I haven’t blogged on technology in quite awhile, so this is past due. My friend and regular WUWT and Climate Audit commenter Steve Mosher has started out on an open-source/open hardware project that is pretty impressive. I thought it would be worth noting here since so many WUWT readers are also techies. So many of the PDA gadgets like Palm and iPod are closed platforms, that for those that want to develop competing hardware products with niche applications, the challenge is huge. Mosher has started a company call Qi Hardware, which offers an alternate way of developing handheld device applications both at the hardware and software level. Qi Hardware builds copyleft hardware running a stable Linux kernel and free software. Their first product is the NanoNote™ a small multifunction device, seen at left. It folds like a micro-sized laptop or net-book.
The mission: provide free software developers with stable, mass market quality hardware that they can develop compelling end user applications on.
The initial product ships in fall 2009. If there are any readers that can envision applications for this, now is the time to check it out. I can envision several industrial and scientific uses for this platform. I’ve included Mosh’s description and vision of the product below. – Anthony
Qi Hardware, founded on the belief in open hardware, produces mass market quality hardware applying free software principles to consumer electronics. The three fundamental elements in our development are copyleft hardware, upstream kernels and community driven software. Each of these form a vital part of our Qi or “energy flow”. Only if developers truly know how the device functions can they exploit its maximum potential, only if we maintain and move the kernel upstream can applications make use of the newest technology, and only if we listen to the community and work together with our customers can we redefine freedom. For a short overview on Qi check the FAQ.
The first time the NanoNote was put into my hands it was “simply” an electronic dictionary. But when I heard the music, watched the video, and played around with a few of the applications it became clear to me that I was holding an ultra small notebook computer, or an ultra small netbook. I saw beyond what I held in my hands. But the only way to make that vision a reality, in my mind, was to open the device. Open it for the software development required and open it for the hardware enhancements we would need to make. As it stands, the device is a great beginning. We call the first version “ben” signified by the Chinese character 本 which loosely means “origin” or the beginning place.
Above all else the size of the device offers a compelling promise. In today’s market we see a variety of devices all competing for that valuable space in your pocket, purse or backpack. We see capability being pushed into phones. We see notebooks shrinking to netbooks. For us the NanoNote has a unique form factor in this dynamic marketplace. It’s small enough to be a “phone” and capable enough with its color screen and keyboard to work as a netbook or ultra small notebook.
The technical specifications are relatively straightforward. It is powered by an Ingenics XBurst processor, which is a MIPS compatible core, clocked at 366 MHz. The roadmap for this processor family is strong with follow-on versions. Strategically, we think that Chinese processor suppliers have competitive MIPS compatible CPUs and developers who are keen to work on a processor that can compete with ARM/Intel offerings will find that the NanoNote presents an interesting and cost effective development platform. That CPU also has the ability to boot from USB. This makes the device instantly “unbrickable”. Nobody foresees a situation where they will “brick” their development platform, but Murphy’s law rules and “unbrickability” is a key design criteria at Qi hardware.
In addition to having a unique processor, the NanoNote comes with a color display. That immediately makes the device a candidate for development aimed at image content. We were pleased to see that the device could support playback of video files and that the display of pictures. With the right software you have a small form factor video player, or small photo album device. And if you add in the fact that it can record and playback audio, then you open up other possibilities. We’d love to see a device dedicated to displaying Creative Commons content.
Finally, the last thing that appealed to us was the storage. Currently the flash in the device stands at 2 GB, but going forward we can increase that to 8 GB. And the device has a microSD slot and supports SDIO. With microSD cards supporting up to 32 GB of storage, it’s clear that the device has the ability to store and use a good amount of data. We can see users storing music on the microSD, or OpenStreetMap data, or an offline version of Wikipedia, or OpenCourseWare, or photos, or movies, or caches of the web. You name it. But the microSD slot gives us more than that. Through SDIO we belive that we can support SDIO peripherals such as Wi-Fi over microSD, GPS over microSD. There is even a camera that can be attached via the microSD slot.