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Linux Devices: Librem, NGD and Commell SBCs

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  • Todd Weaver on Digital Trends Live

    I have just had a wonderful conversation with Greg Nibler, from Digital Trends Live, about all kinds of different ways these issues are being tackled. Greg started by asking me to introduce Purism, and why we do what we do.

    Well, we started around 2014 as a Social Purpose Company: we advance social good over maximizing profit. We build laptops, a secure token called a Librem Key, and we are also coming out with the Librem 5: a smartphone that doesn’t run on Android nor IOS, but our own operating system PureOS (the same you get on our laptops). These are available today, with the Librem 5 phone (on pre-order now) coming out in Q3 of this year. Our services—chat, email, social media, VPN—are all standardized protocols, decentralized, with no data retention and end-to-end encrypted. We are going to continue to put out more and more hardware, software, and services as we progress.

    I’m kind of a hardcore geek, both in the hardware and software side—but I also am a digital rights activist, making Purism my dream come true by combining hardware, software and services together, in one convenient package. What is awesome is that our entire team is excited about the exact same thing: making convenient products that respect people. Hardware is a little bit more security-minded and privacy-focused, it is where the hardcore audience is: it really gets down to a trust and verified model. The same happens with software: it all needs to be released.

  • What's up with computational storage

    The advantage of this approach is that the processor can run a standard operating system (Ubuntu Linux), and allows any software that runs on Ubuntu to be used for in situ computing in NGD’s drives. The drive itself can also be used as a standard SSD.

  • Up to 4.3GHz, hexa-core Coffee Lake-H on tap in new 3.5-inch SBC

    Like the earlier Commell SBCs, the LE-37M is accompanied by Windows drivers, but Linux support is mentioned in the manual. The LE-37M is designed for imaging, machine vision, infotainment, medical, and gaming machine applications.

Banana Pi M4 launches for $38 with M.2, 40-pin, and PoE

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SinoVoip has launched its previously revealed “Banana Pi BPI-M4” SBC for $38. The Raspberry Pi-like board runs Linux on a quad -A53 Realtek RTD1395 and offers HDMI, M.2, WiFi/BT, 40-pin GPIO, PoE, and 5x USB ports.

When SinoVoip announced its Banana Pi BPI-M4 in February, it suggested the board would be coming soon. As it turned out, four months have passed, but the BPI-M4 is now available for $38 with 1GB RAM and 8GB eMMC on AliExpress.

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Also: Mini Type 10 and Compact Type 6 modules tap Apollo Lake

Hardware: Raspberry Pi or Arduino, Congatec and POWER9

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  • 5 of the Best IoT Hardware for Your Next IoT Project

    We have been exploring IoT projects based on either Raspberry Pi or Arduino. A major difference between the two is that the former is a single-board computer (SBC), whereas the latter runs on a single-board microcontroller.

    However, that is not all there is about IoT boards. Depending on your project, you might have additional needs of power, performance, applications, number of GPIOs, peripherals such as audio/video support and expansion.

    While both Raspberry Pi and Arduino were early movers, there are scores of powerful boards that are coming on the scene. The following are some of the best IoT hardware for your next IoT project.

  • Linux-friendly Whiskey Lake-UE boards feature up to 15-year availability

    Congatec has launched a “Conga-TC370” COM Express Type 6 and two SBCs — the 3.5-inch “Conga-JC370” and thin Mini-ITX “Conga-IC370” — with new embedded “UE” 8th Gen chips with 10-year plus availability.

    At Embedded World in early March, Congatec unveiled 3.5-inch Conga-JC370 and thin Mini-ITX Conga-IC370 SBCs with Intel’s 8th Gen Whiskey Lake U-series processors. Now, the German embedded firm has announced their availability along with a new Conga-TC370 COM Express Compact Type 6 module. The Linux-friendly boards sport Intel’s new embedded-focused UE versions of the chips, featuring 10-year plus availability.

  • The Speculative Execution Impact For A 4-Core POWER9 Blackbird Desktop

    Last year we looked at the Spectre mitigation cost on POWER9 using the high-end Talos II server while now several kernel releases later and also having the desktop Blackbird system in our lab, here is a look at how the Spectre/Meltdown mitigation impact is for an IBM POWER9 4-core processor running Ubuntu 19.04.

Tiny Snapdragon 820E module boasts long lifecycle support

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Intrinsyc’s $259 “Open-Q 820Pro μSOM” module runs Android 9 or Debian Linux on a quad-core, up to 2.34GHz Snapdragon 820E and offers long lifecycles, 4GB LPDDR4, 32GB flash, WiFi-ac, and an optional $499 dev kit.

