Printrbot is Rewriting Marlin: New Firmware Promises to Improve User Experience

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logo-wide-black-smWe’ve been following the goings on at Printrbot quite a bit this year as they’ve continued to improve and upgrade their affordable line of 3D printers. The company, which began with a successful Kickstarter project in 2011, has been moving forward at breakneck speed, largely due to their boldness and willingness to experiment. This past week, they made a major announcement: they’re rewriting their firmware. According to founder and CEO Brook Drumm, major changes are coming to Marlin.

2014-09-18-2B14.23.41_8“We dug into Marlin to see if we could get an esp8266 to connect to wifi and our cloud services,” said Drumm. “After
cleaning out a bunch of unneeded, (non-Printrbot) code, it became more and more obvious we needed to extend its functionality for a variety of reasons. And it was painfully obvious that many things needed fixing.

It’s not that Marlin didn’t work, it does. But so many things we found in there just didn’t make sense. Some features were poorly written, some were not apparently abandoned and some features needed improvement. In all, we determined that if we were to move things forward, we couldn’t build on top of the existing system.”

190px-Marlin_LogoSo the company is completely revamping Marlin in a way that will improve and simplify it for Printrbot users. The new firmware will remain open source, but Drumm emphasizes that the changes will be “laser focused” on Printrbot’s hardware and software. Users are welcome to modify the firmware to fit their own needs, but Printrbot won’t be guiding any projects once the new code is released. Coders will have plenty to work with, though. The new and improved Marlin, to start, will:

  • Allow the printrboard to accept a shield that contains an esp8266 for WiFi and an ad card
  • Connect via WiFi to Printrbot’s cloud services and software to authenticate the connection and let users control it with Printrbot’s UI, which works in any browser
  • Track the user’s firmware to make upgrading easier
  • Allow Printrbot to include their vendor and product IDs and add unique serial numbers to each board. This will allow their software to identify the equipment it is running on and simplify configuration

printrboard-rev-f5

The new version of Marlin should work on all stock printrboards, but it won’t be usable with any desktop software until someone writes plugins for OctoPrint, Repetier and Cura, which doubtless won’t take long once the community gets its hands on the new code. Printrbot will publish the information needed to create the plugins, but is leaving the rest up to users. The reasoning behind this is that Printrbot is transitioning away from desktop open source software and towards their own cloud-based software, a transition that many in the industry are pursuing.

“This will eventually make the need for a computer hooked up via usb a thing of the past and soon have people using their phones, tablets and computers to run their machines wirelessly,” said Drumm. “I think this is where the industry needs to go and we are hoping this helps others go there with us.”

The new code isn’t completed yet, but Drumm is fully confident that it will dramatically improve user experience. It won’t cost much, either. The updates will be released as an add-on card, which should cost only about $50. Eventually, barring any issues, the changes will be added to the printrboard itself. According to Drumm, this is just the beginning of the changes Printrbot fans can expect to see in the future. No word on when the new code will be released to the public, but it’s already generating a lot of excitement in the Printrbot community.  Discuss this decision by Printrbot in the Printrbot Marlin forum thread on 3DPB.com.

 

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