Hardware ideas

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A list of hardware ideas. See also Category:Hardware ideas

General Project Ideas

  • power management in the device drivers: for us, every joule matters, and a simplistic "oh, we mostly have most of a chip turned off, maybe" isn't good enough. We want to know that every possible power savings has been realized, and that suspend/resume is rock solid and blindingly fast.
  • fast suspend/resume: We must go beyond the current state of the art as discussed at the power management summit.
  • modal operation: if certain applications are full screen, the system should automatically suspend and resume whenver idle for more than a short period.
  • variable speed display driving: (aka: mode change on the fly), again, to save power.
  • wireless: we will be deploying mesh networking. Serious experimentation in this area is in order, to shake down the drivers and to gain experience in its behavior in differing conditions (e.g. rural areas with low noise characteristics; busy metropolitan areas). We understand that to do serious tests, more than a single board will be needed. Please be realistic in your expectations: two boards is not interesting; two hundred boards can't be provided.
  • Draft- cloud computing -using remote computers to enable thin shell browsing and heavy duty application access specifically applications like R, Rapid Miner in order to employ efficiencies in desktop virtualization and remote processing.

Project: The ten dollar e-reader (10ER)


Experimental idea: smartphone


We are now making a prototype of XO Smartphone prototype based on Openmoko and Chumby frame as well as various linux smartphones such as E28. Our ultimate purpose is NOT to make a brand new machine, but ONLY to reduce the physical size of XO to hand-held machines.

An OLPC Smartphone is for college students of South Korea, almost 100% of them now having both (laptop or desktop) computers and mobile phones. So, our goal is to provide an XO derivative which can substitute those computers as well as mobile phones. Though the Larger XO for secondary school students can also be applied to college students, we think a mobile-phone type XO will be much more easily adapted by those students, because of their peculiar interests on mobile phones.

The hardware and software architecture is all the same to those of OLPC, except;

  • perhaps MX31 or MX31L rather than x86 processors. As you know, changing CPU of OLPC makes all peripheral circuits to be changed also. Our interests are how to move the SUGAR architecture to a new hardware frames such as Openmoko-based FIC Neo1973 smartphone, which even without marvell mesh wi-fi chips.
  • additional input/output device, consisting of one display and one keyboard.
    • we hope a college student may select any size among 12.1", 13.3", 14.1" and 15.4" wide panels.

There are some problems in attaching marvell wifi chips on boards such as that of FIC Neo1973. If those problems are solved, sample test machines will be distributed no later than 15th, May, 2007 (about 100 units). However, we don't expect those test machines be well harmonized with SUGAR. There must be too many difficulties left before pouring SUGAR on those smartphone-type XO models. --User:Php5


Sugar on Chumby

One of the two XO smartphone mock-ups is to sprinkle SUGAR on Chumby, a radio on open source platform.

Changing the current 266 Mhz MX21 freescale cpu of Chumby with MX31 or MX31L (which provide much better graphic function) may be sufficient to load SUGAR on it and to operate external display devices.

However, the board of Chumby is too big to be a mobile machine. We are looking for somewhat smaller boards for Chumby.

Sugar on Neo1973

From the aspect of size, FIC Neo1973 is an appropriate one to load SUGAR on it. Because the marvell wi-fi chips such as libertas 88w8305,88w8381,88w8385 and 88w8388 series are too big (size) and too hungry (power consumption) to be on the Neo1973 board, the FIC team is currently looking for some smaller ones.

However, as we (OLPC Korea) don't need GSM related modules as XO doesn't, we are now removing those chips from both hardware and software specs of NEO1973. By removing those, there will be sufficient physical space and power supply for the Marvell Libertas 88W8388+88W8015 chips.

Additional feature we expect is Dual User Interface, one Openmoko & the other SUGAR. When the smartphone stands alone (as a phone), it's 2.8" display panel will show Openmoko interface on Linux 2.6.x kernel. However, when connected to an external Input/Output device such as our 12.1" wide display panel and keyboard set we design, then SUGAR will show on that wide screen.

No later than the end of May 2007, we hope to show our prototype mock-up sample.

See also Belkin with Marvell 88W8385 integrated 802.11g wireless MAC/BB and 88W8015 RF transceiver devices.