The Open-Q 820Pro μSOM is a pin-compatible drop-in replacement for the two-year old Open-Q 820 µSOM and offers a similar layout and 50 x 25mm footprint. The biggest difference is an upgrade from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 to the faster, second-gen Snapdragon 820E, an embedded-focused version with long lifecycle support. As a result, the Open-Q 820Pro μSOM has a 9 percent faster CPU and 5 percent faster GPU at the same power consumption, claims Intrinsyc.

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Wind River Linux adds Docker and Kubernetes support for the edge

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The latest version of Wind River Linux debuts an “OverC” container stack that eases integration of frameworks such as Docker and Kubernetes on edge devices. The Yocto-based embedded distro is available in open source and commercial versions.

When reading about the latest, container-friendly version of the market-leading commercial Wind River Linux distribution, we were struck by the mention of an open source version of the commercial distro available for download on GitHub. We wondered if this was a new development after Intel sold off Wind River to investment firm TPG last year, but a Wind River spokesperson informed us that the open source version has been available since 2017.

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Also: Skylake box PC has 6x GbE with optional PoE and Myriad X support

Where Open Hardware Is Today

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Open hardware could not exist without the prior success of FOSS. It has been twenty years since the era, when FOSS was an untried idea. Since then, other groups based on the ideals and practices of FOSS, have grown into successful semi-independent communities of their own, such as OpenAccess and OpenStack. FOSS ideals no longer have to be proved, so open hardware does not need to be defended, either.

If anything, open hardware has gone on to have its own successes. Like FOSS before it, open hardware has an affinity with academia, where the exchange of ideas is a norm analogous to copyleft licenses. When academics venture into manufacturing, they are likely to organize under the same principles.

FOSS-based ideals are especially common in non-profits. Probably one of the biggest successes for open hardware is in the field of aesthetics. A traditionally constructed artificial hand costs upwards of $30,000. That price is beyond the reach of many families in a developing nation like India, where the average family income is about $21,000. By contrast, a custom-made artificial hand is sold by an open-hardware company like Open Bionics for $400. Although the cost of an open hardware hand is still high by the standards of developing nations, it is at least within reach, especially with charity. It also means, of course, that seventy-five open hardware hands can be made for the price of one proprietary one. Building on FOSS, open hardware has gone on to prove its own practicality.

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Open Hardware/Modding: ERASynth, REFLO Air, RISC-V and AbilityLab

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  • ERASynth Micro affordable USB open source RF signal generator

    Access to an RF signal generator can sometimes be a little tricky for electronic enthusiasts and developers due to the cost implications. ERA Instruments is hoping to change this with the launch of their affordable open source RF signal generator in the form of the ERASynth Micro. RF signal generators are normally expensive pieces of test equipment mainly used by professional engineers. The ERASynth Micro has been specifically designed for makers to remove the cost implications and provide a quality RF signal synthesis accessible to everyone.

  • REFLO Air open source, smart PCB reflow machine

    Electronic enthusiasts searching for a new compact open source Smart PCB reflow machine may be interested in a new device created by the team at MagicBox, called the REFLO Air. Watch the demonstration video below to learn more about the heater system housed in a compact enclosure and now available to back via the Crowd Supply website with earlybird pledges available from $199 and worldwide shipping expected to take place towards the end of next month during July 2019.

  • Qualcomm backs open-source alternative to Arm, x86: Should Arm be worried?

    Consumer gadgets such as smart speakers, smartwatches, and smartphones generally use processors based on Intel’s x86 and Arm’s instruction sets. However, the open-source RISC-V instruction set is gaining prominence too, and industry bigwig Qualcomm has backed a company dealing with the technology.

    According to The Information (paywall), chip design company SiFive has raised $65.4 million as part of its latest funding round. This funding round includes an investment from Qualcomm, and sees the San Diego giant join the likes of Intel and Samsung as investors in the firm. So what makes SiFive and RISC-V so special?

  • Qualcomm backs Sifive, open source alternative to ARM

    ARM’s been in the news more and more lately. They are after all one of the leaders when it comes to processor instruction sets. Outside of Intel’s x86, we haven’t really seen any real competitor to ARM, at least until now. Sifive is a plucky startup that utilizes the open source RISC-V instruction set for their processors.

  • OpenHW Group Created and Announces CORE-V Family of Open-source Cores for Use in High Volume Production SoCs

    A new not-for-profit global organization aims to boost the adoption of open-source processors by providing a platform for collaboration, creating a focal point for ecosystem development, and offering open-source IP for processor cores.

