Open-source software

The Arduino Foundation: What’s Up?

The Arduino Wars officially ended last October, and the new Arduino-manufacturing company was registered in January 2017. At the time, we were promised an Arduino Foundation that would care for the open-source IDE and code infrastructure in an open and community-serving manner, but we don’t have one yet. Is it conspiracy? Or foul play? Our advice: don’t fret. These things take time.

But on the other hand, the Arduino community wants to know what’s going on, and there’s apparently some real confusion out there about the state of play in Arduino-land, so we interviewed the principals, Massimo Banzi and Federico Musto, and asked them for a progress report.

The short version is that there are still two “Arduinos”: Arduino AG, a for-profit corporation, and the soon-to-be Arduino Foundation, a non-profit in charge of guiding and funding software and IDE development. The former was incorporated in January 2017, and the latter is still in progress but looks likely to incorporate before the summer is over.

Banzi, who is a shareholder of Arduino AG, is going to be the president of the Foundation, and Musto, AG’s CEO, is going to be on the executive board and both principals told us similar visions of incredible transparency and community-driven development. Banzi is, in fact, looking to get a draft version of the Foundation’s charter early, for comment by the community, before it gets chiseled in stone.

It’s far too early to tell just how independent the Foundation is going to be, or should be, of the company that sells the boards under the same name. Setting up the Foundation correctly is extremely important for the future of Arduino, and Banzi said to us in an interview that he wouldn’t take on the job of president unless it is done right. What the Arduino community doesn’t need right now is a Foundation fork. Instead, they need our help, encouragement, and participation once the Foundation is established. Things look like they’re on track.

A Tale of Two Arduinos

Until late 2014, there were two “Arduinos”: Arduino LLC, which took on the task developing the IDE and guiding the community, and Smart Projects, which was the manufacturing arm of the project that incidentally owned the trademark on the name “Arduino”, at least in Europe. All legal heck broke loose in November 2014, when Smart Projects changed its name to Arduino SRL (an Italian form of limited-liability corporation) and stopped funneling profits back into Arduino LLC. Arduino LLC filed for a trademark in the US, and Arduino SRL countered the filing based on their EU trademark. Arduino LLC filed a lawsuit in the USA, which resulted in two years of uncertainty about which company was the “real” Arduino, confusion in retail channels, two websites, and two versions of the IDE. It wasn’t pretty.

In October 2016, the lawsuit was settled out of court. The settlement documents themselves are under a sort of non-disclosure agreement, and we were told that there are around 500 pages worth. But a very short version is that a new Arduino corporation (Arduino AG) would hold the trademark and rights to produce the boards, while the Arduino Foundation, a 501(c)(6) non-profit corporation would be established to develop the firmware and the IDE.

In a nearly Solomonic decision, Arduino AG is 51% owned by the previous owners of Arduino SRL, and 49% owned by the previous Arduino LLC principals. Federico Musto, the largest shareholder of SRL, is now Arduino AG’s CEO, and Massimo Banzi, the largest shareholder in LLC, is picked to be the Arduino Foundation’s president.

So there are still two “Arduinos”, but their incentives are now aligned instead of adversarial. Arduino AG owns the trademark, manufactures the boards, and makes the money. The Arduino Foundation will be funded by at least Arduino AG, but also by any other stake-holders in the Arduino ecosystem that wish to contribute. Arduino AG is now in a sense just a company that makes development boards, while the Arduino Foundation is in control of the rest of what makes Arduino “Arduino”: the non-tangible environment.

As a result, the community should care a lot about the Foundation. The choices made there will change your programming experience most directly, and if you’re interested in contributing code to the mainline distribution, the Foundation will be the gatekeeper — as much as there can be a gatekeeper in entirely open source software.

Progress, but Slow Progress

So why is setting up the Arduino Foundation taking so long? We’d claim it’s not, and that the signs…

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…

The IP Of The Infinite Build Volume 3D Printer

Last week, the Blackbelt 3D printer launched on Kickstarter. What makes the Blackbelt 3D printer different than any other 3D printer on Kickstarter? This printer has an infinite build volume. It’s built for continuous production. As long as you have a large enough spool of filament, this printer will keep producing plastic parts with no downtime in between. The Blackbelt is a truly remarkable and innovative machine. Yes, it’s a bit expensive, but it’s designed for production and manufacturing, not some guy tinkering in his garage.

