Instrumentation made simple and modern

-August 23, 2013

Instruments can be bulky, expensive, and difficult to integrate, but a new startup is looking to bring test and measurement to the masses.

Red Pitaya is offering an open-source measurement board and a whole ecosystem to enable people to learn, create, develop, and share ideas.

Founded by four young engineers with experience in high-performance instrumentation for particle accelerators, the company aims to offer a stripped-down instrument with high-performance measurement and communication functionality compatible with your smartphone, tablet, or PC.

The credit-card-sized, reconfigurable open-source measurement board performs signal processing on an onboard Xilinx Zinq FPGA, which contains the processor core to host additional software. The device will be sold for $359.

The Red Pitaya Ecosystem includes the board, the Bazaar marketplace, the Backyard repository containing open-source code and tools, and the Spark Center, a Red Pitaya community for posting new ideas and proposals.

The free cloud marketplace of open-source test and measurement applications includes an oscilloscope, a spectrum analyzer, an arbitrary signal generator, a frequency response analyzer, and a proportional-integral-derivative controller that can all be accessed in any Web browser.

A Kickstarter project was launched on July 22 to raise money for the initial manufacturing run of the boards and completing a cloud-based infrastructure. The initial goal of $50,000 was reached in two days and more than $100,000 from hundreds of backers has been raised so far.

Borut Baricevic, a co-founder of Red Pitaya, recently spoke to EDN about the company, open source, startups, and Kickstarter.

What is it like to be a startup in 2013?

It is very unpredictable, which also makes it very exciting. We are a group of enthusiastic engineers who love blending hardware and software into new tools for people. New hardware startups are certainly gaining momentum. We believe crowd-funding is gaining momentum too; the concept is disruptive and it is working. We are experiencing it first hand.

It is becoming clear that the slow recovery of the economy is forcing people to start thinking outside the typical corporate jobs. Makers and DIY communities are growing in size and popularity and we believe that this trend will increase in the future. Powerful tools are now available at surprising price tags. This reality holds the promise for unleashing the creativity of the masses.

Why are you going open source?

The basic philosophy behind Red Pitaya is to bring the instrumentation closer to everyone and tailored to the needs of an individual. Nowadays, many people tend to move away from the consumer-only philosophy. Besides getting the solution for their problem, they want to know how to do it by themselves. The Makers and DIY communities encourage people to become independent and much more creative.

We believe the open-source approach is the perfect way of unleashing the potential and creativity of numerous individuals out there, and to enable them to easily create customized measurement instruments for their specific projects, gain lots of knowledge along the way, and share all this with others. In this way, the whole community can benefit.

What obstacles did you encounter in starting your business?

The hardest part was to properly assess whether people really care about our device and especially about the idea of an open-source ecosystem supporting it. The next important thing was to find out whether there was enough interest in the developers out there to support the Red Pitaya ecosystem and make it grow. We believe the open-source community plays an equally important role in making this project a success.

There are many very successful open-source projects in existence--some of them are even targeted at general-purpose embedded devices, but not at a very specific electronic-measurement-oriented device like Red Pitaya. Our main concern was whether there is enough motivated engineering enthusiasts out there to make this a successful open-source project. And we believe there are!

Immediately after first presentations of the idea of an open ecosystem built around a capable reconfigurable instrument, we received very good feedback from universities, technical high schools, DIY enthusiasts etc. Based on the initial response on Kickstarter, we are very pleased to see our assessments prove right on a global scale.

How does Kickstarter work?

Once the idea of the product and the ecosystem was polished, it was relatively easy and even fun to present it on Kickstarter. For sure, crowd-funding is an excellent, distributed and therefore reliable, way of raising the working capital for the project. In addition, we believe it represents a great opportunity for the backers to become part of the projects they choose. Last but not least, it also provides a very valuable feedback to us.

Why would other engineers be interested in working with Kickstarter?

It is hard to admit, but engineers, including ourselves, too often tend to fall into a trap of developing something which serves its own purpose, and too often brings little benefit to non-technical people. It is exactly the diversity of the audience of Kickstarter that makes it interesting for the engineers and their projects, besides, of course, the obvious crowd-funding purpose.

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