Project “GADGET RENESAS” Takes Off
EDGE: The GR Sakura Board has been on the market for about a month. Today we will hear about the GADGET RENESAS project from project planners and outside contributors. Project leader Akihiro Matsuyama begins the discussion.
Matsuyama: The project was conceived last November at the Embedded Technology 2011 show, when Mr. Kogure from Wakamatsu Tsusho visited our booth.
Kogure: I was meeting with components purchasers in Akihabara just about every day, and I witnessed the rapid growth in sales of foreign products. When I went to the Renesas booth, I explained that I was hoping to see Japanese businesses making a stronger effort to boost their sales in Japan. And Mr. Matsuyama reacted very quickly.
Matsuyama: At Renesas, we had many industrial customers for our MCUs, so we weren’t paying too much attention to the retail market. But Mr. Kogure’s idea seemed exactly right. So that’s what pushed us into action last November, when we turned our development efforts toward meeting the needs of the retail market. In April of this year, at the 2012 Elekijack hobbyist event, we signed up 83 advanced users to serve as contributor participants. At the end of May, we held a contributors’ meeting, where we fielded some high-level and rather challenging technical questions. Then on June 19 we announced the start of the GADGET RENESAS project.
EDGE: So it took just seven months to move from the initial idea to the start of the project. Most companies in Japan would consider that to be very fast. How did you get people involved?
Matsuyama: After meeting Mr. Kogure, I immediately spoke with Mr. Fujisawa, and things quickly began moving in numerous directions.
Fujisawa: Yes, that’s when people started getting involved.
Okamiya: My regular job here is in the development of development tools. But when my supervisor sent me cc’s of his emails concerning the project, I immediately knew that I wanted to join. Nobody pushed; I jumped in voluntarily.
Matsuyama: Yes, participation is completely voluntary. Although I’m called a “project leader,” I think it would be more accurate to call me a “virtual project leader”—the leader of a virtual organization consisting of volunteers from many different positions.
Kogure: The same kinds of boards are also being used to build communities overseas. I think it’s very significant that people all over the world are attracted to the community because of their interest in these boards.
EDGE: You could say that the real center of the project is Akihabara. And we even have a lovely “Akihabara maid” among the participants.
Sion: I’ve been interested in electronics design for a long time. Mainly I help out at events. I want many people to come and to feel that they are welcome to join.
A Community of Contributors
EDGE: Now let’s hear from some of the contributors participating in the project.
Contributor A: I was active in the Android community, and that’s how I came to hear from Wakamatsu’s Mr. Kogure about this project. I’m happy to participate because I enjoy being among the first to use new things.
Contributor B: I was writing applications for Android. But I began to feel that I should broaden my scope, and that’s the reason I came into the project.
EDGE: You all seem very motivated. I think we can expect the project to be both lively and fruitful.
Contributors and Users Explain the Attraction
of the GADGET RENESAS Project
Matsuyama: No, we don’t really have to expect it, because in fact we can already see it. One contributor has already used the project to develop an unmanned helicopter. Another contributor joined because he was interested in going to the Oregon rally sponsored by the American magazine, Make. Still another has already written an introductory pamphlet to help bring newcomers into the community. So a lot of work is already going on, both inside and outside the community.
Kogure: Contributors are representatives of the GADGET RENESAS community. They’re a symbol of what the project is all about.
Easy and Enjoyable Communication Through New Media
EDGE: I assume that GADGET RENESAS project members are making active use of new social media.
Matsuyama: Yes. We use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, U-Stream, and more. There are many methods we use to communicate. Our Twitter followership grew to about 600 in the first four months, whereas another company in a similar situation took a full three years to get to 1000. So we already have a good base.
Matsuyama: We also have very active discussions through our Renesas Rulz*1 portal. Please take a look for yourself. The portal serves as a way of documenting our technical information and know-how.
Contributor A: Until recently, electronics hobbyists generally worked alone, and in silence. Many people still hold this idea of what the activity is about. But today there are numerous means to communicate with colleagues, in ways that can improve the experience for all of us.
EDGE: And now the users of the GR reference boards can enjoy this type of experience too. Let’s hear something impressions from the user’s side.
User: Well, my impression is that the enthusiasm at Renesas Rulz runs very high. I think that this level of engagement within this type of community is very rare.
EDGE: And what’s your impression of the GR Sakura board?
User: It’s great that we can start using it so quickly. And more software is rapidly becoming available.
Okamiya: On our side, we were also very excited and energized about setting this up.
User: And it’s nice that you can compile your source code over the Web; and that you can run the board using fairly easy programming. Even my friends, when they see it, start getting interested.
Okamiya: Thanks for saying that. I think cloud compiling is really an essential part of our support for community-based products and development.
Contributor B: In my own case, I happen to be interested in the use of “big data.” I want to use MCUs to achieve easier handling of high-volume data.
Contributor A: And I’m attracted by the ability to use the up-and-coming RX63N MCU. It’s a huge jump in processing power, as compared with 8-bit MCUs such as the Arduino*2. Thanks to the higher speeds, you can do things that you simply couldn’t do before.
Kogure: Yes, the GR Sakura can indeed be used as an RX63N reference board. Some people are also using it for proof-of-principle line-control prototypes.
Fujisawa: We’ve heard from instructors who tell us that, since the GR Sakura board can be used right out of the box, it’s ideal for use in instruction in high schools and technical colleges. The board implementation eliminates installation problems, so you proceed directly to using the board for the purposes at hand. Cloud compiling, too, simplifies operations and is understood to work very well in educational venues.
EDGE: So within Japan the project has started well. How are things developing in other countries?
Kinoshita: Our plans have always called for an international scope. Renesas offices in other countries are already working with us.
Fujisawa: I’ve already mentioned the event held in Oregon by the American magazine Make. I understand that the project also had a presence at the Science Festival held in Singapore in August.
Kinoshita: And it’s not just a matter of sending stuff out from Japan. We also field questions that come in from overseas. I was surprised, for example, when we suddenly started getting questions from Romania, from a person who then went on to become a contributor. And in general, our overseas sales companies are cooperating by taking part in various types of events.
EDGE: I see. So a basis for overseas rollout is already in place. Now for one last question: What plans do you have for expanding the project going forward?
Matsuyama: We are coming out with a DIP-sized miniature version of the GR Sakura board. And we’re also working on Smart Analog*3 shields (expansion cards). Various other plans are also in the works, so please stay tuned.
EDGE: Well, thank you all for a very interesting session. We’re very impressed by your evident enthusiasm for the GADGET RENESAS project. We look forward to watching the project as it develops.
*1. A user community site run by Renesas.http://www.renesasrulz.com
*2. The Arduino project, started in Italy in 2005, provides relatively inexpensive and accessible MCU boards and development environments.
*3. A system solution that combines an MCU with an analog IC.