Company Morphs Failed Consumer Electronics Product into an Open Source Educational Kit

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Things donÂ?t always work out as planned. Once Zan Oliphant, founder of Seattle area garage startup Zanware, realized he couldnÂ?t find investors to mass-produce his companyÂ?s in-wall TCP/IP PC controller, he decided to open up the entire product for the education and hobbyist market. Â?Investors want to make money, but engineers like me want to make cool things Â? we just didnÂ?t see eye-to-eye on that,Â? said Oliphant.

Things don’t always work out as planned.

Once Zan Oliphant, founder of Seattle area garage startup Zanware, realized he couldn’t find investors to mass-produce his company’s in-wall TCP/IP PC controller, he decided to open up the entire product for the education and hobbyist market.

“Investors want to make money, but engineers like me want to make cool things – we just didn’t see eye-to-eye on that,” said Oliphant. “When a prominent local businessman asked me what real-world problem our generic TCP controller solved, I didn’t have an answer for him – it’s generic right? It can solve many problems,” added Oliphant.

Sitting on about ten thousand dollars worth of parts, and thousands of engineering hours in hardware, software, and firmware design, Oliphant decided to open the entire project to the public through SourceForge, and Zanware’s company web site.

“Since the initial product never got out of the prototype stage, it works great for an educational kit – that’s because the parts are easily soldered together by hand. We spent many weeks documenting the assembly process – you can check that out our on our web site, there are over 100 pictures, and more than 50 pages of text."

"Plus, we’ve open sourced all 10K lines of our firmware, and 30K lines of our server software – you can even download full schematics, board layouts, bill of materials, and datasheets – talk about geeking out!” explained Oliphant.

These shelf-top controller kits receive user input from an optical encoder with attached knob, an infrared receiver with included remote control, a temperature sensor, and a light sensor. Input is immediately packaged and sent to the PC server for processing. For output, or information for the user, the controller provides a 128 by 64 pixel graphical LCD, status LED, and small beeper.

“Think of these controllers as terminals to your personal computer. Through TCP/IP, the controller talks to server software running on your PC. Our server software, through the use of XML, provides a powerful menu system that lets you control a variety of local media, Internet based media, home automation, and other such tasks,” explained Oliphant.

Through the use of XML and Jscript modules, the Zanware server software allows users to easily add and change features.

Currently shipping with the product is support for Internet Radio, Internet TV, Media Player, Internet Explorer for web browsing, digital pictures, Power Point presentations, HomeSeer home automation, RSS feeds, and animated GIFs.

The server software leverages the power of Microsoft Windows Graphic Device Interface (GDI), and builds each LCD screen first in a small 128 by 64 pixel window. Once the screen is built, it’s shipped out to the network for display on the controller’s LCD. This all happens within milliseconds.

About Zanware

Zanware was founded in September of 2003 to create a line of products that provide a low cost, generic, and simple interface to remotely located computers.

For additional information, contact Zanware via info@zanware.com, or visit our web site below.

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Zan Oliphant
ZANWARE
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