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Kite : Open Hardware Android Smartphone

Make & 3D print your own phone with sensors, displays, electronics, batteries and antennas. Customize Android and do exactly your thing!

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A smartphone is the prettiest black box in existence. Due to volume economics, smartphones only expose features needed by the common man. That's a shame, as even a low end smartphone includes powerful technology that could be used to solve a variety of computing problems.

Kite breaks up the smartphone into pieces, creating a set of building blocks that you can use to create any device that needs the features of a smartphone: high performance in a battery powered mobile form factor, augmented by complete connectivity and great multimedia features.

Kite empowers anyone to build a smartphone with nothing more than a 3D printer and a screwdriver. Kite's architecture allows anyone to build the devices of their dreams by changing the casing, antennas, batteries, and adding custom electronics.

Kite is not limited to phones. You can build everything from a dumb-phone to a drone, and even a powerful desktop. Your imagination sets the limits of what you can do!

We are currently at Kite v1.  We have built various prototypes with Kite v1 - many custom smartphones, an in-car prototype, and even made an Android desktop with HDMI output!

In terms of next steps, we plan to create Kite v2 with a crowdfunding campaign.  Kite v2 will be an improved design with a powerful new core board - KiteBoard v2 - based on Snapdragon 450.  KiteBoard v2 will be open hardware (unlike KiteBoard).  Crowdfunding campaign starts on April 23, 2018, mark the date. Be sure to subscribe for crowdfunding updates on our page!

Kite's design is reasonably well documented in this post;it also give a lot of information about the upcoming Kite v2).

Some of the capabilites of Kite v1 are explained in this video:

A few detailed posts serve to reasonably document what it takes to build some of the prototypes:

Kite consists of:

  • KiteBoard
  • 5" 720p bright display module, with integrated 5 point capacitive touch screen
  • 8 MP Autofocus Camera
  • An expansion board that plugs into the KiteBoard and exposes
    • a Raspberry Pi compatible 40 pin HAT connector
    • Audio interfaces - Mono Speaker, Mic, Earpiece & signals required for stereo 3.5 mm audio socket
    • Common buttons - power, volume up and down
  • Antennas for 4G, WiFi/BT, and GPS
  • Vibrator, Speaker, Mic, Earpiece & 3.5 mm audio socket (Standard audio components of a smartphone)
  • Pogo pins for battery connection
  • Switches for Power, Volume up and down
  • Flex cables for display & camera
  • 3D printable designs for complete smartphones that use the components in the kit
  • A complete Android implementation, including the Linux kernel. Also includes examples of integrating external electronics.

The complete kit is pictured below, except for the 3D printed parts:

KiteBoard (http://www.kiteboard.io/) is a compact, low power, single board computer that integrates complete connectivity (4G, WiFI/BT), GPS, sensors, powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon processor with excellent processing & multimedia features. KiteBoard is highly extendable - it has separate connectors for all important interfaces. Kite complements KiteBoard with important components, resulting in a complete smartphone design that is highly customizable.

Kite empowers makers to build their own phones that are customized to meet their exact needs.  Various types of customization are possible (be sure to look at the gallery & video):

  • Raspberry Pi HAT compatibility makes it possible to make a device that include useful HATs and pHATs. 
  • Common sensors that use I2C/SPI/UART can be added to your device.
  • Buttons & LEDs can be included and placed exactly where required.
  • Common Li-Ion and Li-Polymer batteries can be used as the power source.  These can be charged in the device.
  • You may also use an antenna of your choice for 4G, WiFi/BT and GPS.  KiteBoard has IPX connectors for each type of antenna, allowing you to use a wide variety of off-the-shelf antennas.  You can also use IPX to SMA connectors to allow usage of external antennas!
  • The 3D printable case designs can can be customized easily to integrate additional electronics. Common things like LEDs, buttons, sensors, displays, batteries, antennas can be included with reasonable effort.  Put your 3D printer to good use!  Want to make a phone that is customized to your grip - or reflects your personality ? Kite is your best bet. With commercial phones, you print cases.  With Kite, you make...
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piano-phone-v01.zip

