— Kevin Zittle (@kevinz) October 9, 2012
It’s a perfectly reasonable question, so I thought I’d answer it.
Over the last few days Nick has been finalising the launch firmware for both Little Printer and the Bridge units.
Firmware is software that lives on hardware. In our case, it features code written specifically for Little Printer by us. The hardware has no firmware initially, but it’s added on the production line, and this process also introduces a system to verify that the circuit boards are functioning correctly. We’ve created a special method for running this test procedure as the parts roll off the production line, and we’ll run it on every single manufactured unit!
This process needs to be fast, robust and obvious.
Speed is important! Imagine, if you will, that you’re testing a run of a thousand units of the exciting new thing you’ve made. Even a modest ten seconds of additional testing for each unit means nearly three hours of cumulative delay. Parallelism helps here.
With our Bridge units, programming is split into two discreet steps.
First, the board must be attached to a computer to be programmed with the initial software. This takes about 30 seconds. After this is verified, each board is plugged into a standard ethernet network to receive the second batch of software, which takes about two minutes.
This second step can be performed in parallel with as many other boards as we like, so instead of translating into a distinct 30 seconds plus two minutes for each unit, we bottleneck at the first stage, and save time during the second.
This is a mechanical process as well as an electronic one, and can be carried out thousands of times. So the apparatus must be able to withstand repeated, high intensity use. Stuff that breaks is no good to anyone!
We need to be able to assess a PASS or FAIL very quickly. And we capture the kind of information during testing that helps with diagnosis and assessment later on, like the precise details of why any particular board failed.
So Little Printer is doing well. The launch firmware is ready. Alice has done some more work on the developer tools. Simon and Andy are driving up to Leicestershire on Friday to meet with our box builders. They’re taking the packaging with them, and will inspect all the parts that have arrived from China. I’ll ask Simon to take pictures, and will report back on the trip. All around, things are moving in the right direction, and we remain on schedule.
Kevin, thanks for the tweet. We hope this answers your question. And we appreciate your interest.
—FL & NL