Yes, you read that correctly. I didn’t think that anyone was working on one of these yet, though I’d heard the idea kicked around a few times over the last couple of years. JInvent, a company started in southern Germany back in 2008 is doing just that, though. Their main focus, as a manufacturing and design company is on efficiency and reducing waste.
I’m going to talk a lot after this. I’ll give you the TL;DR version right here: This product will make designing hardware modular. You wire all of your hardware to it, and upload your schematic. If something changes, swap out the piece of hardware, and update the schematic. You don’t have to scrap an entire board when you replace a part now. Also, lots of GPIO, an Arduino shield, and possibly additional boards with even more. So go back their Kickstarter!
One real pain-point with the development of new hardware is in the prototyping and upgrading processes. It frequently involves a lot of “wasted” hardware, that’s just thrown away or scrapped, because of a simple flaw or change in plans. The ioLinker board aims to work in that particular space. By creating a board with 49 GPIOs running at 3.3v you can hook your hardware directly to it. Then, you upload what is essentially your schematic to the board on the fly. There are 10 PWM-capable pins on the board, as well.
The other product that’s being developed alongside this one is basically an Arduino shield, though it’s not necessary to use it with an Arduino. You plug the ioLinker into it like you would a shield, and it level-shifts everything to 5v logic, which is nice. And because the ioLinker connects via either SPI, UART, or I2C, it won’t take up a ton of pins on your Uno, either. (Uno compatibility confirmed by Julian. These guys really are responsive to questions!)
In addition, they’re working on all sorts of additional possibilites (and with this sort of thing, the permutations are pretty close to limitless…look how Arduino grew and is still growing, after all!) including different FPGA programming, including things like a possible PWM-focused version that allows all 49 GPIOs to work with PWM. Extra communications channels. Onboard microcontrollers. They’ve also got 4 stretch goals, of additional (but related) boards that also look great. Lots more GPIO on some of them.
This design has been in development since 2013, and they have what appears to be a solid team. Unlike a lot of Kickstarters that I’ve seen, they’re very up front with what risks there are, and give what really appears to be an honest assessment of how much risk those actually pose, including what would happen if they lost team members. This is a very down-to-earth project, unlike many of the airy-dreamy ones that never see the light of day. Their target audience is fairly wide as well. From major industrial concerns to hobbyists and pretty much anyone who likes to mess around with microcontrollers.
So basically, if this sounds good to you (and if you like to Make things, it should) then back this project! It’s Open Hardware, and the source for the software is available on Git, linked straight from their Kickstarter page. I’ve backed it for what I can so far, and hopefully more soon. Hopefully this will reach a few of you and let them really get this done. I’d love to review one of these later this year!