A project log for DLT one - A Damn Linux Tablet!

Modular Open Source Hardware Tablet that is easy to hack and can run a standard Desktop Linux Distribution (or Android)

Prof. FartsparkleProf. Fartsparkle 09/30/2019 at 21:560 Comments

I talked about this several times but only on the side lines and I think I have to give this topic a bit more depth as its actually THE selling point of the whole project.

I also want to talk about it because I made it a more extensive topic of my overview video that I made over the weekend. You can watch it below (and yes the screen broke from all the assembly and disassembly :( I tried to get spares for a month in anticipation of that happening eventually but the lead time is really long this time around, will hopefully get a new one in 3 weeks)

The video is intended for less technical folks (as part of the HaD Prize requirements) so I took some liberties with the imagery. Of course I do not intend that someone would just slap in a standard dev board like the Adafruit Feather, you can of course do that if you make yourself an adapter from FFC to USB plug (heck put in an SDR stick and burry it inside the case) but what I would like to see (and will certainly do myself once the basic functionality is finally ticked off) is that we get a range of small MCU co-processor boards that connect via UART or USB FFC to the motherboard and expose pin header to the sides of the tablet or connectors for eco-systems like Adafruits Stemma QT/Sparkfun Qwiic or Seedstudio's Grove. Especially the latter can enable some really cool rapid prototyping and of course a lot of possibilities in the education space. I would love to have an always connected CircuitPython co-processor in my tablet :)

That's one of lower hanging fruits but there are of course no limits, the intention is to expose absolutely every little feature that the typical SoCs have to offer so you are not limited to the "consumer" buses that you are used to from your Laptop or PC but can use SPI, I2C, GPIO, CSI, I2S and so on. Which lower the barrier of entry considerably because that is the kind of interfaces that most makers and electronics developers are used to. It's the base level that we can all easily (learn to) work with unlike more complicated things like USB and PCI-E which take a long time to get used to and require more expensive hardware. Making module shouldn't be any harder than playing with your Raspberry Pi, you might miss a pretty injection moulded face plate but that doesn't stop you from making your own stuff.

I hope there will be people from the scientific community abusing this platform for all sorts of things that I haven't imagined yet. The amount of specialization that you can have with a truly modular platform that doesn't assume anything about its use case is amazing and really is what I was looking for when I started out with this project, I wanted to satisfy my own niche interests and I hope that it will do the same for others.
Power to all the niches!

Speaking of, I imagine communities like ATMakers using this system to quickly and easily build devices that include people who fall outside the sights of the current tech industry and create interfaces for people with disabilities who might not be able to use touchscreens or are simply unable to press those tiny buttons on the side of pretty much every consumer tablet.
Its yet another example of why "one size fits all" is a bad thing. Most tech is created by able bodied men for able bodied men, overcoming such biases is important.

This is also why its important to standardize several height variants. While some prefer a thinner and lighter device, other are maybe just interested in the portable aspect and don't care if it looks like a copy of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It requires module makes to include several face plates for thinner modules but those are really cheap to make.

We are striving for more and more compact connectors in the consumer market, that take on more and more complex tasks, which on the one hand is great (I love full featured USB-C) but it also kills innovation because the hurdle to entry is much higher. Making a quick piece of hardware that is just controlled by twiddling a few IOs is infinitely easier to make than implementing USB or Thunderbolt. Things like the headphone jack enabled some really easy hardware hacks like credit card terminals, IR senders/receivers or other interesting input devices. We take away the low complexity ports that are the driver for some really creative developments.

Giving people at least one platform where they can still have control over this is actually quite important I believe.

Google tried to do this too with Project Ara but its easy to see why they failed, they wanted your Grandma to be able to switch out hardware. Which is great but also not something my Grandma would want to do or at least not on her own.

By trying to make it as convenient as possible and being forced to make a large profit in the future you are making the challenge incredibly complex and very hard to overcome. If you stick to simpler ideas and focus on those who REALLY need this kind of modularity, those who are not afraid of opening their device and plugging in a Flat Flex Cable. If you do that it all becomes much easier, so much easier that you can develop this without millions in funding.

And those who are not so prone to open their device, get now a reason to do so and learn new things. The electrical pinout of the FFC connectors for each peripheral is keeping wrong or bad insertion in mind so its hard to do something so wrong that it would damage something, the worst case should be that it doesn't work but is easy to fix.

If you still feel uncomfortable you can of course just give it to someone who is willing to do it for your. I made good money as a teenager by replacing hard drives and RAM on old MacBooks (and replacing modules wouldn't be any harder). Something that is seemingly really easy to the technical inclined (back then it was just a couple of screws) but there is always someone who feels very uncomfortable to do this. Trying to cater such a complex feature to everyone's ability is really hard and nothing you should do from the get go or else you fail, focus on those who need it the most NOW and go on from there.
Feature creep and lack of focus killed many great projects.

Again that of course doesn't exclude non technical folks to use these devices but I think its ok and valid to calculate that some will simply need assistance if they wish to modify their device, just the same way they already do with current tech, which is also something that can be offered as a service if you were to commercialize this.