Improv: the powerful, open hardware development board
A combination of three attributes sets Improv apart from the crowd:
- Power: Dual core CPU, lots of storage, powerful GPU and modern software
- Modularity: Improv is actually two plug-and-play parts: a CPU card and a feature board
- Community: The feature board is freely licensed as Open Hardware, is supported with community infrastructure and contributes to the technologies on which Improv is based.
In broad strokes, this is what makes Improv unique and exciting. It is the perfect starting point for your hardware projects.
|A view of Improv from the business end of the card|
The hardware of Improv is extremely capable: a dual-core ARM® Cortex™-A7 System on Chip (SoC) running at 1Ghz, 1 GB of RAM, 4 GB of on-board NAND flash and a powerful OpenGL ES GPU. To access all of this hardware goodness there are a variety of ports: 2 USB2 ports (one fullsize host, one micro OTG), SD card reader, HDMI, ethernet (10/100, though the feature card has a Gigabit connector; more on that below), SATA, i2c, VGA/TTL and 8 GPIO pins. The entire device weighs less than 100 grams, is passively cooled and fits in your hand.
Improv comes pre-installed with Mer OS, sporting a recent Linux kernel, systemd and a wide variety of software tools. By default it boots into console, so if you are making a headless device you needn't worry about extra overhead running that you don't need. If you are going to hook it up to a screen (or two), then you have an amazing starting point with choices such as X.org, Wayland, Qt4, Qt5 and a full complement of KDE libraries and Plasma Workspaces.
Improv takes advantage of the open EOMA68 standard to deliver a unique design: the SoC, RAM and storage live on one card (the "CPU card"), the feature ports are on a PCB it docks with (the "feature board"). The two dock securely together with the CPU card sitting under the feature board nestled in a pair of rails; they are undocked from each other by pushing a mechanical ejector button.
This means that you can use the CPU card separately from the feature board, have multiple CPU cards for different projects or even upgrade your Improv as new CPU and feature boards become available. Not only is this better for the environment, but it gives you ultimate flexibility.
The software is similarly easy to bend to your will. You can boot into the included Linux-based operating system and decide whether to stay at console or fire up a full OpenGL accelerated graphical environment. Or you can choose to boot something else entirely from the SD card slot, via the USB OTG port or by flashing a new bootloader and/or OS image to the built-in NAND.
Additional hardware add-ons such as VGA connectors, keyboard kits and cases are also in development and rely on the openness and modularity of Improv. Through its modular design, Improv is designed to last and grow.
|More than just a product, Improv promotes community|
Production, branding, marketing and retail are all enabled by collaborative interaction within Make·Play·Live's Partner Network. Via this network, we bring together individual community participants as well as entrepreneurial and corporate support, without which Improv would not be possible.
The schematics for the feature board are licensed under the GPL and will be made available in tandem with shipping so that you can learn about the design and even extend it in new ways. We are also ready to help motivated makers who come up with great ideas for new feature boards, add-ons and entire devices through the process of prototyping, manufacturing and delivery. This is not a device you buy and are then left on your own with. Improv is a starting point from which to create amazing things that can take flight.
To support you in this, we provide sleek online discussion forums, the Open Hardware Registry (OHR) and the Mer Community Open Build Service (COBS). The forums are administered by Make·Play·Live community members and provide a place for people to discuss projects, ask questions and share answers. OHR allows makers and vendors to register globally unique IDs for their hardware projects, much as the USB-IF does for USB, only without the fees, bureaucracy and limited ID space. The Mer COBS, which is jointly sponsored by Make·Play·Live and Jolla, provides an effective way to build and distribute software for Improv.
This is only the start of the community infrastructure to support your needs as makers. Videos on Youtube showing tricks, techniques and project ideas for Improv will appear weekly. These will feature people who were key in the development of Improv; in time, we will also feature videos highlighting community contributions. Future plans include infrastructure to help you share your hardware projects with others, a community driven knowledge-base and local user groups supported with project concepts and planning.
Creating sustainable models
From that experience we have built a network of hardware, software, procurement, manufacturing and branding expertise. Starting with Improv, we are opening up that expertise to others who would like to turn ideas into reality.
Improv is also an opportunity for us to invest resources into relevant free software and open hardware development. The Mer Open Build Service, for instance, will be partially funded by proceeds from Improv. Software developers and open hardware designers working on similar projects will receive continued sponsorship and funding thanks to sales of Improv. Ultimately, we expect new products to spring up as others use Improv, continuing the cycle of building sustainable models in the open device world.
When you purchase an Improv you are not only getting a truly great device to work on, you are also supporting the process of creating quality free software, open hardware and the services which will enable others to do the same.
|Elegance, freedom and power in one package.|
"Shut up and take my money!"
We will start shipping to North America and Europe near the end of January on a first-ordered, first-shipped basis. Needless to say, each manufacturing run produces a limited number of Improvs and we expect the first lot to sell out quickly. To order your Improv today and get in on the first public shipment of devices, visit the Improv information page and click on the purchase button.