3/5/15– Kelsey Breseman
Technical Machine announced Tessel 2 today: an open source $35 development platform you can take into production.
Why Tessel 2?
Tessel 2 is an affordable, accessible, open, and robust platform to build connected hardware devices and funnel them into production.
The Tessel platform was created to abstract away the initial hurdles of hardware development. Tessel opens up connected device development to people who want to build embedded devices, but don’t have the time to start with Ohm’s law and work their way up.
Tessel 2 takes the promise of Tessel 1, adds features and a path to production, and cuts the cost in half.
The original Tessel board fulfilled the goal of electrical accessibility. High-level languages, plug-and-play extensibility, and the use of a great package manager for installation all made Tessel the fastest way to build a prototype out of an idea. But it was also frustrating: fast as it is to get started on a Tessel 1, it’s hard to go beyond a single prototype. In the year since we shipped Tessel, we’ve been collecting feedback on user experiences and investigating solutions. Tessel 2 is based on that feedback.
With Tessel 2, we are building for users who want to take an idea, prototype, and then produce in volumes of hundreds to thousands.
For Tessel 2, we sought out the most reliable WiFi chips on the market, and found a solution in wireless router systems-on-chips (SoC’s, combined processor/wifi solutions). These chips are built into millions of routers and have very robust hardware and firmware. As an added bonus, they are produced in such high quantity that they cost less than $3 in quantity, compared to Tessel 1’s $13 for WiFi + microcontroller.
We’re now able to offer a device that runs 20x as fast, offers full Node and io.js, has router-grade Wifi reliability, USB ports, and ethernet, and costs less than the original Tessel. That offering is Tessel 2.
Putting Tessel in a Product
At this much lower cost, Tessel 2 is cheap enough to just insert into a product (as people do with BeagleBone and Raspberry Pi). And it’s open source, so you’re free to do so. Unlike BeagleBone and Raspberry Pi, however, we’re going out of our way to make that easy for you.
At the 100s-1000s scale, we are able to automate some simple optimization on the boards and components, thus reducing your end cost for embedded hardware.
We’re also offering services to support you as you scale up to production. Manufacturing is opaque and intimidating. It doesn’t have to be– we’re aiming for a Heroku-like experience of physical product deployment.
Please email us if you’re interested in discussing this with us.
Will Tessel 2 act like Tessel 1?
In a word, yes. For all intents and purposes, using the Tessel 2 should feel the same as using the original Tessel (but more reliable and a little faster). However, there will be a few changes to the underlying technology: original Tessel runs the Colony compiler to turn JS into Lua and is thus “Node compatible”; Tessel 2 just runs Node on V8– so you won’t run into the same incompatibility bugs. You can read more about this in the blog post Moving Faster with io.js.
There will also be a couple of differences in modules: Tessel 2 supports USB modules, so a USB webcam, USB speakers, and a few other modules will move into this sphere. This will allow us to reduce the cost of these modules and get you a higher-quality experience. USB compatibility also lets us easily support new third-party plug-and-play hardware capabilities in a similar capacity to current Tessel modules.
At the time of writing, we have already run Rust and Python code on a Tessel 2.
Around the time of ship, we will release examples of running Rust and Python on Tessel 2, as well as documentation on library porting for interested members of the community. The same process of plugging in a hardware module and installing the driver from a package manager will apply for these languages. Both languages will eventually be fully supported on Tessel 2.
Multiple language support is made possible by the change in underlying technology on Tessel. We’re excited to see where you take it.
What about low-power applications?
Based on feedback from the original Tessel, we’ve learned that people building connected device systems often need either a relatively high-power system to control and process various inputs and outputs, or they want simple, low-power sensor nodes.
WiFi chips are now more reliable and also cheaper than they were a year ago, but Wifi as a protocol is not designed to be low power. Tessel 2’s power draw is slightly less than that of the original Tessel, but not much.
For people seeking low-power solutions, we’re working on adding that capability to the Tessel ecosystem as well. Expect another big announcement next month.
Tessel is open source, software and hardware, and we owe a lot to our community. We have open sourced the software work we’ve done so far on Tessel 2, along with the schematics to tessel.io/opensource, and will continue developing in the open. As the hardware is finalized, we will release layouts.
We will be adding more about the architecture of Tessel 2 to the open source page in the next few days.
What will you build?
Our vision at Technical Machine is to build an open and scalable platform for hardware development. We’re reimagining the hardware development process with a focus on creating the best possible developer experience. Tessel 2 is the next piece of that vision.
With Tessel 2, we’re giving you the experience of Tessel, at the price of a Pi, with scaling opportunities that no other development board offers.
For us, Tessel 2 lays out the next leg of the journey on your road to production. We’re waiting in anticipation for you to take your next steps.
Director of Community, Technical Machine