Magnifying glass / macro-lens bugbox

A minor modification to the plastic around the camera would leave a slide-in connector for a magnifying glass / slide microscope / bugbox / macro lens. I'm not an expert, but even just a cheap plastic bugbox dealie, cost of manufacture in the $.10 range, would open up a lot of exploration - a macro lens with a field of view of a few centimeters. Leaving the connector now would let you design the lens later. Would a true microscope be possible at a reasonable price? Note that this would be used with the screen rotated facing up, natural light from above. Homunq 00:57, 28 July 2007 (EDT)

Obviously this idea exists in prototype, quoted from News:
5. $1 video microscope: A video of Mary Lou's prototype microscope attachment for the XO video camera is posted on the web (Please see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wI28-IS9AII). In the video, she compares various LCD screens. The microscope, which has ~ 100× magnification, could be useful to analyzing water quality, among other things.
My question is, how is this connected to the laptop? Is the connection hard to build or flimsy? Homunq 16:23, 8 August 2007 (EDT)

display swizzling

The swizzling is not optimal for all tasks. It would be good to let software load a 3x3 or 5x5 convolution matrix to adjust things better. Currently you have:

 0  1  0
 1  4  1
 0  1  0

(divide by 8)

A much better matrix for eliminating color artifacts is:

 2  1  0
 1  4  1
 0  1  2

(divide by 12; scale everything up if you wish to approximate with a shift)

In some cases the following could be more attractive:

 2  1  1
 1  2  1
 1  1  2

(divide by 12; scale everything up if you wish to approximate with a shift)

For apps that wish to do sub-pixel rendering, swizzling needs to be disabled. Note that this is distinct from greyscale mode, which needs to mix red/blue/green in the proper proportions for human vision. Disabled looks like this:

 0  0  0
 0  1  0
 0  0  0

(divide by 1)

BTW, hopefully the swizzling is done after the gamma look-up table has converted the data to linear. Failure to do so would be a cause of some nasty artifacts.

TeleHealth Module

The idea is to connect electronic instruments plus sound and video to a wireless-equipped low-power computer such as the OLPC Laptop, and send data back and forth between a village and a doctor's office in a town, thus multiplying the effectiveness of doctors. It would also save villagers much time and money compared with taking busses or walking to town, or worse, not being able to get there at all.

The result is that a health worker with modest training can carry out most of a standard medical office examination, to be interpreted by a doctor in real time. The doctor and patient would be able to see each other and talk to each other.

There are some limitations on this process. In particular, the doctor would be unable to touch the patient and feel for abnormalities. But the doctor could decide which patients needed to come in for further tests and examination, and which could safely remain at home and be treated there.

For an overview of the technical ideas, see TeleHealth Module


For the sight impaired
A Braille embossed, transparent(silicone rubber), and removable Keyboard overlay.

B-1 Keyboard layouts

default QWERTY Layout
Thailand Layout

Further information can be browsed checking the Category:Keyboard and Keyboard layouts; or more general, Category:Hardware, Category:Language support or Category:Languages (international)

For children

Why stick to QWERTY layout? Maybe a better layout can be applied here... a simple sequential ABC... layout would let the child learn faster where the keys are. Remember... Most of those kids would have never seen a keyboard before. I like the idea of "removable keyboard overlays". that idea could be applied here, once the kid is familiar with the keyboard function and usability, he could overlay a more standard "QWERTY" layout and start learning to type in such. Or maybe this will be the end of the QWERTY layout for good :-)

Preliminary partners


OLPC Korea shall make a few voip phone prototypes; one of smartphones is based on neo 1973 and Belkin, and one of wifi phones is based on VM1188T phone. This product will be distributed after 1~2 months later deploying XO laptops in Korea.


Partnership information shall be disclosed after signing agreements between participant companies and our joint venture.

Additional power

The XO solar power charger raises a number of interesting thoughts. The random thought paths that come off this include everything from solar calculators to windmill-powering houses. These lead to more sane and directly interesting thoughts.

Solar laptop case

The XO can charge via a solar power adapter. Why not, then, take the next logical step and build the adapter into the laptop? Consider the entire back of the screen having a hard, transparent plastic coating; underneath this lies a solar panel. Whether closed or open, the solar panel still collects light and charges the battery.

A number of interesting considerations stem from this:

  • Use the solar panel continuously
    • AC power (i.e. a second solar panel, or human power) should supplement the built-in solar when present
  • Deploy a backpack with a soft plastic window, such that the placement of the XO can expose the solar panel to the window and the light outside, allowing charging on the way to school or anywhere.
  • Can we make the case removable, sealed, locked (latched, not keyed), and still thin, such that the clear plastic cover comes off allowing the replacement of damaged solar panels with newer, possibly even more efficient models?

Inductive charge stations

Here I assume the students go to some sort of school or the like to get educated, rather than self-tutoring since age 3. In this scenario, we can envision an inductive charging station using no wires or electrical contacts.

