services peripheral to the process as well.

    I make this comment because I thought I read into your last post a concern that jeenode hardware sales are the only earner in the Jeelabs endeavour and this is a pressure of sorts.

    While hardware sales are just the very first area to benefit from an emerging OSH ecosystem; you do see the facts that right now ‘sustainable funding’ can only really be addressed by expanding on the hardware that you sell. The give away is that it doesn’t have to be just nodes and duinos.

    To work out what this hardware should be my suggestion would be to revisit projects and document every single thing that went into finishing them and what goes into using them day in and day out. Account for everything and then study the list because it might give you some new ideas.

    Then look at your projects with a critical eye and see if they are truly finished.

    Of course I like Gerds comment :) ^^^ and I would certainly enjoy reading about your experiences with the CNC Mill and CNC Extruder. I do not underestimate the time required to get up to speed fabbing enclosures. It might be enough in the short term to find enclosures for nodes or pay someone to make them and get them on your site ASAP. Ask people to post their enclosure ideas in the forums. I would love to try mocking up enclosures in Google Sketchup(easy to use) but there would need to be Jeenode SKP model made first.

    If you are looking for jeenode hardware ideas well I am all ideas and my only lack is implementation and that I work on as a hobby of sorts, slowly with what time and knowledge I have. For your mindset at least, which seems to be a voracious appetite and effortless ability for solution building; asking people for ‘things they want to do’ is probably quicker than asking for hardware modules or software modules they want.

    Looking forward to the next tech update.

  3. Thanks for these comments. Made my day!

    What I take away from both comments, is that there are still several steps from here to real products, but that it would be feasible. I’ve spent quite some time thinking about enclosures. It’s not easy and very new to me – maybe the CNC/3D could be used for mounting brackets, with some sort of panels to turn it into a decent combination.

    As for ideas flowing, I hope the forum can become a vehicle for exchange – even more than it is now, and between everyone interested and involved.

  4. Don’t get me wrong – you have “real products” for sale and they are interesting.

    The last paragraph just sounded like you wanted to get new ideas from your (potential or current) customers. And a nice case was the first idea that came to my head as I was just looking for one the other day.

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