A few months ago I became acquainted with the Kickstarter project for something called the Red Pitaya. This is a physically small device, yet it carries a wealth of test and measurement features, combining an oscilloscope, an arbitrary waveform generator, a PID controller, and other digital I/O functions, all at an affordable price point.
At that time, the Red Pitaya had not yet reached its funding goal. A few days later it reached its goal, and then it exceeded its goal, eventually going on to raise over a quarter of a million US dollars with more than 800 backers. How could a humble laboratory instrument be such a draw and become yet another Kickstarter success story?
Close-up view of a Red Pitaya.
(Source: Rok Uršič of Red Pitaya)
The Red Pitaya is a concept that I really love. It is a compact instrument that has a lot of functionality for a reasonable price. Similar to a lot of projects on Kickstarter, this is a very innovative device. A lot of the pioneers on Kickstarter seem to come from stereotypical groups, such as hobbyists and enthusiasts working out of their garages or living rooms to create all sorts of esoteric and wonderful projects. The group behind the Red Pitaya do not fall into a typical stereotype -- instead, they are a builders of instrumentation and control devices used in particle accelerators. In fact, they create devices that help steer some of the tiniest objects known to humankind.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with Rok, the founder of the Red Pitaya group, and his friend Kevin. We had a makeshift dinner while we chatted about the Red Pitaya. I quickly learned that I was in the presence of two very educated people. I needed to stop them a few times as they spoke about the things they did with particle accelerators so I could get them to explain things in simpler terms. Quickly, though, the topic turned to the guest of honor -- a preproduction model of the Red Pitaya and the story behind this device.
Rok, who lives in Slovenia, founded Instrumentation Technologies in 1998 with the intent of building instrumentation and control devices for particle accelerators. Instrumentation Technologies has grown since its founding and now has 40 employees. Its successful product line, branded Libera, can be found in many particle accelerator facilities around the world. In fact, I recently had the opportunity to tour the particle accelerator and free electron laser facilities at Jefferson Lab. There I saw some of Rok's hardware installed and ready for action.
Despite their success in the particle accelerator field, Rok sought to expand his team's focus toward new markets, while still applying the members' specialized skills. In December 2012 Project 913 was initiated. The goal of Project 913 was to come up with a new product ready for market by September, 2013 (hence the name 913).
This effort involved soliciting proposals from both external and internal sources. As they were going through this process, a video from the May 2012 Make: Hardware Innovation Workshop had a profound effect in defining the direction of Project 913. It was here that Rok and his small team gained their inspiration to create a device that had high user configurability while providing affordability for those who are building their projects at home or at university.
Combining the idea of a highly configurable device with an open software architecture, Red Pitaya marched towards its debut on Kickstarter. The Red Pitaya is not only a lab device. It promises to develop a community with users able to share code and completed applications. The Backyard will be a repository of open source code. This will allow users to share their work with each other and work together on applications intended for the Red Pitaya. The Bazaar is a place for complete applications that users can download and run immediately on their own Red Pitaya. With an active community, this will further expand the uses of the Red Pitaya beyond the initial feature set. There is a lot that can yet be done with the Red Pitaya, because extensibility has been built into the hardware.
A batch of Red Pitayas.
(Source: Rok Uršič of Red Pitaya)
I look forward to spending some quality time with the Red Pitaya. I see it finding a place in my traveling tool kit, and perhaps taking a prominent place on my regular workbench. How might you use a device like this in your tool kit? Are there any custom applications that you might see yourself trying to build and run on the Red Pitaya? Please share your thoughts in the comments below because I know that the Red Pitaya team will be reading them with great interest.