  • Andes Technology Corp. Senior VP, Emerson Hsiao to Be Panelist for “Open Source ISAs – Will the IP Industry Find Commercial Success?” at DAC 2019 in Las Vegas

    Andes Technology Corporation, a founding member of the RISC-V Foundation and leading supplier of small, low-power, high performance 32/64-bit embedded CPU and next generation RISC-V cores, today announced that Senior VP, Andes Technology USA Corp., Emerson Hsiao will participate on the panel “Open Source ISAs – Will the IP Industry Find Commercial Success?” at DAC 2019 in Las Vegas.

  • Popcorn open source mini PC computers hit Kickstarter [Ed: What they mean by "open source" isn't quite that; more like modularity]

    Source Parts has taken to Kickstarter this week to launch two new open source mini PC computers in the form of the Original Popcorn and Super Popcorn. Super Popcorn and Super ‘8’ Popcorn share many of the same specifications. They only differ in the main processor.

  • An open-source AI bionic leg is the future of prosthetics

    Open-source projects to develop smart prosthetics for the upper body, such as hands, are well-established parts of the bionic landscape. Now, legs get to join the party, thanks to the efforts of scientists Levi Hargrove and Elliott Rouse at the University of Michigan and Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

    An open-source, artificially intelligent prosthetic leg was unveiled at Amazon’s Re:MARS conference in Las Vegas this afternoon (June 5) ahead of its release to the wider scientific community. It’s hoped that researchers and patients will work collaboratively to improve the leg, via its free-to-copy design and programming. (The current price to build it as specified is $28,500, including the Raspberry Pi that powers its AI; patients are not advised to see it as a “build-at-home solution.”)

  • Open-source bionic leg: First-of-its-kind platform aims to rapidly advance prosthetics

    A new open-source, artificially intelligent prosthetic leg designed by researchers at the University of Michigan and Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is now available to the scientific community.

    The leg’s free-to-copy design and programming are intended to improve the quality of life of patients and accelerate scientific advances by offering a unified platform to fragmented research efforts across the field of bionics.

    “Our Open-Source Bionic Leg will enable investigators to efficiently solve challenges associated with controlling bionic legs across a range of activities in the lab and out in the community,” said lead designer Elliott Rouse, core faculty at U-M’s Robotics Institute and assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “In addition, we hope our bionic leg will unite researchers with a common hardware platform and enable new investigators from related fields to develop innovative control strategies.”

Devices: Mosquitoes, EFCO, Atomic Pi, Android Pie and Bionic Organs

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  • Olav Vitters: Domotica because mosquitoes

    Price wise, it might be good to buy a device (“hub”) with support for all the Zigbee devices, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, 433MHz, etc. This as building everything yourself might not even be cheaper if you’re only building it once. This as you might need to buy loads of things: soldering equipment, wire stripper, up to possibly a 3D printer. That would be less fun though!

    That said, it’s a bit unfortunate that to really integrate everything together requires too much knowledge. I’d like a more out-of-the box type of solution. Something I’d be comfortable with giving to family that’s easy to use, works well and is still free software.

  • R-Series based gaming box has triple DP

    EFCO’s Linux-friendly “EGL8350” gaming computer runs on an AMD R-Series SoC with Radeon R5 or R7 GPUs and offers 3x DisplayPorts, 2x GbE, 4x each of USB and serial, 72x JAMMA GPIO, and a SATA-enabled “SmartBay.”

    After announcing an EGL6087 casino gaming logic box with an AMD G-Series GX218 LX earlier this year, EFCO has now launched a system that advances to the more powerful AMD Embedded R-Series SoC. The new EGL8350 follows other R-Series based gaming boxes such as Axiomtek’s GMB135.

  • The Atomic Pi: Is it Worth It?

    Several months ago, a strange Kickstarter project from ‘Team IoT’ appeared that seemed too good to be true. The Atomic Pi was billed as a high-power alternative to the Raspberry Pi, and the specs are amazing. For thirty five American buckaroos, you get a single board computer with an Intel processor. You get 16 Gigs of eMMC Flash, more than enough for a basic Linux system and even a cut-down version of Windows 10. You have WiFi, you have Bluetooth, you have a real time clock, something so many of the other single board computers forget. The best part? It’s only thirty five dollars.

    Naturally, people lost their minds. There are many challengers to the Raspberry Pi, but nothing so far can beat the Pi on both price and performance. Could the Atomic Pi be the single board computer that finally brings the folks from Cambridge to their knees? Is this the computer that will revolutionize STEM education, get on a postage stamp, and sell tens of millions of units?

