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Followup: chipKIT network shield price, source, and more

Posted on Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011 in PIC by Ian

Gene Apperson from Digilent gave us more background on the chipKIT network and I/O shields:

  • Price of the Basic I/O Shield: I was surprised at how high our cost was on this board. I had originally thought we would be able to sell it for $25, but there is no way we could get enough margin at that price to make it worth doing. Other than the OLED display, no individual part is all that expensive, but it all adds up.
  • Price of the Network Shield: Same story. I was surprised at how high our cost was. The PCB is definitely more than $3. The 32khz oscillators are surprisingly expensive as well.
  • Open source project: I didn’t design this board. I assigned it to our PCB designer in Romania. There was a miscommunication, and I forgot to tell her to do the design in Eagle. So, this board was done using Altium. We’re going to post the gerbers and the Altium project as open source, but unfortunately, it won’t be as useful to the community as if it had been done in Eagle. Sorry about that, but it wasn’t intentional. I’ve been working with a guy in England who is working on recreating the design in Eagle, but he’s not done yet.
  • Open source libraries: Unfortunately, the driver libraries for the Network Shield are based on Microchip Applications Library code that is not open source. The high level library code (i.e. the C++ wrappers) are open source, but of course, they call into MAL code that isn’t open source. The source code is included in the distribution, but it is under the regular Microchip license agreement. One of the biggest hurdles in doing these libraries was getting it to build under the MPIDE environment. It took some changes in the IDE to get it to work. The other big problem was working out the licensing with Microchip so that we coUld even distribute it.  We have plans to develop completely open source driver libraries for the Network Shield, but there is no way we had the time or resources to do it this spring and summer.   When I was originally designing the Max32, I thought of the two board set of Max32 and Network Shield as the target platform. We could have kept the cost down doing it as a single board, but there is no way it would have fit in the Mega form factor. This would also have arbitrarily raised the price who didn’t care about ethernet or USB or CAN. There are always tradeoffs.  The libraries for the Basic I/O shield were written entirely by Digilent and are open source. I did the OLED display library.
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10 Responses to “Followup: chipKIT network shield price, source, and more”

  1. Randy says:

    Thus far, I’ve been very impressed with how Digilent is embracing the concept of open-source hardware on the chipKIT platform. A few stumbles and minor setbacks perhaps, but overall their attitude and approach is commendable.

    Now I’m wondering what it would take to port lwIP to the Max32 and get a nice open-source TCP/IP stack running – could be an interesting project to add to the (freakishly large) pile…

  2. pt says:

    this is a very interesting post, it’s cool to hear some of the challenges from gene about getting the product as open as possible and their efforts to make it open as possible…

    gene, what specifically would someone need to do if they wanted to use this product for commercial use, you wrote:

    “Unfortunately, the driver libraries for the Network Shield are based on Microchip Applications Library code that is not open source. The high level library code (i.e. the C++ wrappers) are open source, but of course, they call into MAL code that isn’t open source. The source code is included in the distribution, but it is under the regular Microchip license agreement.”

    what is the agreement? would i need to get permission, sign NDAs, etc?

  3. ian says:

    I’ll have a bit more tomorrow on the licensing and is alternatives.

  4. @pt

    Basically, the MAL license agreement says that you are allowed
    to use the code in a commercial product without paying any license
    fees, but you are only allowed to run it on a Microchip processor,
    and you are only allowed to distribute it in binary form. You
    aren’t allowed to redistribute the source code.
    It isn’t open source, but there is very little hindrance to using it
    in a commercial product.

    Gene Apperson
    Digilent

  5. pt says:

    hi gene!

    thank you for explaining this, i guess my next question (since i am getting asked about this now) is:

    what is the relationship between digilent and microchip. i’m guessing they fund development of these boards but they still call the shots on licensing.

    from what i can tell you really want to see the parts ian outlined open-source, but microchip cannot do that at this time.

    is that correct?

  6. pt,

    The relationship between Digilent and Microchip is that Digilent is a Microchip authorized design partner.

    Digilent has funded all of the hardware development for the chipKIT products we manufacture and sell. I designed, or supervised the design, of the hardware. Digilent has also started taking a more active role in the software side. I was heavily involved in fixing bugs and completing the implementation of missing features in the core files and libraries for the last software release.

    Microchip provided the compiler and runtime libraries and has provided a lot of the promotion and marketing and helped coordinate the different parts of the project. There isn’t anyone in Microchip who’s job is chipKIT. There are several people who work on this project as one of many responsibilities, and there are several people doing it on their own time because they are interested.

    Gene

  7. pt,

    To continue…

    I personally would like to see all of the software for chipKIT be open source, and will work toward that end within the limits of the resources I have available.

    Microchip ‘calls the shots’ with regard to licensing of the IP that they own. They don’t call the shots with regard to the overall strategic direction. We have jointly come up with some ideas of things we’d like to add and improvements we’d like to make to the system, but it is an open system and the community is participating in moving things forward.

    The libraries for the network shield aren’t currently open source, but that can change. Getting parts of the Microchip Applications Library released as open source isn’t a closed issue, it may still happen. Even if it doesn’t, though, we can still move in that direction, it’ll just take more time. As Ian said, he has pointed me to open source USB code that we may be able to use, and I will certainly look into it.

    Gene

    • Ian says:

      Hi Gene,

      Thanks for being so generous with your time and following up here.

      “I personally would like to see all of the software for chipKIT be open source, and will work toward that end within the limits of the resources I have available.”

      I couldn’t agree more. That’s my goal too. You made a great contribution to open source with the chipKIT boards, and I believe they will lead to more and better open source. Not just from the community, but also from Microchip with a bit of assurance and gentle pressure. Keep up the great work!

  8. pt,

    To further continue,

    While we were working on the current MAL based libraries, we also considered open source alternatives. I decided to go ahead with the current MAL based libraries because that was the only path I saw to getting something out in a reasonable time. Even then, we were about six weeks longer getting it out than I thought we would be.

    The next Network Shield library release will add UDP to the Ethernet library, and a USB host library.

    Gene

  9. pt says:

    hi gene,

    thank you for posting this!

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