May 8, 2012
Needed: Some Android Expertise
It appears that our favorite Transit Appliance platform, the Chumby, is on its way out.
The best opportunity for a low-cost (sub $200) small-format (under 12") device as a replacement is probably an Android tablet. Here's what we need to make it work:
1) Ability to configure a WiFi connection and have the device remember it.
2) Cause the device to boot into a web browser (does this require rooting?).
3) Run the web browser in full-screen mode (no chrome), loading an HTML file we install on the device.
Unfortunately, we don't have anyone on the team with Android experience, so we're starting from scratch. Do we have any Android experts in the audience who'd like to lend a hand?
May 8, 2012 9:48 AM
Jeff F Says:
Not an expert, but I have been using a Galaxy Tab for about a year and a half. Thanks to Samsung and T-Mobile I haven't had a single firmware upgrade, so my experience has been with Froyo (2.2). I was initially very pleased with the tablet but not so much now. I would recommend using Dolphin as your browser but I'm not at all sure if you can get the sort of behavior you're looking for.
It does handle WiFi quite well.
May 8, 2012 10:22 AM
Well, if you could actually get your hands on one, the way to go would be to run a Raspberry Pi (raspberrypi.org - $35) on the back of a small HDMI display.
Last I heard though, you can't order one until September.
You would just then need to put together a custom Linux boot and you'd be all set!
May 8, 2012 10:36 AM
Chris Smith Says:
I've been watching the Raspberry Pi for more than a year with great interest.
But in the countertop environment, I suspect we're going to do better with an off-the-shelf, fully integrated piece of consumer hardware. The trick is to find one that can be adapted readily to our requirements.
The beauty of Chumby was that it allowed you to use the native OS to deal with networking, but made it trivially easy to replace the startup script to run applications - I'll miss it :-(
May 8, 2012 11:31 AM
1.) We use Eee Box as the hardware platform with WIFI
2.) Install Ubuntu 10.x on Eee box
3.) Added some auto-boot script in OS
4.) Add a broswer to start in .profile
5.) Change to full screen if needed in the above
May 8, 2012 1:17 PM
I've worked with Eee Boxes as cheap throw-away workstations in light industrial settings - but where I was abusing them I think they'd be serious overkill for this. You pay a couple hundred bucks or more and you still don't have a display! And they're big. Eee boxes are like an inch wide with the footprint of a mousepad.
The thing that sucks about using a consumer tablet for this is I haven't noticed any with a screen you would ever otherwise choose for any kind of public information signage. Mediocre brightness and contrast, but what really ruins it is how much ambient light they reflect and their poor viewing angles. Beyond just the ambient reflectiveness, many are real glossy and do the mirror thing. I can't imagine them being anything but a pain to see halfway across a room indoors from most vantages, let alone pointing out a window in daylight.
I think the Raspberry Pi really is the ticket. So cheap! You can cross that off the list and just focus on the display, which is what the product really is. I would try to find something roughly along the lines of this to mount it inside. Some kind of sun-readable LCD display that is sold with a chassis and bezel so you don't need to fabricate anything or strap it onto something, and find a way to fit it inside and steal some juice off the power supply and connect directly to the video interface. People are wedging them into tiny picture frames, there's got to be some hardware out there that wold work that is cheap.
And I bet once the Raspberry Pi really starts getting out there folks will be selling decent housings special-made for it.
May 8, 2012 5:01 PM
Chris Smith Says:
We have used both the Eee Box and Foxconn NTxxx series to hang on the back of monitors.
But I'm looking for something in the 10-inch or small screen category. Hard to build something compact at that size out of components?
May 9, 2012 11:32 AM
I second Aaron about the display quality of the consumer tablets. I have a 10" rooted G-tablet from View Sonic, it is very hard to read from a very small viewing angle, also the screen is not bright at all.
On top of that Android tablet has a different software platform than the Android smartphone. Many of the web browser applications are not supported on tablet. The G-tablet I have only come with Dolphin web brower, of course I used the Cyanogen 7 mod.
If you have a un-mod tablet with nice display, you could try Locale plugin to start apps.
May 24, 2012 6:18 AM
APC just announced that they are taking preorders on a Raspberry Pi type board, the only difference being that the APC computer runs Android and has a $49 cost:
Paired with a monitor, this would make a great transit appliance.
August 10, 2012 9:15 PM
Andrew Jawitz Says:
Hello Again from the "other Portland"!
I've posted before as I have been keenly interested in this project ever since I found the video from Railvolution 2010! Part of what impressed me then, and continues to do so now, is how rare it is to find open transit solutions on the hardware interaction side. I too have been working with the Chumby Infocast and was sad to see such a perfect off-the-shelf solution would no longer be available. It is interesting to follow your progress as we have been arriving at very similar conclusions. Our goal is to have as flexible a solution as possible, so as to incorporate it into existing monitor hardware where it may be (like at a Visitor's Center/Train Station). Originally, we were figuring on using a generic digital TV Converter to wirelessly connect a standard TV to an old PC which would be hidden out of sight... But obviously this was a bit clunky, even if we could ensure supply of old computers. Until, one day we heard about the Raspberry Pi!!! It appears to fit our needs perfectly, and its even cheaper than most used PCs! We finally managed to order one today and will be checking the mailbox incessantly until it arrives!
Still, the Pi only covers the display. If we want to add more than a simple static display a touch screen will be key... We've been looking at every option (including consumer Android Tablets) but it seems that Apple did a pretty good job of locking up the tablet touch screen supply chain. We've been playing around with Arduino quite a bit, but they can't power anything beyond a small resistive TFT Touch shield. The Beagle Bone boards are based on Linux and Liquidware makes a customizable capacitive Touch screen for them, but they are well above the $200 threshold... We even looked into hacking an old GPS monitor, but it would still be too small of a display... In the end my bet is somebody will come up with a touchscreen/tablet extension for the Rasp Pi, but for now we have our eye's on the cyclotouch.com overlay. As an overlay conversion kit, they fit perfectly with off-the-shelf monitors and at $145 for the 15'' model it comes in just shy of $200 when combined with the Pi... We're hoping to have a working demo of the static display by the first Maine Maker Faire on September 8th... I'm sure I'll be camped out in front of the mailbox every day till then!