Posted on

Introducing Machdyne BBS

For quite a while now we’ve wanted to set up a forum for our customers to communicate and share ideas with each other. We tried a few different things but nothing felt quite right. We’re excited to announce a new experiment that we hope our community will find useful: Machdyne BBS.

While this format isn’t perfect, we like that it can be accessed over a timeless protocol (telnet) that’s already supported by our computers and that we should be able to keep operating in some form indefinitely.

If you’re a customer or if you’re interested in timeless computing, FPGA computing, or survival computing – the Machdyne BBS is available now via telnet:

$ telnet bbs.machdyne.com

 

Posted on

Accelerating Production

In order to make our products more available and affordable we’ve begun to experiment with outsourcing the assembly of certain PCBs.

The majority of our PCB assembly is currently done by hand in Germany. We plan to continue in-house assembly while also giving our customers additional choices for some products.

We think this is an exciting development that will get our products into the hands of more people, which will ultimately help to make them more useful for everyone. It will also give us more time to design new products and to improve the available gateware, firmware and documentation of our existing products.

We will be adding a detailed origin section on each product page so that you know where each manufacturing step takes place, for example:

  • Designed in Germany
  • PCB manufactured and assembled in Germany
  • Tested, packaged and shipped from Germany

Thanks for your interest in our company and our products. You can follow us on X and GitHub for the latest updates.

Posted on

Survival Computing

One of the goals of Machdyne is to create computers and tools that will be useful long into the future, even, or especially if the future is some sort of computing dystopia, from the human perspective.

Survival computing is an extreme form of timeless computing that lets you compute, or interact with computers, when you have very limited access to modern technology or resources.

We are generally optimistic about the future so instead of an urgent necessity we usually view survival computing as more of a thought experiment where we don’t take for granted that inexpensive computation will always be available or that we will have access to plenty of electricity, or to the Internet.

There are also places on Earth today where computers are not readily available or access to them is limited due to lack of resources. People can benefit today from low-cost low-power computers even without the latest technology or the latest applications.

In the event that such a scenario were to become a reality for everyone, due to war, natural disaster, legislation, AI, or for a number of other reasons, it would be good if some preparations had been made in order to preserve access to computation and critical information.

We think that timeless computers will play an important role in survival computing by ensuring access to timeless applications thanks to the benefits of FPGA computing. In addition to timeless applications it will be important to be able to interface with other systems. For example, a customer shared with us this photo of Mozart and Werkzeug connected to an industrial control system.

Thinking about survival computing has led us to many projects, here are some ideas inspired by survival computing that we’re experimenting with:

  • Stahl and Blaustahl are storage devices that can potentially retain data for centuries
  • Notnagel is a battery-powered handheld FPGA computer with a built-in display
  • Glasur is a stand-alone front-panel computer that can be powered by a solar panel
  • Zeitreise is a minimalist battery-powered Linux-capable cyberdeck
  • RAD5 is a stand-alone USB-powered hex editor and serial terminal
  • Ark is an information distribution for offline computers
  • Tidegrow is an open-source low-power automated hydroponics project

Whatever the future holds we find it interesting to think about the possibilities and to do what we can now to prepare for Things to Come.

Thanks for reading. You can follow us on X and GitHub for the latest updates.

Posted on

Freedom of Thought

Deep thinking often requires writing. The writing down of thoughts can be affected by perceived privacy. Thus, the erosion of perceived privacy may reduce the capacity for deep thought.

I’ve always been interested in writing. I believe that in order to write interesting things, you can’t censor yourself, you have to write the first thought that pops into your mind. For me at least, this process requires privacy, because you’re putting down drafts of personal, unpolished thoughts, some of which you disagree with, and some you might find embarrassing, offensive or ridiculous and wouldn’t want others reading.

Over the years my perception of privacy while writing has diminished as computers have become more complex. I had essentially given up on the belief that any privacy existed when using a computer. Today, even the most advanced and security conscious users can’t be completely certain that they have total privacy.

This is a big part of what set me on the mission of creating computers that I could understand and trust at all levels. The computers that we’re making are simple enough to understand and even their CPUs can be audited. My hope is that these computers can help to restore, at least, perceived privacy, and potentially unleash more freedom of thought.

The computer itself isn’t the only threat vector, there is also the input and output devices. These are also difficult challenges but we hope to eventually offer solutions for them as well.

You can follow us on X and GitHub for the latest updates.

