In Part 1 of this tale, Jack Gassett, the creator of the Papilio FPGA Development Platform and the driving force behind the Gadget Factory, explained how his love affair with hardware hacking and computers started at the age of 13. Jack also described how he eventually came to the conclusion that what he wanted to be was an inventor, not an engineer.
In this installment, Jack tells of the birth of the Gadget Factory and how he came to invent the Papilio FPGA Development Platform. So, having set the scene, without further ado, let me hand things back to Jack...
The birth of the Gadget Factory and the creation of Papilio
Based on my experience hacking FPGA starter kits -- coupled with my newfound realization that I wanted to be an inventor -- I saved up enough money to quit my dead-end IT job. (I don't have anything against IT; it's just that as a system architect there was nowhere else to go so I was at a dead end.)
On July 1, 2009, I dove in at the deep end and started the Gadget Factory with the intention of figuring out how to become an inventor! My first task was to follow the advice of the fictional character in one of my favorite books by science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein, which was to make my own platform upon which I would develop my inventions.
My first system, which was based on a Spartan 3E FPFA, was called the Butterfly Platform. The first iteration of this platform was modular -- I wanted to stack FPGAs and peripherals on top of a USB module so everything could be upgraded independently. However, I quickly discovered that it was very difficult to solder all the connectors myself. Also, the modular approach became one more thing that had to be explained with what was already a difficult idea to sell.
At this time I was also learning about marketing, and one of the first things you discover is that your message has to be simple and easy to digest. For beginners to the world of FPGAs, a modular system becomes one more thing that confuses the message. So I designed a single board that would be easy to understand, like the Arduino.
Since this was a unified design, and I expected it to be the first platform with which I would actually make inventions, I named it the "Butterfly One." Around this time I ran into the founder of Sparkfun Electronics, Nathan Seidle, and I proudly showed him my new board. Nate's very important piece of advice was that the name I had selected for my platform was going to cause me problems. Apart from anything else, there was already the AVR Butterfly board, which was very popular. Also, the term "Butterfly" is too generic to do well in Google search results.
Taking Nate's advice to heart, I brought up Google and performed a search for "Butterfly," only to discover that there were 293 million results. When I refined my search to include "Butterfly" and "Electronics" the result was to find the AVR Butterfly. Nate was right -- I needed to come up with a new name.
After searching around for a different name that did not change the whole butterfly concept too much, I found that Papilio is Latin for butterfly. A search for "Papilio" returned less than a million results, which is small by search-engine standards, so I quickly renamed my new board to be the "Papilio One" and I've never looked back. Today, the Papilio FPGA board is at the top of a Google search for Papilio! Thanks, Nate!
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