Monday, November 3, 2008

O/R: What is in a name?

Matt Asay asks us what is in the Open Remote name.
For him it means pointing remotes at houses. He was surprised to discover that we do Audio-Video control and Home Automation control. Frankly there isn't much in the name.

I wanted it to call it iRemote, which was an even more restrictive name. The website was kind of available but the name was already registered. Then Juha Lindfors, an old JBossian, pointed out that Open Remote was available both as a URL and a trademark. So we went ahead.

We are making progress on the software and hardware fronts. See Juha Lindfors progress report on Hardware.


OpenRemote October Update

It's been a while since I last blogged. There's been a lot of activity happening in the forums and some discussions behind the scenes and it's time to summarize some of those here.
Controller Hardware

One of the main things we've been doing over the last month is decisions on the pre-built hardware boxes. As you may know, we have a hardware reference implementation that we have published (Thanks to Mark Spencer!) which has been sort of a baseline for us to evaluate what kind of software we can support.

Some people went ahead and built the box (hey Neil) so it's a real workable thing you can put together and play with.

However we recognize that there's a barrier in ordering parts from separate vendors, putting things together, installing the software and so on. That's why we've been trying to find somebody to put the boxes together for us, we will preinstall the software and you're off to an easier start with OpenRemote.

By the way, if somebody knows a good solid shop who can put together a box, please let us know. We don't require customizations, our parts are off-the-shelf, we are just looking for somebody to do the assembly. What we do need is a shop that is able to support small volumes, pay-as-you-go orders in small bulks (say 25 or 50 units) as we can't make huge order commitments just yet.
Controller Form Factor

The form factor is another thing we've discussed a lot. You can see from the first hardware reference implementation that the box has the capability for infrared, serial and X10 integration.

We've thought about this a bit and realized there are going to be distinct user groups for the OpenRemote hardware. Some are looking for a product to control their A/V setup at home. This mainly involves replaying the infrared commands from the controller box, or if you got lucky with your hardware, controlling it via serial connections.

In addition some people are interested in controlling their homes via X10, INSTEON or KNX -- building scenes and timed macros to control lights, security and so on.

Finally there's a professional installer community who'd prefer as little infrared as possible and rather integrate via serial or low-voltage twisted pair.

Rather than building a single box that can do all of that, we've decided to split things up into distinct extension modules that you can stack on top of the main unit.

We are thinking of a stackable (flat-top) form of a base CPU unit with the mainboard and USB / Ethernet / X802.11 connectivity and then, depending on what you want to do, additional stackable units on top for infrared, X10, serial, KNX, whatever is your fancy.

This way we can keep the cost of the base hardware unit low and additional features become on-demand USB extensions.
Hardware Parts

We are also looking at different options for the mainboard of the CPU unit. The original reference implementation calls for an Alix board with an AMD Geode chip on it. Other options we are considering is an Atom-based mainboard (you may or may not have noticed but the Atom based netbooks are flying off the shelves, hugely popular computers with price tags as low as $250) or VIA C7 based motherboard.

For infrared we are thinking the IR emitters from IguanaWorks or possibly TIRA, both of which seem to be well supported by Open Source community and LIRC. If you got ideas for other IR equipment you're happy with, let us know.

The goal is still to get Linux and Java up and running from CompactFlash. If you have strong background with Linux distros on portable devices, set-top boxes, mini-PCs and such, please ping us here or on the forums (or even in private email if you're shy). Especially curious to hear about experiences with different Linux distros working off of CompactFlash.

That's all for now. There's a bunch of stuff happening on the software side as well which I'll cover a bit later (think about home floor plan images with AJAX interface when configuring your home automation setup, just to whet your appetite...)

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