I’m on my way to Dallas and the Schneider Electric Automation conference. This would be the re-make of Foxboro user group–and it appears that the famous old Boston-area name that we seldom hear anymore, Modicon, will make an appearance, too.

The most interesting information will be what Schneider has done to Foxboro/Triconex. The company has pushed automation to the back seat over the past few years trying to position itself solely as a power company. Interestingly, the person responsible for that strategy is the new executive director of the Control Systems Integrator Association. 

So, I wonder…is Schneider a precursor of the future. Will the questions and problems of what automation can solve take precedence over the mere discussion of automation itself? Time will tell.

Open Source and Control

Meanwhile, I remain interested in what open source is doing these days. The few open source projects–such as the Linux PLC on SourceForge–seem to have fizzled. Yet, there are new movements. I’ve written about some open-source SCADA and OPC recently. Here is an introducion to Pinoccio, now known as Tap by the company now known as Filament. Here is the Weblink and following are some quotes from the Website. I think this is all very interesting. Check it out.

The following is all quoted material: 
Many of you in our community have been asking about availability of Pinoccio Scouts, and also about the future of Pinoccio as a company. This post intends to answer those questions.

When Sally and I first founded Pinoccio, we had a strong ethos in the fundamentals of open source principles and decentralized concepts such as mesh networking. We also had some hunches around how we could help people easily develop connected devices with a simple, Arduino-like, wireless platform.

The year was 2012, before the explosion of the term Internet of Things. We loved what the Arduino community had brought to the world of makers and DIY enthusiasts. Making microcontroller development easy was–and still is–Arduino’s greatest contribution to the world. Unfortunately, we didn’t like how hard it was to make these microcontrollers communicate wirelessly with each other. That was still difficult, and we wanted it easy.

So, we set out to build the wireless, battery-powered product we wish already existed. The result was the Pinoccio Scout: a 1″ x 2″ wireless Arduino-compatible microcontroller. We talked to a lot of people in the community, successfully crowdfunded the product, and then built and shipped the first batch.

An Interesting Turn of Events

Interestingly enough, after we began selling Scouts direct from our web site, something really unexpected happened. We started getting in-bound interest from many very large industrial companies. These groups were buying Scouts at a much higher volume than we anticipated. As we began to dig into why they wanted our product so badly, it became clear that they also needed a simple, wireless platform for their industrial needs.

However, it became evident fairly quickly that our current Scout features were insufficient for solving the needs of our industrial customers. The biggest request was for much larger range for radio communications, as well as more built-in sensors.

And that put us at a conundrum. We are a small team, and designing and supporting hardware products is a significant commitment for any company.  Do we try to shoehorn the current Scout product to support these new needs, or do we design a proper hardware product again?

As a company, we have decided to focus exclusively on this industrial internet need, and to design a new product directly addressing its requirements. We are stopping the production of the Scout hardware in-house and will focus on this new product for industrial uses. The new product is called a “Tap”, and is a combination of the best parts of a Scout–both hardware and firmware–and the best available radio technology available today.

We have also rebranded the company name to “Filament”, as Pinoccio is an amazing brand, but not quite appropriate for our new customer base. Previously when you heard about Pinoccio Scouts, you’ll now hear talk of Filament Taps.

Without digressing too much, a quick rundown of the new Filament Tap: It’s a two inch diameter device, fully enclosed (no exposed circuit boards!), that is easier to use than the Pinoccio Scout was. It has multiple built-in sensors, and is still Lipo battery powered. Most importantly, it has a new radio that has a line-of-sight range of up to 9 miles between devices. That’s over 150 times longer range than the Pinoccio Scout’s radio! Up to 5,000 Filament Taps can communicate within a square kilometer. So very long-range, very high-density networks are now possible–that were simply impossible to do with Scouts.  This was, by far, our biggest feature request, and I am confident we’ve addressed it in spades.  Taps also have a built-in USB host, so you can add pretty much any type of USB peripheral to it and it’ll instantly bring that sensor info online.

And in the spirit of decentralization, we’ll be leveraging recent developments in distributed consensus algorithms to provide a permanent, verifiable identifier for each of our Taps.  Each Tap will support identity registration in the Bitcoin Blockchain, micro-transactions, and secure mesh communications.  We have a lot of extremely exciting news around building a decentralized IoT stack that we can’t wait to share, and will do so soon.

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