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Crowdfunding a custom Linux SBC the easy way

Aug 20, 2013 — by Rick Lehrbaum 5,591 views

Thinking about launching a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign to fund a custom Linux-powered SBC for controlling your dream product? Gumstix says it has come up with a better way: find 50 collaborators, agree on a design, and have first articles of your custom SBC built and booting Linux in under three weeks. Sounds tempting, but how is this possible?

Gumstix has just added crowdfunding features to its Geppetto drag-and-drop embedded board design platform, letting groups of users share costs and designs publicly or privately based on various preset conditions. Besides supporting the design of custom baseboards accommodating the company’s tiny gumstick-sized Overo computer-on-modules (COMs), the browser-based Geppetto service lets users build custom Linux-compatible all-in-one designs using TI’s Sitara AM3354 system-on-chip (SoC). And get this: the company claims its Geppetto-based build process typically yields working boards — booting Linux — in under three weeks.

It doesn’t take a wizard to see that Gumstix’s new initiative aims to one-up the growing trend of using ultra-low-cost SBCs, like the Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone Black, for all sorts of projects and products, especially at the prototype and low- to medium-volume production stages. Gumstix CEO Gorden Kruberg says his company’s Geppetto-based alternative neutralizes a major drawback of the RasPi trend, which typically involves assembling a patchwork solution consisting of the SBC along with various add-on modules, cables, and dongles.


Building a board with Geppetto

Gumstix’s Geppetto platform is a browser-based webservice with which you can design and order a custom baseboard or SBC. Basically, you choose the size of the board, decide which CPU modules (more on that in a moment), I/O functions, connectors, and other components to include, finalize the placement, and order boards. And Gumstix does the rest, using the same PCB design automation tools, standardized BOMs (bills of materials), manufacturing supply chain, and test tools that are used for building its own products. In fact, the company even uses Geppetto for its own board designs.

Typical Geppetto design models

Although Geppetto, which launched as a customer service earlier this year, initially was limited to building customized baseboards for Gumstix’s Overo computer-on-modules (COMs), it now allows the creation of true single-board computers using a design cell based on TI’s AM3354 Sitara processor. The industrial-focused AM335x parts are single-core Cortex-A8-based SoCs, and have appeared in COMs including CompuLabs’s CM-T335 and DAVE’s Diva.

Gumstix Overo COM and Alto35 baseboard
(click images to enlarge)


When creating a complete single-board design, users drag-and-drop the TI SoC design cell into a 3D rendering of the SBC design. Alternatively, users can leverage one of Gumstix’s Overo COMs, which the company positions as extremely dense, cost effective, risk free macrocomponents. Either way — whether the CPU core is the AM3354 SoC design cell or an Overo COM — other components, such as USB ports, network interfaces, LEDs, and other desired features can then be added. As the process proceeds, Geppetto alerts the user to unsatisfied requirements, or to conflicts such as power voltage issues.

Significantly, Gumstix says its Geppetto-produced boards are tested against a standard Gumstix Yocto Project build system, ensuring compatibility with most embedded Linux distributions.

For custom SBC designs, the BOM (bill of materials) cost for the Sitara AM3354 SoC-based design cell (including RAM) is $45, says Gumstix, making it cost-competitive with the Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone Black — once you eliminate the need for extra add-on modules, cables, and dongles. Other costs will of course depend on the particular design. Manufacturing costs for complete AM3354-based SBC designs were not stated, but the manufacturing costs for Overo-based custom baseboards range from $6.30 per unit in volume, up to about $50 per unit for orders of fewer than 60, according to Gumstix.

Crowdfunding aspects

Prior to the new crowdfunding features, users could already share their designs with each other and with the general Geppetto community. What’s new with Geppetto’s new crowdfunding capability, is that a project’s creator can now specify a quantity threshold and campaign duration (between 10 to 45 days), and then share a catalog link with a desired community.

After a crowdfunded campaign is set up, members of the community pledge to buy boards. Once the designated threshold is reached, the boards are built and users are charged a share of the standard Geppetto $1,999 manufacturing set-up fee based on their fraction of the total number of boards being built. But for now, that fee is being waived as part of the launch of the initiative. How long will the waiver continue? The company hasn’t decided yet, Kruberg told LinuxGizmos.

“Crowdfunding campaigns are a natural extension of our design sharing philosophy. We expect to see shared designs in a wide range of communities, from robotics classrooms to remote environmental data monitoring, and are excited to have made our own internal engineering automation freely available over the web,” stated Kruberg. “This spreads design-and-build of electronic devices well beyond the realm of professional electrical engineers, and into the hands of educators and hobbyists.”

For further details or to search for or launch a shared project, visit the Gumstix Geppetto page.

(advertise here)

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One response to “Crowdfunding a custom Linux SBC the easy way”

  1. Rick says:

    Looking at this for FreedomBox, I see you have open source firmware, but is the hardware completely open?

    If it is, we may have a fit, if not, pass.


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