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Fun with BeagleBoard and projector devices January 19, 2009

Posted by Florian in Devices, GPE, kernel concepts, Linux, OpenEmbedded.

A PICO projector is a nice thing: An interesting toy, useful tool or whatever you might call it. I got one of these from Textas Instruments in order to prepare small demonstration of an idea… but more about this in a later article. The most intersting question about these PICO projector engines is what they mean for the design of future devices.

From a mechanical point of view they offer a very important improvement: It offers display sizes that are not limited to physical size of a device. This is an interesting perspective for mobile devices. Will we finally get smartphones that provide a display which is useful for office work and internet browsing and still small enough to fit in a pocket. (I have to admit that I carry a quite modern/big smartphone – a Nokia E90 – in my pocket: It fits, but I have to say that there is some room for improvement. :-)

When I read the announcement of the PICO projector at the BeagleBoard mailinglist another device I read about some time ago came to my mind: A projection keyboard.

Keyboard projection on desk

Keyboard projection on desk

Even if it takes a little bit of time to get used to the projection keyboard it is an interesting alternative for mobile use. If its well calibrated for the surface it is a quite usable replacement for a real keyboard and still fits in a pocket. But more important for me: After a closer look at the construction I am convinced that it would be possible to reduce the size quite a lot. You see, I have mobile devices in mind all the time :-)

BeagleBoard with Projector and Keyboard

BeagleBoard with Projector and Keyboard

The BeagleBoard is a nice platform because its performance and interfaces are similar to what we will have in quite some mobile devices soon. Its based on an OMAP3 SoC which is designed for powerful mobile devices and offers all sorts of peripheral controllers like USB host and OTG, TFT controller, SD interface and SPI. Several companies announced OMAP3 based devices already.

For my initial experiments I used the devices you can see in the image above. Apart from the BeagleBoard, a small USB HUB, the projection keyboard and the PICO projector there is a cheap USB Wifi adapter, a serial cable and a sheet of paper. Think about adding a powerful battery (power consumption is a very important topic, especially regarding the projector and the keyboard) – you would end up in a quite small device already. Not too bad, compared to the popular Netbooks but still with some drawbacks and a good mechanical design might be a challenge.

The BeagleBoard here runs a custom Linux filesystem with some GPE and other GTK+ based software built with OpenEmbedded. The latest 2.6.28 kernel OE builds seems to work pretty good, one major improvement seems to be the reliability of the USB OTG port which caused a lot of trouble in my previous tests.

Now I’ll add additional componets to get a more complex environment for playing with components and software I assume to be relevant in near future…