The Precursor is a pocket-sized, open hardware, mobile device that can be programmed for use as a communications gadget or for a range of other applications. And it’s not just the software that’s programmable – the heart of the device is an FPGA that can be configured to emulate various processors.
And then the global chip shortage began. Now Precusor developer bunnie Huang says that the Precursor is unlikely to ship to backers before February, 2022.
That’s because the supply of some electronics components had already been tight following factory shutdowns at the start of the pandemic… and with the expectation that global economies are going to continue to recover, large companies are buying up all the parts they can, which is squeezing the supply chain even further.
Huang says the surge in Bitcoin prices has also hurt by increasing the demand for cryptocurrency mining hardware (which leads to reduce supply, increased prices, and longer wait times for key components).
All of this has led to shortages of big name products like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. But smaller companies and independent, crowdfunded projects have been especially hard hit. Pine64 is having a harder time getting its Linux laptops and phones manufactured according to schedule. Popcorn Computer says the price of its Pocket P.C. handheld Linux device is going up by $50. And Huang says that instead of a 24-week lead time for key components including the Xilinx FPGA that powers the Precursor, his team is now looking at a 50-week lead time.
So instead of a pilot production run scheduled for this summer with the goal of shipping units to backers in the fall, it looks like manufacturing will have to wait until November, with Precursor devices shipping early next year.
That could change if the chip shortage subsides earlier than expected… or if things get worse before they get better. But overall the Precursor delay is just the latest in a string of stories about supply constraints affecting the timing and/or pricing of new hardware projects. It’s a rough time to be trying to bring a niche device like the Precursor into the world.
Crowdfunding campaign backers beware… or at least be patient.
Meanwhile, Huang does note that the delay might have at least one upside for the Precursor project: rather than shipping with a simple demo program for software, developer Xobs has had more time to work on the Xous operating system for the Precursor, and it may be ready to deliver by the time the hardware ships.
You can read more about the Precursor, Xous, and the latest news about the special edition “Omakase” case in Huang’s Crowd Supply update post.