Hardware hacking heaven

OSCON's hardware track looks at ways to hack the world around you.

OSCON this year will be a delight for anybody interested in working with hardware. A full open source hardware track offers a range of talks to get you started with hardware hacking, and gives a great insight into the current options for prototyping.

Many software developers are astonished to find that there’s nothing that hard about hardware, and a few basic skills can go a long way. Some have bemoaned that you can’t hack your iPhone the way you used to be able to learn with an Apple ][, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t options out there.

From microcontrollers such as Arduino, through to complete systems such as the SheevaPlug and BeagleBoard, there are now many accessible form factors to enable novices and experts alike to begin experimenting and prototyping hardware systems.

Where to start?

OSCON - Save 20%The home is naturally a place where many of us get started with hardware hacking. At OSCON, father-and-son team Bruce and Matthew Momijan will discuss software control of home automation systems. Find out how to cron your washing machine and script your telephone.

Taking things a step further and hitting the metal, “Hardware Hacking 101” will demonstrate how to build small single-purpose devices, and give an overview of what to look out for when starting to wrangle chips and PCBs.

Hardware takes many forms, and it’s not just about circuit boards. Hacking in Real Life: Crafting for the Modern Geek invites you to find out what happens when you mix fractals, 3D printers, robotics, open source, high-powered lasers, and non-orientable surfaces with wood, plastic, textiles, steel, cloth … and lots of coffee.


The little board that could has captured the imagination of many developers. It’s responsible for demystifying hardware for many of my friends, seasoned software developers who never knew they could do hardware. If you’ve never met Arduino before, get introduced with a hands-on three hour tutorial, or follow a quick introduction, then stay for the fun.

arduino.jpgParallel programming may seem too obscure for the everyday developer, but it makes a surprising appearance as a tool for artists and makers. In a session on the Plumbing toolkit, we’ll hear how with six lines of code we can go from making simple blinkenlights to responding to environmental sensor inputs.

Reaching out further into the environment, OSCON regular Russ Nelson will be talking about how he used Arduino and sensors to monitor water quality. For me, that really represents the power of Arduino: hacking the real world.

The final piece of the sensor puzzle is of course to display your data. “Open Source Data Visualization on Open Source Hardware” is a soup-to-nuts tour, covering data acquisition to visualizations.

Small-form computing

If soldering isn’t your scene, there’s still plenty you can do with the progressive miniaturization of entire systems. The SheevaPlug computer is now the basis of several consumer devices. It runs Linux, is power-efficient, and very hackable. The Plug Computing Primer will give a tour of the strengths and weaknesses of using this device in practice.

Taking it one step smaller, the BeagleBoard is a three-inch-square board from Texas Instruments that provides netbook-like performance with very low power consumption. Its hardware design is itself open source, opening possibilities for derivative design. “How to Boot Linux on the BeagleBoard” will introduce the board and its developer ecosystem.

Hack the world around you

With the current slate of tools, it’s never been easier to write code that runs on low-power, small-format devices. And many of these tools are familiar to conventional software developers. The goal of the hardware track is to combine toolsets and inspiration so you can hack the real-world problems around you.


OSCON will be held July 19-23 in Portland, Ore. Radar readers can save 20% on registration with the discount code OS10RAD.

tags: , ,