Files for PianoPhone. Includes 3D models, code & code snippets, system configuration files.

x-zip-compressed - 28.50 MB - 04/04/2018 at 08:08

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kite-hdmi-v01.zip

Schematics of HDMI board for Kite. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

x-zip-compressed - 70.07 kB - 04/02/2018 at 12:42

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minchu-v01.zip

Design files for Minchu - Kite model that includes a name badge on the back, using Pimoroni Scroll pHAT HD. Includes 3D models, and source code.

x-zip-compressed - 2.04 MB - 02/14/2018 at 14:53

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poorna-v01.zip

STL files for the enclosure of Poorna - minimal 3D printable phone design using Kite. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

x-zip-compressed - 1.93 MB - 02/09/2018 at 11:11

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kite-design-v01.zip

Files related to Kite. Schematics of boards & flex cables. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

x-zip-compressed - 1.86 MB - 02/09/2018 at 11:10

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  • 1 × KiteBoard "Motherboard" of the phone, with connectors for low speed I/O, display, camera, IPX connectors for antennas
  • 1 × Expansion Board This breaks out the low speed I/O (and level converts) into a 40 pin Raspberry Pi HAT connector. Also provides 5V and 3.3V power. Plus breakout for speaker, mic, earpiece and buttons
  • 1 × Button Sized Vibration Motor
  • 1 × 3.5 mm Audio Jack Digikey P/N SJ-43515TS
  • 3 × Standard Push Buttons For power on, volume up, volume down.

View all 17 components

  • "Feature Requests" in the Democracy of Kite

    Shree Kumar3 days ago 0 comments

    The more I think about Kite, the more interesting I find it.  It is not about me being the creator of Kite. It’s about the possibilities that are open for everyone. 

    Kite is, first and foremost, a hardware freedom project for Android.  Android is the most prevalent open source platform for phones.  There is no open hardware for Android. Kite aims to be that platform.  That’s the primary reason for the existence of Kite!  

    What sort of freedoms are these? Any antenna, any battery, lots of your own hardware you can add, and of course make your own enclosure/case.  We provide Raspberry Pi HAT compatibility – but that’s just a simple board (with a few level converters etc) that anyone can change to adapt to any system.  No restrictions there either.

    This immense freedom in hardware makes the software freedoms more than meaningful - it raises the hardware software combination to a level of freedom never attainable before by the masses.

    A whole lot of people are sufficiently empowered to do some bits of hardware, courtesy the maker movement.  However, the real problem is in the area of software.  The sort of hardware freedom this project gives has been the territory of OEMs. Phone vendors.  Folks with big pockets. Most of the freedoms of the underlying platforms are suppressed by OEMs to deliver consumer goods; this is not wrong! It’s the nature of their business.  Kite makes those goodies available.  Kite shows you how to mod Android to achieve your goals.  We provide a great starting point so that you can achieve what you want to – without us getting in the way.  That’s what we call, “empowerment”.

    Kite begins as a hardware project with a standard configuration – Kite v2.  The hardware configuration of Kite v2 is setup in a way that attracts maximum users at a fair price point for everyone. This is one of the tricky parts of the project.

    The backers of the project are the citizens of the “democracy” of Kite. Each one effectively is a “voter”.  Voter for what? The direction of the project. Note that it’s too early to ask/answer questions like, “if I buy ten kits, will I get ten votes” 😉. Thing about this democracy, like any democracy in the world, is that each voter will have a different interest & agenda. 

    Even me, the creator of the project, can’t predict how this democracy looks like.  I can bet, though, that's it is going to be quite diverse.  So, before deciding the future direction of the project, we let the community form.  Kickstarter ends successfully.  And lo & behold – here’s the community. The democracy of Kite.

    What next? Now, people are free to come up with their own list of what they want us, the creators of the project, to focus on.  This is what we call “feature requests”.  Feature requests can be related to hardware or software.  Let me give you some examples.

