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Microsoft debuts software for homebrew gadget builds

Hardware hackers building their own gadgets may want to take a look at a new offering from Microsoft that promises to save time in prototyping new devices: a software development platform for home-built gadgets, called .Net Gadgeteer.

“.Net Gadgeteer utilises the .Net Micro Framework to make writing code for your device as easy as writing a desktop, Web or Windows Phone application,” Microsoft’s newly launched Web site for the software explained.

Microsoft envisions the initial audience for .Net Gadgeteer to be educators, hobbyists and inventors. Hardware designers could also use the tool to rapidly build prototypes as well.

Gadgeteer provides a platform for writing software to control simple home-built electronic devices, made from Gadgeteer-compatible components.

Starting with a mainboard with an embedded processor, developers can assemble a device by adding sensors, displays, cameras, lights, switches, motor controllers and other components. Gadgeteer components will all have the same type of connector, eliminating the need for the soldering.

Developers can then write their code to run their creations in Visual Studio, using C# and the Gadgeteer plug-in software, Microsoft said. Through Visual Studio’s Intellisense feature, Gadgeteer adds a set of prompts that can help developers complete their code. The resulting control program can then be downloaded to the device by way of a USB connection to the mainboard.

CodePlex hosts the Gadgeteer source and binary code, as well as documentation specifying the hardware interfaces between the mainboard and the components, Microsoft added.

Microsoft Research’s Sensors and Devices Group developed Gadgeteer. Thus far Microsoft researchers have already built several components using the platform, such as a digital camera and a digital flipbook.

GHI Electronics offers a starter kit of electronic components that is compatible with Gadgeteer, which costs about US$250. Microsoft expects other electronic manufacturers to start vending Gadgeteer compatible components as well.

Microsoft has been a big proponent of low cost networked embedded devices, especially for the enterprise. “”The real value around the devices is their ability to capture the data, analyse that information and drive business efficiencies,” said Microsoft Windows Embedded GM, Kevin Dallas.

Microsoft faces some competition in providing software for the home build-it-yourself gadget market however. Arduino has long offered an open source electronics prototyping platform.

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