  • The Pie goes forth - Moto G6 road test

    Overall, not bad. I'm happy that my setup is proving itself under duress in that I have minimal inconveniences while still retaining a quiet and peaceful configuration. Android Pie did misbehave a little on the network side, but the fix for that was a simple reboot. On the other hand, battery management is very good.

    From the usability perspective, things can be better. More streamlined workflow and consistency, like the cyclic paths to settings and the light/dark theme thingie. I also don't see the point in the try-a-feature nudges, because if the system is already using AI to predict things, it should also be able to predict I'm not the target audience for most if not all of the available options and tools. Quite the contrary, the nudges actually only breed further hesitation and resistance. That said, the issues were fairly small, and I was able to use the Moto as needed. Android 9.0 Pie works all right, although in my mind, apart from the battery improvements, it doesn't really bring any cardinal advantages. But then, that's a sign of maturity, and we've seen that with many other operating systems. Well, come the D-Day, my Android experience might be okay. Cautiously optimistic. Until the next time.

  • An open source bionic leg, Python data pipeline, data breach detection, and more news

    A generation of people learned the term bionics from the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. What was science fiction (although based on fact) is closer to becoming a reality thanks to prosthetic leg designed by the University of Michigan and the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

    The leg, which incorporates a simple, low-cost modular design, is "intended to improve the quality of life of patients and accelerate scientific advances by offering a unified platform to fragmented research efforts across the field of bionics." It will, according to lead designer Elliot Rouse, "enable investigators to efficiently solve challenges associated with controlling bionic legs across a range of activities in the lab and out in the community."

    You can learn more about the leg, and download designs, from the Open Source Leg website.

The Khadas VIM3, the Amlogic S922X powered Raspberry Pi competitor, is launching on June 24 for US$69.99

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Both models will run Android 9.0 Pie, Ubuntu XFCE 18.04 and LibreELEC (Kodi GBM & Linux 5.1. The company claims that it is still planning to release a third, and more expensive, version of the VIM3; it has not offered any information regarding this SKU though.

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Open Hardware Boost for Libre RISC-V

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  • First NLNet Grant Approved to Fund Development

    The application for funding from NLnet and the Next Generation Internet initiative from the European Commission, from back in November of last year, has been approved. It means that we have EUR $50,000 to pay for full-time engineering work to be carried out over the next year, and to pay for bounty-style tasks. For the right people, with the right skills, there is money now available.

    More plans from our community are in the pipeline. We can apply for additional grants (also up to EUR $50,000). In the next couple of days, we will put in an application for “Formal Mathematical Proofs” of the processor design.

    There are several reasons for doing so. The primary one is down to the fact that we anticipate this (commercial, libre) product to be closely and independently examined by third parties, to verify for themselves that it does not contain spying backdoor co-processors, as well as the usual security and correctness guarantees. If there exist formal mathematical proofs that the processor and its sub-components operate correctly, that independent third-party verification task is a lot easier.

    In addition, it turns out that when writing unit tests, using formal mathematical proofs makes for complete code coverage - far better than any other “comprehensive” multiple unit test technique could ever hope to achieve - with less code and not just better accuracy but 100% provable accuracy. Additional, much simpler unit tests can then be written which are more along the lines of “HOWTOs” - examples on how to use the unit.

  • Libre RISC-V Snags $50k EUR Grant To Work On Its RISC-V 3D GPU Chip

    In case you haven't followed the previous articles on Libre RISC-V, this is the latest open-source GPU hardware effort that is taking the approach of using a RISC-V chip running a Rust-written Vulkan software renderer (similar to what LLVMpipe is to OpenGL on CPUs) for providing libre 3D graphics. They hope to have something ready in 2020 but their goal is just 1280 x 720 25 fps, 100 Mpixels/sec, 30 Mtriangles/sec, 5-6 GFLOPs and they think they can accomplish that with just about a 2.5 Watt power draw. But less than 30 FPS for 720p content really isn't much especially in 2020, but they are trumpeting it for its open-source/libre hardware potential.

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Android Leftovers

Stable kernels 5.1.10, 4.19.51, and 4.14.126

  • Linux 5.1.10
    I'm announcing the release of the 5.1.10 kernel. All users of the 5.1 kernel series must upgrade. The updated 5.1.y git tree can be found at: git:// linux-5.1.y and can be browsed at the normal git web browser:
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Android Leftovers

My personal journey from MIT to GPL

As I got started writing open source software, I generally preferred the MIT license. I actually made fun of the “copyleft” GPL licenses, on the grounds that they are less free. I still hold this opinion today: the GPL license is less free than the MIT license - but today, I believe this in a good way.


I don’t plan on relicensing my historical projects, but my new projects have used the GPL family of licenses for a while now. I think you should seriously consider it as well.

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