Jason Griffey from the University of Tennessee–Chattanooga and author of Mobile Technology & Libraries told us why libraries should consider making their own hardware. How can a library build its own computer? With today’s technology, it’s not only possible, it’s easy and cheap!
Open Source Software (OSS) has been very good for libraries. In face, we all benefit from it every day because most of the web is powered by OSS (including this WordPress-driven blog!). Because they have been in use for many years, most OSS systems are robust and well understood.
Open Source Hardware (OSH) is now on the cusp of a movement like OSS. It is driven by 2 standard computing laws:
- Moore’s Law–processor power doubles every 18 month.
- Koomey’s Law–the amount of electrical power you need for a computer is halved every 18 months. The chips run much more efficiently.
So hardware is getting cheaper, faster, and more energy efficient. It is the only consumer good that does this. These 2 laws have led to an explosion of maker hardware, which has led to “do it yourself” electronics. In addition, the explosion of mobile phones and tablet computers has led to an explosion of sensors in electronic devices. Sensors have now become commoditized, and costs of them have plunged. These developments have led to the development of 2 major hardware platforms:
- Arduino is a single board microcontroller for sensors, motors, lights. It can do input and output and costs about $30. Arduino is the “poster child” of the OSH movement and allows anybody to build a replica of hardware. Its programming language is very simple. Using Arduino, one can build “shields”, snap-on add-ons that can control motors, data loggers, and many other operations. The mobile phone explosion has given us access to many sensors (Adafruit Industries is one of the leading providers) that can be used in barcode readers, coin acceptors, magstripe readers, arcade buttons, etc. The sensor explosion has a lot of possibilities for libraries.The Arduino IDE development environment is very simple to use in building hardware. There are thousands of code samples (“sketches”) ready to go in the Arduino library. Very little customization is needed. The design of Arduino is standard but it is also open, and many hardware modules are also available. For example, the LilyPad Arduino is designed to be sewn into clothing (photo–circular)–you can do crafting projects using electronics!
- Raspberry Pi is a fully featured computer with input-output, Linux, Ethernet, audio ports,and similar applications. The memory is held on an SD card. Educational software distributions are available (Occidentalis). It is possible to build a wireless router with a $35 module!
Here is a photo of an Arduino and a Raspberry Pi unit.
Why should libraries care about building their own hardware? Isn’t there enough standardized equipment in our buildings? Here are some possibilities:
- Commercial patron counters cost around $300, but for $70 you can build one yourself (the code is already available).
- Temperature/humidity loggers can cost up to $1500. Build one yourself for $85 (less than the consumables for commercial ones!). You don’t need to know how to code to this.
- And there are many other possibilities, such as an RFID scanner, barcode reader, and seat usage detector.
We don’t know what we need to measure. Measurements of physical activities do not work when you do more virtual things. Traditional measurements will not work any more, we can now measure things that were previously hidden. For example, you can measure what people are doing inside the stacks. (Shoperception does this for the retail industry.) You can learn more at Adafruit’s website, which has tutorials and live Google hangouts where you can get help. Make magazine is a good resource.
We need to concentrate on making the tools that measure the future. The more we measure, the more we can do to help our users.