Preorders accepted for ColorHug Spectro, open hardware spectrophotometer

Preorders accepted for ColorHug Spectro, open hardware spectrophotometer

Richard Hughes started collecting preorders for ColorHug Spectro, a spectrophotometer that's intended for prosumer and professional market. Like its predecessor, the ColorHug colorimeter, Spectro is an open hardware.

With over 2,000 ColorHug v1 devices sold you'd think it's time to move on and explore a new market. Indeed, Richard first started thinking about designing a more sophisticated device around May 2012. A year ago he had a baseline specification, but the original July 2013 production deadline slipped due to family expansion.

Today, with an existing prototype at hand and the expected final price of £300 perunit (worldwide shipping included), Richard is ready to go to a more active design stage with production estimated as either late 2014 or very early 2015. But that's only if enough people are actually interested in ColorHug Spectro.

The design roadblock is currently the calibrated optics: Richard contacted a dozen of companies that do optical design, and just one agreed to work on a such a low-cost/low-volume project.

But that's just part of the problem: Richard would have to share £50,000 non-recurring engineering design costs. So the idea is to find out whether the market's interest amounts to a volume of sales that would justify further work.

Hughski Ltd. kindly agreed to answer a few questions regarding the project.

Richard, how much of your motivation to work on Spectro stems from the feedback along the lines of "ColorHug is a kinda nice colorimeter, but I want quality, so I'll be shopping elsewhere"?

That's a large part. Plus with the gradual phasing out of TFT towards LED, and the ever increasing gamut range of screens colorimeters (of any brand) just are not going to be part of the solution.

In the past, quite a few critics pointed out that ColorHug wasn't completely open hardware in their opinion as it relied on PIC18 which isn't properly supported by GCC. They also pointed out that Atmel AVR could be a better hardware platform. What's your take on that?

I don't think licence of the toolset has anything to do with being OpenHardware as long as it's freely available. The FSF hardware program requires a free compiler, but I don't think there's anything in the performance / price band that's a suitable replacement for the PIC.

Plus I'm intimately familiar with PIC already, changing platform at this time would add months of development time for little gain.

Also, you just can't get the performance I need (e.g. hardware DMA) from an Arduino system; Microchip really are 2 generations ahead at the moment.

How has the open hardware aspect worked for the project so far? Any notable forks of ColorHug?

A couple of people have built the PCB successfully, and I even sent one person the punched ABS shell and rubber grommits so the device would look more like an actual ColorHug. I think more people would be able to make a ColorHug if they had a spectro device, ironically enough.

Are your customers mostly fellow geeks who love tinkering with devices?

The majority of people run Linux and understand to do a bit of compiling/hacking to get the device working. But very few people have contributed firmware or client updates. Firmware—perhaps, 4 people. Client application—perhaps, 5 people. Device PCB—2 people.

How much of the work on Spectro is done, exactly, and what's still ahead?

I've got a space (i.e. how everything fits in the box) prototype, and an electrical prototype, and I've been able to measure spectra, but to get the proper resolution and some decent results I need to spend the non-recurring engineering money on the optical design. I would say I'm about 50% done on the design so far.

The NRE costs look a teeny-tiny bit dramatic for a small business that's basically Mrs. and you. Some people already suggested going for IndieGoGo to get Spectro crowdfunded. Is that even an option for you?

As an advertising platform it might be, perhaps not as a way to get money right now. I'm doing the pre-orders just like last time. It's not a "I need 50k upfront from customers to start manufacture", it's more of a "if my target market is smaller than X then it's not worth the time / money".

At the end of the day Hughski Limited is a business with a good credit history, so I could get a bank loan fairly easily. At the moment I've had 25 people say they would purchase a spectro for £300, and I don't think I can absorb that much NRE for anything less than about 100 sales.

To notify Richard that you are interested in getting ColorHug Spectro at £300 in ca. 9 months time, send an email to with [preorder] in the subject line.

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  1. *preordering* :)

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