Statistics: November 2012

Werner Almesberger werner at
Tue Dec 4 17:17:51 EST 2012

Paul Boddie wrote:
> Well, I think there's an obvious direct correspondence between enthusiasm for 
> concrete future developments and the list traffic such enthusiasm generates.

Yes, we have basically the following project "threads":

- Ben NanoNote software: the system/distribution is still being
  actively maintained, mainly by Xiangfu, but there's little
  visible activity otherwise.

  Perhaps that's also a sign that the platform has matured. E.g.,
  I use my Bens quite a lot to help with developing DIY circuits
  (combined with UBB, they make great in-circuit programmers or
  in-circuit testers), but all these uses are project-specific.

- NanoNote successor: we talked a lot about making a possible
  successor but nothing concrete has happened in this direction.
  One of the main problems is of course the lack of money to fund
  such development.

  Past Qi-Hardware developments were financed by participants,
  mainly Wolfgang, but these pockets are pretty empty these days.
  If someone feels up to setting up a major crowdfunding project
  that finances R&D and production, that may be an option. A few
  warnings, though:

  - it's probably hard to convince people to pay for R&D since
    a) the outcome is uncertain and b) it'll take a while until
    there will be tangible results.

  - in addition to volunteers, you'll need 3-5 people who can
    work full-time (with plenty of overtime) on this, including
    occasional travel to external suppliers and fabs.

  - you'll need to raise a substantial amount of money. If
    things go very smoothly, such a project would need probably
    at least 3 months for design (with partial prototypes) and
    sourcing, then another 3 months spent on making and testing
    prototypes and preparing for production.

    Each prototype run will have external costs in the order of
    at least USD 5-10 k(PCB and SMT cost, components, shipping,

  - it may be hard to agree on a feature set. Perhaps projects
    like PengPod (a Linux-friendly tablet, but AFAIK not Open
    Hardware) are helping us there, because they already satisfy
    some of the need for tablets, narrowing the range of potential
    device categories.

- Milkymist One R3: while there seems little enough left to do on
  the hardware side (all that went into Milkymist One R4, see
  below), and development of the "VJ station" software has come to
  a halt, there are two follow-on activities that are still alive:

  - the MMU, headed by Yann: this is advancing slowly but steadily,
    with the expectation that we'll have a solid basis for Linux at
    some point. Practical value of this will be limited, given the
    overall state of the platform, but that won't diminish the
    value of the learning and perhaps teaching experience.

  - improved SoC architecture, including a much faster memory
    interface, headed by Sebastien: this seems to be in a working
    state but includes the burning of some bridges. I.e., it may be
    a good basis for the Linux port (which should in general be
    agnostic to how the SoC is implemented), but since not all the
    functional blocks used for the VJ application have been ported
    to this new Migen-based system, there is no trivial migration
    path for existing uses.

- Milkymist One R4: this would be the next revision of the
  Milkymist hardware, with fixes from R3, and several
  improvementes. This is more or less at a point where we could
  consider a prototype run, but since there is very little prospect
  of being able to commercialize future Milkymist hardware, making
  boards would be nothing but a very expensive extravaganza.

- the Milkymist experience has spawned two projects that focus on
  specific details. One is Sebastien's Migen, which is sort of a
  build system that generates "smart glue" to interconnect pieces
  of Verilog, and the other is Wolfgang's fpgatools, which aim to
  end the Age of Darkness surrounding FPGA synthesis.

  Both projects are quite active but have their main audience ouside
  the Qi-Hardware community (in the case of Migen) or are still
  pretty much a "lone wolf" activity (in the case of the fpgatools).

  Neither aims to lead directly to the production of large
  quantities of hardware at the moment.

- I have a few small projects that experiment with LEDs, among them
  "antorcha", a wand with 32 LEDs that can display text or images
  when waved back and forth rapidly, and "tornado" (under
  development), a similar but more advanced line of 64 LEDs that
  should also display things when whirled at the end of a chain.
  I made these specifically for protest marches.

  There's also the "LED Toy", a smaller and more streamlined device
  with only 24 LEDs that's intended for left-right symmetric images.

  Some of these projects could be turned into products, but again,
  they'd need some R&D and production setup budget to get there.

- there's a bunch of ancillary projects (eda-tools, cae-tools,
  kicad-libs, ben-wpan, etc.) that move in little leaps from time to
  time, e.g., when new features are needed, when bugs are found, or
  to track changes in their environment.

Did I forget anything ?

- Werner

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