However, the Blackbelt 3D website includes two words that have sent the 3D printer community into an uproar. ‘Patent Pending’ is something no one in the community wants to see given the history of the industry and a few poor decisions from the first movers during the great 3D printer awakening of 2010. The idea of an infinite build volume printer that allows for continuous production is not new; we saw one last March at the Midwest RepRap Festival. The question, therefore, is what is covered by the upcoming Blackbelt patents, what is the prior art, and is it still possible to build an Open Source printer that uses these innovative techniques?

MakerBot’s Automated Build Plate. Once available as Open Source Hardware, the Automated Build Plate has been expunged from MakerBot literature, patented, and apparently forgotten. [Makerbot CC-BY]

Lessons of the Automated Build Platform

Questions about the Blackbelt printer arose shortly after its soft launch last month. It was, simply, the second printer demonstrated in a few months that uses a tilted print plane and a conveyor to allow continuous production in an infinite build volume.

The first such public implementation of this design was at Rapid 2016 and at the Midwest RepRap Festival in March, a product of [Bill Steele]. [Steele] wasn’t releasing a product, this was just the culmination of an idea that began as a mechatronic middle finger to MakerBot and their Automated Build Platform (ABP).

The ABP was quite clever when it was released and was used in production by MakerBot in their salad days to manufacture parts for the Thing-O-Matic. Unfortunately, the APB was…

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…

Android to launch TensorFlow Lite for mobile machine learning

Above: Dave Burke, vice president of engineering for Android, onstage at Google I/O 2017.

Android app developers will soon have a specialized version of TensorFlow to work with on mobile devices. TensorFlow Lite, which will be part of the TensorFlow open source project, will let developers use machine learning for their mobile apps.

The news was announced today at I/O by Dave Burke, vice president of engineering for Android. I/O is an annual Google developer conference being held May 17-19 in Mountain View, California.

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.

The Importance of a Good Demo

When it comes to complex systems, a good demo mode is essentially an elevator pitch for the unit’s capabilities. To a user, it answers “what can this do, and what possibilities does it open for me?”

The JeVois camera’s demo mode succeeded in this by doing several things:

  1. Make the demo self-contained and easy to start. Require a minimum of parts or setup from the user to get started. After putting the system image onto the included SD card, I only needed to plug it in to my laptop and start a camera viewer.
  2. Make it interactive. Respond to user input immediately, and show the processes at work as much as possible.
  3. Keep it simple. The demo isn’t the device’s one and only opportunity to explain everything! Leave the user free to focus on absorbing what is being shown; avoid bogging the user down with figuring out an interface or troubleshooting issues.

Demo mode on hardware is frequently an afterthought if it exists at all, but it deserves attention and polish if for no other reason than it is the one element of a product that it is virtually certain every user will engage with.

Setup and Demo of JeVois

I had to copy a system image to the micro SD card to ensure I had the latest…

Facebook to launch ParlAI, a testing ground for AI and bots

Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research (FAIR) today announced plans to launch a testing environment in which AI researchers and bot makers can share and iterate upon each other’s work.

While the initial focus is on open-sourcing the dialogue necessary to train machines to carry on conversations, other research on ParlAI will focus on computer vision and fields of AI beyond the natural language understanding required for this task. The combination of smarts from multiple bots and bot-to-bot communication will also be part of research carried out on ParlAI.

Researchers or users of ParlAI must have Python knowledge to test and train AI models with the open source platform. The purpose of ParlAI, said director of Facebook AI Research Yann LeCun, is to “push the state of the art further.”

“Essentially, this is a problem that goes beyond any one heavily regarded dialogue agent that has sufficient background knowledge. A part of that goes really beyond strictly getting machines to understand language or being able to understand speech. It’s more how do machines really become intelligent, and this is not something that any single entity — whether it’s Facebook or any other — can solve by itself, and so that’s why we’re trying to sort of play a leadership role in the research community and trying to direct them all to the right problem.”

The ability to hold a conversation has been key…

How to Seamlessly Run Windows Programs on Your Mac with Parallels

Sometimes, Mac users need to run Windows software. Maybe there’s a program you need for work that doesn’t offer a Mac version, or maybe you occasionally need to test websites in Internet Explorer. Whatever you need Windows for, Parallels is the best tool for the job.

Why Use Parallels Instead of Boot Camp or VirtualBox?

Sure, you could set up your Mac to run Windows with Boot Camp, but that means restarting your computer every time you need to use Windows. Parallels runs Windows within macOS, using what’s called a Virtual Machine. This allows you to quickly switch between the Mac and Windows desktops. You can even combine the two desktops, if you want, and run Windows software right on your Mac desktop from your Mac’s dock.

