Electronic Design

This Computer Thinks It's A Phone

The Neo FreeRunner looks like an innocuous device on par with a typical cell phone (see the figure). Yet this pocket package from OpenMoko is open to all comers—literally.

Its software is all open-source, and even the CAD packages and schematics are available for download. Designers can also use them to create their own products, but why do so when OpenMoko is a source already?

The phone includes tri-band GSM cell support by using a chip that interfaces via a serial port to the main ARM-based processor. The GSM module is essentially a black box. It would be nice to have a CDMA option, though for now, finding such a module is an exercise in patience.

The Neo FreeRunner also incorporates Wi- Fi 802.11b/g, GPS, and Bluetooth support. As a result, the platform is very interesting as a control device, making the GSM support optional.

In fact, if you have a purchase order handy for a few thousand units, OpenMoko would be glad to deliver them to you. Why design and build one when the platform is already there? Future enhancements may move into other communication realms such as ZigBee/802.15.4 and UWB.

The current incarnation has a 2.8-in. color VGA LCD with touchscreen support. It’s driven by a 400-MHz ARM9 microcontroller with 2D/3D graphics acceleration. It also has 128 Mbytes of SDRAM, 256 Mbytes of flash, and a MicroSD slot hidden under the 1200-mAh battery. It has a 2.5-mm audio jack and an external GPS connector as well.

What’s even more interesting is the pair of three-axis motion sensors. Just think of the gaming possibilities and remote-control options for controlling other wireless devices.

OPENING THE WORLD

The platform can run any ARM9-based software, but its default configuration is Linux. The latest software platform is designated OM 2008. Its X11 system incorporates the Enlightenment Foundation Libraries (EFL) program launcher. Several X11 and Qtopia-based applications are included with the base system.

Trolltech, a Nokia company, has ported its noted Qtopia user interface and application platform, including the underlying Qt application framework, to OpenMoko’s phone. Development platforms are available from OpenMoko and distributors like Koolu, which also sells the phone in quantities. Buy 10 at only $369 per phone.

Linux developers will feel right at home. Just log in via SSH for a command line interface or use a graphic, cross-platform development environment.

OPENING POSSIBILITIES

The Neo FreeRunner is essentially a mobile Linux development platform. Its open nature provides a number of possibilities. Create a larger case and attach a board to the internal edge connector for a custom mobile device with or without GSM capabilities. It also can be attached to your devices via USB or a range of wireless links.

The hard part will be getting your hands on one. The first batch sold out before they left the loading dock. Let me know if you’ve got an interesting OpenMoko application—especially if we can let the rest of the world in on the secret.

KOOLU • www.koolu.com
OPENMOKO • openmoko.com
TROLLTECH • www.trolltech.com
NOKIA • www.nokia.com

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