Gadgets at Microsoft Research

Gadget 1

My first gadget. Zero to digital camera in around 10 minutes…

Anything with the with the word “Gadget” in the name is going to be a win with me. Especially if it also includes the .NET Micro Framework. Enter the .NET Gadgeteer. The aim of this project from Microsoft Research is to make it really easy to create embedded devices. It is based on work performed by them to make it easier to go from ideas to functioning hardware. The cunning stuff is not just in the underlying software, but also in the way that the different hardware elements can be quickly and easily connected to the central “spider” processor board, which you can see in the front of my picture. You can just about make out the switch that is used to take a picture, the LCD panel that displays the results and a camera (presently taking a picture of the desk…).

Your gadget programs are written in C# and deployed like any other .NET Micro Framework application, using Visual Studio and a usb connection to the target device. However, the Gadgeteer system makes it very easy to interact with complex devices like cameras and displays, providing a well designed object interface that sits on top. The bottom line is that if you can program with objects, you can now use their software representations of objects to create working embedded devices. Furthermore, since all the software is shared source (based on the Apache 2.0 licence model) it is possible for to make products based on this technology which you can sell or distribute how you like.

A number of hardware vendors are on board and will be producing the processor boards and the peripheral devices. The shape and form of the components has been standardised so that it is easy to make cases to hold them so creating very professional looking, but low volume, product using the new 3D printing technology is now easy. And fun.

I’m keen to be first in the queue to get some kits for teaching and playing with when the first devices hit the stores soon. If you have an idea for a thing you’d like to make, but are put off by the difficultly of plumbing the hardware together and creating a good looking finished product, you should take a look at Gadgeteer.