Virtually Brilliant: Arm DevSummit 2021

Despite being virtual for the second year in a row, Arm put together an incredibly informative and delightfully convivial conference.

Is it cliché to open with a reflection on events still being virtual, this late in 2021? Perhaps, but without drawing attention to the fact that things are still far from back to normal, it would be hard to fully convey how fantastically Arm has made the transition from in-person events. As travel remains difficult, virtual event tools have matured, and people have become accustomed to the upsides of working from home, Arm has adapted from flashy, formal, in-person conventions to more welcoming, more inclusive, more egalitarian events that can be attended by anyone with an internet connection and the patience to sift through the multitudinous keynotes, workshops, and technical sessions for the items of most interest to themselves.

The event began, unsurprisingly, with a keynote from Arm CEO Simon Segars. But rather than a dry, PR-laden presentation, Simon opened with a description of Arm's humble beginning as a dozen engineers hacking on RISC CPUs in a former turkey shed. He followed this up with a tale of his own journey into computing, which began with trips to the local computer shop, where he and his friend would while away afternoons writing BASIC programs on the display machines until they got kicked out. This dovetailed beautifully into a touching tribute to computing pioneer Clive Sinclair, who passed away earlier this year. Segars' fledgling foray into computing also informed Arm's low-power ethos, since, having no power supply, all of his electronic experiments had to run off of a pair of AAs. The fateful first "box of magic" that he was able to call his own was the BBC Micro, a creation of Acorn Computers, which would eventually spawn the company known today as Arm. Segar's humble, inspiring story, from typing in code from the back of magazines, to leading the ARM7TDMI team whose innovative debugging tools still inform those we use today, to guiding Arm through drastic escalations in social, environmental, and digital threats, set the stage for an unassuming yet inspiring event.

After the opening keynotes, the agenda blew wide open into often as many as a dozen parallel sessions. New this year, and providing some continuity between events, was Arm TV, with hosts Brian Fuller and Robert Wolff from Arm, as well as Arm Innovator and SparkFun Services Manager, Alie Gonzalez. Another highlight from the first day's sessions was Simplified Computer Vision Development for Real-World Embedded Devices from Edge Impulse, where attendees walked through the creation of a computer vision application for the Arduino Portenta — including a lucky group of interactive participants who were sent hardware so that they could follow along at home. Canonical's Arm, Ubuntu, K8s: Build Your Own Cloud for Edge Computing workshop took participants through a rapid yet enjoyable micro cloud deployment using MicroK8s, Multipass, and Juju. By the end of the session, attendees had multi-node clusters running on their workstations (or Raspberry Pis!), ready for application deployment via Juju and charmed operators.

Day two opened with more keynotes, followed by another amazing onslaught of workshops, hangouts, and technical sessions. Another new addition this year was the official Arm Software Developers Discord server. The Discord server offered a unique opportunity to hang out and build community between (or even during!) events. While it could not replicate the in-person experience of bumping into friends between sessions, it provided a great way to catch up with contacts and create new friendships, as well as giving attendees the chance to hang out with, and get help from, Arm — and even Hackster — representatives!

Perennial favorite, maker superstar and Arduino co-founder Massimo Banzi hosted a technical session on Low Code Development of a TinyML Predictive Maintenance Solution, using Arduino hardware and software, as well as the Arduino Cloud. Following the session was a fantastic Q&A where attendees had the chance to pick Banzi's brain on the future of IoT and machine learning.

A novel way to interact during the event was Arm DevConnect, where participants could gather as circular avatars, optionally showing their video — with their audio levels based on proximity, so you can only hear people when you gather around them. Mary Bennion, Arm's AI Ecosystem manager, held a great interactive session there, which again, made things feel a little more like an in-person event. Several "virtual pub quizzes" using the same platform gave participants a chance to relax, have fun, and win prizes.

A highlight of the third and final day was David Tischler's workshop Containers Over-The-Air: Building Your First Edge AI Device the Easy Way! Participants received Jetson Nanos, which, using fleet management tool balena, had containerized computer vision applications deployed to them in just one click! (plus the burning of a microSD card). Don't believe it could be that easy? Check out the GitHub repo and try it for yourself! Speaking of miniNodes, the workshop Build Your Own Private LTE Network with Magma on Arm leveraged their new Arm Community Developer Hardware Program to provide Raspberry Pis in the cloud — free of cost — on which participants could stand up and connect to their own private LTE cellular network!

As the last day drew to an end, there was one last hurrah (or perhaps grande finale!?) in the form of Hackster's own Alex Glow, and... yours truly...hosting a Companion Bot meetup on the official Arm Discord server. Featuring special guests such as Make: Vol 76 cover model Jorvon Moss, and a whole heap of our plastic pals.

While we all may miss in-person events, Arm's decision to keep things virtual for another year seemed like the right call, and improvements in the platform, content delivery, and a focus on community building (such as the Discord server) made for an incredibly informative, wonderfully inspiring, and delightfully convivial conference.

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