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Galileo, not a barber, but an Intel maker module

Galileo, not a barber, but an Intel maker module
by Don Dingee on 03-13-2014 at 3:00 pm

Words often have much deeper meaning than first meets the ear. The story behind a lyric, or a name, reveals origins, philosophical themes, and ideas beyond the obvious. A new effort from Intel conjures up just such an example – a deep reference to makers everywhere.

 In a familiar refrain from Queen “Bohemian Rhapsody,” we hear two choirs sparring over the fate of a youngster who has taken the life of another, and is now considering an even greater offense. On the surface, the words are completely in keeping with the theme of the album, “A Night at the Opera”:

“(Galileo) Galileo
(Galileo) Galileo
Galileo figaro, magnifico!”

In her book “The Real Story of Freddie Mercury” (blogger’s note: adult themes, parental discretion advised), Mariam Akhundova suggests the actual operative word is not Figaro, the Barber of Seville, but the Latin term figuro. The resulting interpretation: “Magnify the Galilean’s image,” making this an elegant reference to Jesus of Galilee. Freddie was way deeper than headbanging in an AMC Pacer, for sure, and this meaning fits better for me than a commentary on Galileo Galilei’s barbering skills.

An homage to one of the earliest scientific makers, whose name is in turn a tribute to the Christian “maker of all things”, is an interesting play on words, indeed. The project bearing this name – Intel Galileo – is a creative celebration, and carries with it deeper meaning as a company strives to reinvent itself on the Internet of Things.

Makers are now powering development of the IoT and wearables, enabled by inexpensive modules ready to run open source software for just a few dollars. With ideas backed by crowdfunding and creative communities, makers are reaching far beyond “learning to code” into rapid prototyping of concepts, and depending on the module and situation, even production.

Intel is taking its Quark processor straight to makers, trying to capture hearts and minds with its powerful brand and broad software support. The first Intel maker module with Quark onboard, Galileo draws on the Arduino (Italian for “brave friend”) open source hardware/software project. The board footprint is 4.2” x 2.8”, with the connectors projecting slightly over the edges.

 photo courtesy Arduino Blog

Strictly speaking, Intel Galileo with its 400 MHz Quark SoC X1000 is not an Arduino board; official Arduino hardware is based on Atmel megaAVR microcontrollers. Galileo does accept Arduino shields, compliant to the Arduino 1.0 pinout devised for the Arduino Uno R3, for hardware expansion. Also on board are a mini-PCI Express slot (an easy way to add a Wi-Fi module), a 100Mb Ethernet port, a microSD slot, host and client USB ports, and an RS-232 port. Power comes from a 5V DC barrel jack and an external AC-to-DC adapter.

Galileo also honors the Arduino software framework, fully emulating Arduino on Linux. This is a very interesting area: some programmers like Python scripting, some want the abstraction and portability Arduino libraries provide, and some just want to go after embedded C/C++ code. Intel has a variety of Galileo software downloads – with and without Arduino – to get makers started quickly.

 Like many maker modules, Intel Galileo is after lower cost; a quick web survey currently shows pricing from $55.79 to $79.99 depending on outlet and volume. We should keep in mind a couple things: the Quark SoC X1000 in 32nm is relatively new and hasn’t come down the learning curve yet, and Intel can always move pricing by subsidies – they claim to have fielded Galileo units in over 400 universities so far.

Will Galileo make an impression with makers? In my experience, ARM loyalists are ARM loyalists, and Intel devotees are Intel devotees: comparing the two is somewhat academic, because crossover is limited. A maker can get a lot of pop for a little price on ARM, but there is something to be said for Intel, their brand, and their marketing muscle. In a word, Intel is reseeding, and we may not see the harvest for a while.

The fact of the matter is until now, there wasn’t any really small, inexpensive module with Intel Inside; the smallest one could get approximating an X86 environment was VIA Technologies and their Nano processor on a Pico-ITX board, or matching competitive offerings with Intel Atom, and none are maker-cheap. The ARM maker modules have a lengthy head start, and Intel is definitely stealing a page from the ARM playbook here.

Arduino figuro, magnifico. Galileo is definitely an interesting play from Intel. One unique problem with microcontrollers is they are so inexpensive, and have so many varied features, it has been difficult to drive a standard form factor (something like PC/104, EBX, or EPIC) down into this space with affordable boards. Arduino is perhaps the closest thing to a de facto standard we have for maker modules right now.

The next round of Intel maker module – Edison, and a newer 22nm version of Quark – puts a much smaller form factor in play, drafting on the popularity of Electric Imp. More on that next time.

lang: en_US

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