Download this article in .PDF format
This file type includes high resolution graphics and schematics when applicable.

Gumstix makes a range of products based around small modules called, of course, Gumstix (Fig. 1). The modules speed time-to-market for designers that can now choose what processor platform and peripherals they need. The modules use Texas Instrument's OMAP SoCs with Arm Cortex processor cores. I have used a number of Gumstix products for various projects including robotics (see TurtleCore Tacks Cortex-A8 On To iRobot Create).

A designer can take advantage of existing carrier boards for their Gumstix module or design their own. Most do the latter when creating new products but Gumstix can help there too with a design and delivery tool for carrier boards calle Geppetto (see Game Changing Geppetto Builds ARM-based Systems).

I recently talked with W. Gordon Kruberg, President and CEO of Gumstix, about how Gumstix is taking advantage of crowdsourcing and Gepetto to deliver open source hardware designs to a wide range of users.

Wong: What is Gumstix Geppetto?

Kruberg: Geppetto (Fig. 2) is a webapp for building custom embedded computers. Users can create devices easily by just dragging and dropping the parts they need - USB ports, network connectors or even whole computers-on-modules - onto a board. Geppetto takes care of all the low-level routing while users control how all parts of the system connect. Completed designs are built at the touch of a button, and ship within 15 business days.

Beginning with either a template or a blank workspace, designers drag and drop from a library of parts to create a board design. That design can be shared in a limited or completely open fashion before the decision to purchase is made. Purchasing itself can be done as an individual or by a group, or by a crowd. There are no project costs until boards are shipped. There are no engineering charges.

For example, to build a custom computer with an accelerometer and a touchscreen the designer places a touchscreen and an accelerometer onto the board. The board turns red to let the user know of missing requirements, which also appear as flag. Clicking the flags identify the next pieces of the puzzle. A drag-and-drop later, that flag turns green to let the designer know it’s done. A yellow flag means the requirement can be met by something on the board, but still need connecting. Clicking it will give flags on other parts, and users can connect them in the way that best suits their design. Repeating this process until the board turns completely green finishes the design stage of a project.

This touchscreen and accelerometer design above only took ten minutes to complete from start to finish. If this board is ordered by the designer, the manufacturing set-up cost is $1,999, charged when the order is shipped. The board itself costs a little under $40 per unit ordered.

Wong: How does crowdfunding come into play?

Kruberg: Gumstix’ philosophy has always revolved around the importance of sharing, especially with open-source hardware and software. When we developed Geppetto, we gave users the option to share their designs with other users, making development faster and stronger. We also wanted to take it one step further, giving users greater advantages in sharing their designs. Now, we are offering them easier access by sharing manufacturing costs and scale (Fig. 3). Any designer can choose to share the manufacturing costs with a limited number of users (say, the 40 other members of a robotics club) or with an undefined number of members in a crowd.

Crowdfunding has exploded in recent years as an extremely effective way to get unique ideas to a target group, but may not be able to afford them. The model has been successful for everything from original series on YouTube to 3D printers to almost anything else imaginable. Crowdfunding is the perfect way for Geppetto community members, especially hobbyists, to create and share a practical idea with other interested users, and to make it a reality by sharing the associated costs.

Wong: How does a Geppetto crowdfunded project get started and how do boards get distributed?

Kruberg: Getting started on a crowdfunding campaign is almost as easy as buying any other Gumstix product. After a design is complete and added to the Gumstix catalog (as either a private, shared, or public board), a user has the option to create a community campaign instead of just purchasing it outright. A creator sets the number of days the campaign can run for, as well as the minimum number of boards needed to make the campaign successful. Campaigns can be made public or shared only with users of the creator’s choosing. Users then have the option to pledge the number of boards they want to a community campaign. Campaigns continue until their end date, even if they pass the designated threshold. Pledges are only charged if a campaign is successful, and each user pays their proportion of the setup fee, based on the number of boards they order out of the total, as well as the unit cost for their quantity of boards. All boards are manufactured and shipped within 15 business days of the campaigns completion.

Wong: What impact do you expect crowdfunding for Geppetto designs to have on the Linux, electronic design and hobbyist communities?

Kruberg: Crowdfunding gives Geppetto users a new and effective way to make their designs a reality while benefitting everyone in the community. The embedded Linux community will have an easy way to implement software solutions on custom hardware, without needing the typical hardware expertise, by designing in Geppetto and crowdfunding. Electronic design professionals too, can get started on their designs faster and minimize their time to market all while building their own community around their designs.

Last, but certainly not least, we expect hobbyists to see tremendous cost savings benefits in crowdfunding. While the costs associated with a Geppetto design are a fraction of those in conventional electronic design, they might still be prohibitive for a hobbyist who has a great idea. By sharing their completed idea with the community, finding other interested hobbyists and receiving pledges, many members of the hobbyist community will now be able to distribute the engineering cost and receive a professional quality board at an incredible price.

We’re so excited about all of the new possibilities community campaign crowdfunding brings to our users that, for a limited time, Gumstix will wave the setup fee on any campaigns that reach more than 50 pledges. Users can get started on a Geppetto design and campaign at http://geppetto.gumstix.com.