Virtual machines are complicated, but Parallels makes it reasonably simple to set one up and use it. There are other virtual machine options available to Mac users, including the open source Virtualbox, but Parallels is different in that it’s designed exclusively with Mac users in mind. Parallels costs more (since VirtualBox is free and Parallels is not), but there are hundreds of little design touches that help make running Windows within macOS as painless as possible, and that make setting everything up quick and easy. it’s well worth the cost.

How Much Does Parallels Cost?

Browsing the Parallels website, it can be a little tricky to find out what the product actually costs. So here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Purchasing the latest home version of Parallels Desktop costs $80 as of this writing. This lets you run Parallels on a single Mac.
  • Upgrading from one version of Parallels to another generally costs $50, and will probably be necessary every couple of years if you keep installing the latest versions of macOS.
  • A $70 annual subscription gives you access to all updates “for free,” according to the Parallels website.

If you just want to try out Parallels and see if it works for you, you can: there’s a 14 day trial of the software, which you can access without providing a credit card number. There’s also Parallels Desktop Lite, which is free on the Mac App Store and lets you create both Linux and macOS virtual machines. Parallels Desktop Lite can only run Windows virtual machines if you pay for a subscription, however.

One more note: purchasing Parallels does not give you a Windows license, or a Windows product key. If you have a Windows installation CD or USB key handy with a valid license you can use that, otherwise you will need to purchase Windows 10 from Microsoft to create a Windows 10 virtual machine.

We’ll point out that you don’t technically need a product key to install and use Windows 10—Microsoft basically gave up enforcing their license requirements with Windows 10, and you can download Windows 10 right from Microsoft at no cost (you’ll probably want it in the form of an ISO file). Legally speaking, however, you still need a product key to use Windows, even in a virtual machine.

How to Install Windows in Parallels

Got everything you need? Good. The new virtual machine wizard, which launches the first time you open Parallels, makes the process simple.

Assuming you already have a Windows CD or ISO,…

Edible Innovations: Common Garden Develops Open Source Farming Techniques

From Singapore to the USA and all around Europe, Edible Innovations profiles food makers that engage in improving the global food system at every stage, from production to distribution to eating and shopping. Join us as we explore the main trends in the industry from a maker perspective. Chiara Cecchini of Food Innovation Program — an ecosystem with a strong educational core that promotes food innovation as a key tool to tackle the great challenges of the future — introduces you to the faces, stories, and experiences of food makers around the globe. Check back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new installments.

Whether it is a balcony garden or an expansive farm, managing the many components of a garden can often be quite difficult. Agriculture is one of the few industries left that stubbornly refuses to upgrade their old systems and practices to incorporate 21st century technology and information. Jake Hartnell (@JakeHartnell) did not like that, so he decided to make a solution. Hartnell’s company, Common Garden (@Common_Garden), uses advanced technology to help farmers and growers alike get the perfect crop, every time.

So, who is the man behind the machine and its intricate software? Jake Hartnell is a designer and engineer from UC Berkeley and an affiliate with Berkeley’s Swarm Lab. He believes in developing technology that can be distributed and shared in a communal way. He is also a publisher who has written a science fiction novel and worked at hypothes.is.

All of these experiences would shape Hartnell’s future work at Common Garden. The environmental concerns that inspired future events in his novel needed to be addressed and his work at Berkeley taught him the importance of open source technology.

Both the…

Which Version of Firefox Am I Using?

Firefox isn’t the go-to alternative browser that it used to be, but it’s still a favorite among power users and open source advocates. Here’s a brief guide on how to find out what version of Firefox you’re using…and what the different versions actually mean.

Finding the Version Number

In the latest versions of Firefox on Windows or Linux, click the “hamburger” menu in the upper-right corner (the one with three horizontal lines).

In the bottom of the drop-down menu, click the “i” button. Then click “About Firefox.”

The small window that appears will show you Firefox’s release and version number. Click “What’s new” for a look at the release notes.

On a Mac, the process is a little different. Just click “Firefox” in the menu bar, then “About Firefox.”

Release Versions: How Stable Are You?

Firefox comes in four primary versions: the standard release, the beta version, the developer edition, and nightly builds. Here’s what that means.

Stable

This is the current release of Firefox, the one that the vast majority of users have installed. All the features have been thoroughly tested and are ready for use by the general public. Users of the stable release don’t get access to the newest tweaks and features, but it’s the one you want if you don’t like surprises in a crucial tool on your computer.

Beta

The beta release is one “version” ahead of the stable release—at the time of writing, the stable build of Firefox is on version 53, but the beta is on version 54. This version is for those who want access to the new features a little faster. Features that make it…