For those unfamiliar, specific types of transformers adjust voltage and current via using an inductive transfer of electricity. Basically, two coils of wire don't touch, but they sit close together (even interleaved) and the electromagnetic field induces power from the hot one into the cold one. Their different construction (i.e. number of twists per cm) cause a difference in voltage and current.

More interestingly, certain products such as some electric toothbrushes use the same design to actually charge a battery. The battery sits in the toothbrush handle, a sealed unit with no electrical contacts. When the user places the toothbrush into a base station, a coil at the base of the toothbrush sits inside a coil at the base station, which induces power into the toothbrush and charges the battery.

For our purposes, the bottom of the XO laptop could contain a coil for inductive charging. Placing the laptop upon a surface with an inductive charger underneath would transfer power to the laptop. Power could come from wind or solar power on the actual building (such as a school roof), stored into batteries. The students' desks would become the charge station, with the desk surface as the charge surface.

Unfortunately this wastes power. Induction doesn't give the best efficiency in power transfer; and having the inductor on all the time also uses power. One solution could involve using a much lower power sensor to detect a laptop, for example a weak inductance charge that drops when you place a load across it (bringing the laptop too close does cause a load); with this scheme, the inductor could increase power when it detects the presence of a laptop, reducing waste. Another simple solution involves just putting a switch on the desk and turning it off when not in use.

Optimally, using both prescribed methods will reduce power when the laptop has a nearly full charge or when the student leaves his desk. Resistance in the charge circuit prevents inductance into the laptop, I think, so make the amount of power adjust proportional to the load (more load, more power) and the inductor will use as little power as it can. The desk will supply minimal power with minimal load (i.e. no laptop) and thus automatically behave as in the first prescribed method. To extend this, have the desk use a solenoid to physically flip the switch off after maybe 10 minutes like this; then the power automatically gets cut when not in use for extended periods.

Combining this kind of base station power supply with the internal solar power described above and the external human/solar power already present in the current design gives a largely efficient collection base for power. Other interesting ideas include making the surface of the desk a solar panel to charge the laptop and reduce load on the battery store in the building (or the power grid for the more fortunate), in case there's light inside the school where this happens (this also encourages skylights though).

This of course means the OLPC organization would have to design the inductance-based charge surfaces or desks too....

Fun things

Seems that the notion of "Fun Things" as peripherals needs to be developed. After all the laptop is for children and there is much to be learned from playing with "real things" rather than only with "virtual things". At its simplest electronics and other kits with wireless and wired interfaces provide valuable learning opportunities in a "constructionist" framework. A competitor to the $200+ LEGO Mindstorms is required in the $25 range ... Also a very simple musical keyboard priced similarly to a computer keyboard - maybe twice as expensive ... Would be interesting to see creative/practical ideas on "Fun Things" which could be manufactured at low cost. There is opportunity for a company like "Klutz" to invent, make & sell neat $20 range "Fun Things ...

L Pfeffer March 18, 2006

Robotics for the XO
I went as far as having a Stiquito run off parallel printer port, and a pre-prototype of a braille printer ditto. The XO doesn't have that port, but apparently there are USB controllers that can do similar I/O tasks that would control motors and such. Robotics was a big thing us Seymourites were playing with in LOGO days. Yamaplos 10:29, 4 May 2008 (EDT)

ORP 12

I remember from many years ago, before personal computers, that there was an item called an ORP 12 which was a light sensitive resistor which was not very expensive. One could make a simple electronic circuit, powered from a 9 volt battery, which produced a fixed tone when attached to a loudspeaker and then one could have an insulated plug lead so as to touch a selection of resistors one at a time so as to make a one note electronic organ and one could make one of the resistors an ORP 12 in series with something like a 1 kilohm resistor so as to have a note the frequency of which was light sensitive, so one could have a sort of Hawaiian guitar effect by moving one's hand around above the ORP 12.

I found http://www.education-and-hobbies.co.uk/products/LDR%20ORP%2012.php and http://www.education-and-hobbies.co.uk/products/Components.php on the web, so it appears that the ORP 12 is still available!

The latter showing the ORP 12 available at 75 pence sterling, which is probably something between $1 and $2.

So, an ORP 12 fitted in a box with a connection plug of some sort on it so that it could be easily used by children could hopefully be produced well within the $25 budget suggested.

In (say) 100,000 qty a multi-photocell based "light organ" (or capacitive, etc. solutions) or other similar experimental Fun Thing with suitable interface, boxing, ... is bound to have manufacturing cost well under $5: another category of under $5 Basic Fun Things. There are many interesting such possible educational and stimulating Fun Things. Probably these add-ons ought to be manufactured to be snap-together kits - with "snapping together" and "snapping apart" being part of the fun. Couold be that a generic "Fun Thing" snappable USB construction part with on board A/D, D/A and parallel "OEM" interfaces would keep cost in same category and would make a USB based solution also possible. L Pfeffer March 20, 2006

It is a light dependent resistor, so is a passive component. The box would not need to have any power source in it.