Posted on

FPGA Computing

Machdyne makes open-source FPGA computers. In this post we’ll explain what an FPGA computer is, what they can be used for, and why we’re bothering to make them.

An FPGA (field-programmable gate array) is chip that contains an array of programmable logic blocks. Together, these logic blocks can be configured to act as various digital circuits. FPGAs often have thousands of logic blocks that allow them to act as complex circuits, such as a CPU and a chipset, also known as a System-on-a-Chip (SoC).

FPGA computers can become completely different systems by simply updating their configuration memory with different “gateware”. For example, an FPGA computer could be configured as a 64-bit RISC-V SoC running Linux one minute, and a NES with an 8-bit 6502 CPU running Super Mario Bros the next minute.

Some use cases for FPGA computers include:

  • General purpose computing.
  • Timeless computing.
  • Retro computing and retro gaming.
  • Custom CPU and SoC development.

You might say – hey I can already do all of that on my regular computer. It’s true, and you can do general purpose computing much faster on your everyday computer than with an FPGA computer.

So why are we bothering to make FPGA computers? While we are interested in advancing all of the above use cases, our primary focus is on what we call timeless computing – the use of computers to run timeless applications. Our vision is to create a stable, secure, responsive computing environment for the most important timeless applications (reading, writing, math, education, organization, communication, automation, etc.)

You can think of this as a supplemental computer that you would only use for certain tasks, like writing a book or learning something new, but probably not for paying your taxes or browsing the web.

These computers will not replace your “daily driver” but they will provide a simple environment without many of the distractions and annoyances found with modern computers. And because they are simple, understandable and completely open-source, they have the potential to provide a level of privacy and security not possible with most modern computers.

In order to create such an environment we’re pursuing two simultaneous approaches for the gateware and software:

  1. Kakao Linux – This is a Linux distribution that runs on top of a RISC-V SoC that is optimized for running Linux on our hardware. This works today and you can read about what’s already possible in our post on practical timeless computing.
  2. Zucker SoC – This is a custom RISC-V SoC designed for our hardware. Over the coming years we intend to create a completely new computing experience, with a new graphical operating system and new applications developed in tandem with our SoC and specifically for our hardware. The result will be something like what computing might look like in a parallel universe where everything progressed in a slightly different, and maybe better way.

While our computer hardware is still evolving, it was all created with our long-term goals in mind, and we intend to support all of our hardware into the future. You can confidently buy any of our computers today knowing that they have the ability to gain new and improved functionality in the future. And because our hardware, software and the toolchains they use are open-source, you can modify our computers however you want and even create your own CPU, SoC and software.

Thanks for reading. We want the FPGA computer to be an elegant tool for a more civilized age that’s yet to come, and you’re invited to join us on the journey to bring them into existence. You can follow us on X and GitHub for the latest updates.

Posted on

Automation and Beyond

We decided earlier this year to temporarily slow down PCB design and production in order to build a pick-and-place machine. Manual PCB assembly can be a tedious, repetitive, time-consuming and sometimes stressful process and we were spending most of our time assembling boards. We determined that at least partially automating the assembly process was the only sustainable way to continue producing products ourselves.

It’s now a couple of months later and the PnP machine is in a useful state, so we are beginning to shift back into design and production. We’re looking forward to getting more of our products back in stock and to start producing our latest designs such as Kölsch, Mozart and Kaugummi.

Designing and building the PnP machine was in many ways easier than expected, and we are excited about the prospect of open-sourcing and documenting the machine in order to help to demystify and make such a useful tool available to more people. There are already some great open-source PnP projects and we hope that our project will be complementary to them while also being unique and useful on its own.

We’re also excited to announce that some of our work is now being partially funded by a grant from the NLnet Foundation. This work includes the design of our upcoming series of open-source computers based on European FPGAs, including Kölsch, as well as open-sourcing and improving the PnP machine.

There is a lot of work left to do in order to build useful and durable timeless computers along with the gateware, software, documentation and tools necessary to unleash their full potential. We’re just getting started and we thank you for your interest in our work.

Posted on

Announcing Machdyne UG

Machdyne began in 2021 as the experimental hardware division of Lone Dynamics Corporation, an American technology company, whose mission is to improve the state of reality for humanity through technology.

 

Since then, Machdyne has produced several open-source general-purpose computers designed to operate and remain useful for decades. Our focus has been on supporting timeless applications such as reading, writing, math, education, organization, communication and automation with simple, secure, responsive, reliable and repairable hardware.

