1/13/2014— Eric Kolker
As we wrap up the first wave of hardware design and push into production, we’ve turned our thoughts to what’s coming next. I’ll leave the discussion of the industry at large to the blogosphere, but continue the discussion Jon started about what comes next from Technical Machine, specifically on the hardware front.
- Tessel 2 is an enormous opportunity space. We’ve tossed around the idea of
- A simple update to the board, possibly baking some of the more common sensors (accelerometer/gyroscope, SD card, etc.) into the device
- A smaller, low power version of the Tessel, probably with two module ports, a lower price point, more limited GPIO, and possibly a different wireless story (BLE, WiFi, cellular data of some kind, etc.). Just for kicks, here’s something we played around with (for the sake of R&D) a while back:
- A ruggedized version of the board for our friends in industry, on boats, etc. who want to bake this into something highly reliable. We’re talking maybe as far as a waterproof case, dedicated battery, power in up to 48 V DC (AC wall power is a whole different animal), ethernet + POE support, etc.
- Something for the roboticists out there… My guess is this would include a co-processor of some kind to handle control loops, high speed I/O, an IMU and communication with modern hobby radios. This kind of architecture is common in many robotic systems because pushing the robot’s “reflexes” down to a lower level processor frees up the main CPU to do computationally expensive mission planning while maintaining a more consistent system response to external forces. TLDR: deciding where to fly would take clock cycles away from subroutines that keep the quadcopter airborne if they shared the same CPU.
- With a little help, many of our modules can be adapted to serve alternate functions. The best example is the Servo module, which can be converted into an LED driver (well, technically we convinced it to become a servo driver in the first place) or used to drive an external speed controller, thereby letting the Tessel control pretty much any kind of actuator you want. On a similar note, the NRF module can fake Bluetooth packets and the RFID module can also be used to transmit.
- As an analog guy at heart, I’m itching to get some precision instrumentation out there, and a great opportunity just popped up with another project on Dragon Innovation. The Mooshimeter is a kick-ass multimeter that communicates over BLE and uses your phone as its display/controller. We’ll be working with their team to make sure that the Tessel can talk to the Mooshimeter, thereby opening up a whole slew of possibilities in the space of measuring hard to-reach electrical things (and normal-to-reach electrical things too). To give you a sense of the numbers here, the bare Tessel can measure voltage up to 3.3 V with 10 bits of resolution. The Mooshimeter would expand that to 600 V with 24 bits of resolution.
- The next wave of modules will have to be better and more creative than ever. We’ve already covered most of the bases for “I/O you’d expect from something that talks to your phone,” which leaves, frankly, the more interesting things still on the table. Jon talked about the myoelectric sensor that Kelsey and I played with at Robots Conf, we’ve mentioned the possibility of an IMU and thermocouples, a more advanced camera, passive IR (motion detectors)…the list goes on. I’d love to see what people create with pressure and breakbeam sensors (think laser trip wire), magnetometers, and rangefinders. We’ve tossed around the idea of doing something with MIDI, too…
- On a less physical level, I’d love to find new and improved ways for people to interact with and design hardware. I wrote a post a while back about my physical toolbox, but part of what I’ve come to appreciate in working on this project is just how far the software tools EEs use have to come. I’ve tried every once in a while to contribute to the growing effort, but there’s still a long way to go. Long story short, I believe that Technical Machine is in a good place to help with this movement.
At the end of the day, what we do next depends a lot on what we hear from all of you. I’d love to build for the sake of building, and strive to keep my head up in the clouds, at least for a little while, but ultimately we can’t be successful if all we create are beutiful yet impractical tools. Let us know what you’re yearning for (firstname.lastname@example.org), and we’ll do our best to keep up.