It would need to be able to be interfaced to the laptop in some way, so coonsideration needs to be given as to how this would tie-in with the hardware specification.

William Overington

19 March 2006

That's extremely do-able by just interfacing the LDR to the microphone jack/ADC interface. See the Measure/Projects page for more information.

Luke Weston, January, 2007.

AD/DA & "Parallel" interfaces
Precisely for these types of ideas the computer needs some sort of basic A/D, D/A and suitably protected bi-directional "parallel" type interfaces. These need to be built-in so their use doessn't add wire spaghetti, cables/conversion boxes don't get lost, is "fumble free" and always available. In short, it must be simple, empowering and an idea generating catalyst. L Pfeffer March 20, 2006
  • Or perhaps these miscellaneous fun things should all be available on a USB interface. It would keep it very expandaple, yet low base cost. USB devices keep getting less expensive to develop. --imajeff

Microphone and Speakers

If you have a microphone and speakers included with these laptops then then if you include a small peice of software they can be used as telephones or walkitalkies.

The microphone input jack will double as a dataport for some class of devices (we'll be supporting a "DC-coupled" input mode), but a more general-purpose USB dataport would be a great peripheral for the laptop. --Walter

Or a built in Microphone and speakers would be more usefull, no need for any additional headphones etc.

Teacher Microscope

One of the regretable failures from Mattel and Intel was the Toy Lab. The idea was and is viable, but must be operated correctly to be profitable. Of the offerings was an overpriced microscope imaging device that connected through USB. I continue to think that this is really a very nice educational device that could be part of, perhaps, a more expensive teacher's laptop (which could perhaps have a USB port or USB wireless).

All the laptops have USB ports -- 16:01, 16 February 2007 (EST)


A super-cheap and simple design for a spectroscope can be found here http://www.uwm.edu/~awschwab/specweb.htm .Please think how it can be integrated into olpc information library or even hardware.


There is now an Optolabe page.

An optolabe would possibly not be expensive in itself, though it would need there to be a camera attached to the laptop. However, if there were already a camera attached to the laptop, an optolabe might be a very interesting, inexpensive item to have and use.

Motion Sensor System

As there is no hard disc to protect from its heads, this would probably be only a toy that might help in motor synchronization developpement. --S112 04:54 16 August 2006 (EST)

People have used these sensors for anti-theft motion alarms. AlbertCahalan 14:18, 24 February 2007 (EST)

Magnifying glass / macro-lens bugbox

(Cross-posted on hardware ideas page)

A minor modification to the plastic around the camera would leave a slide-in connector for a magnifying glass / slide microscope / bugbox / macro lens. I'm not an expert, but even just a cheap plastic bugbox dealie, cost of manufacture in the $.10 range, would open up a lot of exploration - a macro lens with a field of view of a few centimeters. Leaving the connector now would let you design the lens later. Would a true microscope be possible at a reasonable price? Note that this would be used with the screen rotated facing up, natural light from behind. Homunq 00:57, 28 July 2007 (EDT)

See also Microscope. MitchellNCharity 14:54, 14 October 2007 (EDT)

Flash Drive Editor

For literate adults in Africa who pay large sums for Internet access at Internet cafes, there is a need for simple [[Flash Drive Editor] text editors for flash drives] to be able to read and write their contents, especially emails, and also to share files. A simple device could be built that would integrate two flash drives (less that 10 USD each), a standard computer keyboard (10 USD or less) and a monochrome text display (100 USD or less, but soon 50 USD and ultimately 20 USD). The device could further be enhanced to work with a wifi access point to send and receive local SMS, emails, attached files. This would be an important alternative for an individual to purchasing a used laptop for 200 USD or 300 USD. AndriusKulikauskas 09:55, 17 August 2007 (EDT)


It's been discussed before that an internal GPS would be too expensive for not much gain, and I agree, however there's one thing about GPS which wasn't considered last time: It's an extremely good time source, you can use it for syncing the clock on reboot and stuff. If it isn't worth the expense and additional power consumption to have one in each XO, then the XS could have one and export the accurate time to the XOs using NTP. Although yeah, apart from that one thing, it would otherwise be a useless addition to a server. Stuart Morrow 17:04, 16 January 2009 (UTC)

Touch sensitive audio and vibration feedback display

A touch screen that is capable of producing localized vibration and audio feedback. One use of this feature is that it will help develop an on screen braille virtual keyboard.