Today we’re announcing that a new independent German company named Machdyne UG (haftungsbeschränkt) will take over the manufacturing and distribution of our timeless computers, modules and tools.

For our customers, not much will change, except that our prices are now in Euros, and we have added additional payment methods.

We will continue releasing innovative open-source products and improving our existing products over the coming years and decades. At the moment we are hard at work building a custom pick-and-place machine that will help to automate our manufacturing process, which will allow us to increase production and reduce prices.

We want to thank our customers for their interest in our products and for their support. This announcement represents a big positive step forward for Machdyne and it was entirely enabled by our customers.

Posted on

The Zeitreise Cyberdeck

Zeitreise Cyberdeck

Zeitreise is a minimalist slabtop cyberdeck with a chorded keyboard designed as a test platform and demo for some of our upcoming cyberdeck components:

Zeitreise is based on the Kaugummi FPGA computer, which is capable of running Kakao Linux on a RISC-V SOC built with LiteX.

Typing on the Akkord Acht keyboard requires pressing the binary equivalent of an ASCII code, for example to type an ‘a’ you would press 01100001 and for backspace you would press 00001000.

Part of the fun of building a cyberdeck is choosing the components and customizing the design, so we don’t currently plan to sell complete cyberdecks, but rather to offer components that make it easier and more fun to build them.

Inside the Zeitreise Cyberdeck

We intend to open-source the Zeitreise design after some additional testing and refinement so that it can be used as a starting point for your own design.

We also plan to release additional cyberdeck components, including a LiFePO4 power supply and a more traditional keyboard.

Posted on

Announcing Mozart

Mozart Motherboard

Mozart Prototype

Mozart is the first of our next-generation computers. Mozart is a motherboard that requires a “Sechzig” compute module to operate.

Moving to a motherboard + module design was an obvious next step for us. Our computers were getting more complicated and we wanted to support FPGAs from multiple vendors. We also believe that we now know what functionality is necessary for useful “timeless” computers.

We will likely develop additional Single Board Computers as well. If you’ve already purchased one of our FPGA computers or plan to, don’t worry. Not only will we continue to support them, but they will likely gain improvements from the development of our next-generation computers.

Sechzig

Sechzig ML1 Prototype

Sechzig is a work-in-progress compute module specification that takes the physical form of a 60-pin 2.54mm pitch edge card.

A lot of people are probably screaming at the screen “why didn’t you use <some other> connector?”

This is a good criticism and the connector will be a limitation of Sechzig. However, the mission of Machdyne is not to provide high-speed or cutting-edge features, but instead to support timeless applications with simple, reliable, understandable hardware.

We hope to offer FPGA modules, with a variety of memory configurations, from multiple vendors. We are also considering developing modules for various RISC-V ASIC SOCs in the future.

In the coming days you will be able to find additional details in the Sechzig GitHub repo.

Going Fully Open-Source

Mozart and the Sechzig modules will be our first fully open-source designs, including all schematic diagrams and PCB layouts.

We are also planning to begin open-sourcing the majority of our previous FPGA computer PCB designs, in addition to the schematics that we provide now.

This has always been our plan, but we’ve hesitated for two main reasons: (1) it will expose all of our ignorance and mistakes; of which there are plenty (2) it will be time-consuming to determine the redistribution licensing requirements of all symbols and footprints that we’ve at times haphazardly pulled into the various projects.

Despite the potential anguish, we feel obligated to fully open-source our designs in order to meet one of the stated goals of our mission:

Open; open-sourced software and hardware provide confidence about security, repairability and longevity

As with our other computers, we will also provide an open-source 3D-printable case design for Mozart.

Notice to Developers & Early Adopters

This is our most ambitious project yet and there is a possibility that the Sechzig specification will need to change during early revisions. As with our other computers, these boards should be considered as prototypes. If you’re still interested in buying one you can reserve a Mozart.

Posted on

Staking a Claim

One of our primary motivations for building timeless computers is to create a defense against the unknown future of technology. To preserve what has been proven to be useful and good, and to deliberately go no further.

Artificial Intelligence will become increasingly integrated into the operating environment and hardware of modern computers, because most users will demand this. It will provide, at least temporarily, huge advantages for these users.

At this fork in the road, we’re choosing a less fashionable path. We’re staking a claim within a window of technological time and building a wall around it. Machdyne will represent a hedge against the future, and a last line of defense.

Our computers will always be tools of humanity; useful, durable, understandable, trustable and unsentient.