Gumstix’s Gepetto Online Service Simplifies Electronic Board Design

In yet another example of gaming’s influence on professional development tools, Gumstix Inc., a maker of Linux computers-on-modules (COMs) for electronics manufacturers, has created an online platform that brings drag-and-drop simplicity to the design of custom embedded computers.

Called Geppetto, the system is aimed at manufacturers who want an embedded device tailored to their specifications without the cost and lengthy development process associated with conventional electrical engineering, layout, and manufacturing, according to Gordon Kruberg, Gumstix CEO. Gumstix is pairing the Geppetto Web-based design tool with its own manufacturing capabilities, offering an out-of-box service that lets companies produce production-ready embedded systems in 20 days for a $1,999 manufacturing set-up fee, in addition to reasonable per-unit charges.

Traditional methods of creating custom electronics devices can be highly technical and time consuming, Kruberg says. Typically, an industrial designer will spec out a design and hand it off to an electrical engineer to complete the schematic of the board and there’s another handoff to a printed circuit board (PCB) specialist, who handles the layout. Once the design is finalized, it then moves off into the supply chain to be built and tested and any problems that might occur at this late stage can cause severe time-to-market delays if the process has to begin anew.

With Gumstix’s Geppetto, developing a custom device ready for manufacturing can take as little as 10 minutes, depending on the complexity of the design, Gumstix officials claim. Via the Web application, designers create the board using drag and drop methods to connect desired modules, including USB plugs, network connectors, LEDs, and even whole COMs, depending on their specifications. Gepetto guides designers through the process using intuitive, color-coded status indicators, which help a non-electrical engineer visualize when a design is complete and the connections are properly made. If there’s a problem, Geppetto will suggest alternative modules to ensure a quick fix to the design in progress.

Gepetto's streamlined Web-based user interface lets users drag, drop, and connect modules without specialized knowledge of electrical design. Image Courtesy of Gumstix Inc.

“With Geppetto, an industrial designer can skip all the electrical engineering part, giving them a way to look at the finished board they are ultimately responsible for designing without involving a team of electrical engineers and logistics personnel,” Kruberg explains.

Given that the traditional design chain leaves numerous opportunities for mistakes, Geppetto’s ability to simplify and automate the process offers a two-fold value proposition, he explains. On one hand, Geppetto increases the certainty that what comes out at the end of the project is the proper design, while it also decreases the lag time to get that embedded systems design to the production stage—on average, reducing a typical three month cycle down to just 20 days, he says.

Once the design is finalized in the Geppetto online tool set, it can be saved for future reuse and shared with the Geppetto developer community. Apart from the one-time manufacturing set-up fee, Gumstix requires no minimum quantity for production and there is a per-unit production charge depending on components used. The Geppetto design service is free.

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