    Hardware features: 5” 1080p screen, barcode camera, “can I make a tablet with Kite?”, and anything else that you may imagine. There is a large ecosystem of component catering to the mobile, handheld & PDA industries - and it's not only in China. We can tap that as required.

    Software features: Can I dual boot linux? How to get <piece_of_hardware_X> working with Kite? Can I have an API to control that camera focus distance from Python? and anything else you may imagine.

    How do we act on feature requests? In a reasonably democratic manner.  Let’s tackle the hardware first.  Hardware may involve costs, but not necessarily always.    E.g. “how do I use that 18650 battery with Kite” is likely to come at zero cost. That flexibility is engineered in Kite; it’s a matter of configuration of the fuel gauge chip & the charger. ...

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  • IMPORTANT: an update (Crowdfunding D-Date: 23 April), and a downgrade...

    Shree Kumar4 days ago 11 comments

    The important update first: assuming all goes well, we should be launching our Kickstarter campaign on 23rd April, 2018 (i.e. exactly one week from now).  I do request anyone who has not done so to subscribe at www.kiteboard.io/contact .  Among other things, this helps us understand the *cellular* requirements.  Please subscribe if you haven't already.  Thank you.

    Now, to the other part: I had earlier communicated that we will launch with the Snapdragon 625.  I regret to announce that we will not be able to do so.  Instead, I am forced to settle for the Snapdragon 450 (for reasons read below).

    This downgrade effectively means the following:

    • No 4K video encode/decode. (450 is limited to 1080p)
    • The application processor is 1.8 GHz, instead of 2.0 GHz
    • Reduces L1 cache by half - ouch ! (SD450 is 512 KB, compared to 1 MB in SD 625)

    Summary: lower performance in some areas (I am not able to figure out the GPU performance difference. Any info here would be useful).  How exactly it will impact you, I will leave you to decide that. Sorry for the change. I think it's better to do this right now.

    I have mixed feelings about this, to be honest.  Of everything, I was hanging onto the SD 625 for the 4K encode/decode capabilities.  I am sad to see it go. 

    So – why did I decide on the Snapdragon 450? To answer that, let me tell you what I think are my responsibilities are in this project:

    • Get great technology to everyone’s hands. Larger the community, better for everyone.
    • Ensure that we have a great, predictable & deliverable plan.  Once I start my campaign, there should be no going back.  (If I am to lose face, now is a great time!)
    • Run the project, with my team.  Deliver as promised during the campaign.

    This project includes certification plans of all sort.  Global LTE will require us to have two SKUs for KiteBoard v2:

    • North America (USA, Canada)
    • Europe & Rest of the World

    The largest number of folks who are likely to back this project will come from USA. My subscription list tells me that. Kickstarter provides a “Community” part for every project. A cursory scan on a few projects – and surely projects in the DIY Electronics category – will help prove that too.  I expect 40-60% of my backers from USA, if not more.

    So – USA is an important geography for this project.  USA is also a problematic area for cellular connectivity – courtesy carriers & carrier certification requirements.  Countless projects have been delayed due to cellular certifications. And famous ones. I am talking about people with deep pockets. I don’t want to add to that list. I have a great plan for predictable, on time delivery – if I stick to the Snapdragon 450.

    But that’s not the only reason.  Another equally important reason is that I am unable to see who is buying the Snapdragon 625, and for what purposes.  This project is expected to deliver in Dec-Jan window for the early orders.  8 months is a long time in this business.  And if I don’t have this visibility now, you can imagine what will happen next year.  I need a minimum of 3000 backers, but that’s the minimum.  I intend to do a great job – and that means that I should expect more people backing me. 

    With larger volumes, and longer life, comes a predictability requirement. That’s where the Snapdragon 450 scores again.  It’s a fresh chip.  The Snapdragon 450 also has most of the goodness of the 625 – two independent displays, two cameras(wee bit less powerful), USB 3.0, WiFi ac, and everything else, including Cat 6 LTE.  What you lose is what I have mentioned earlier.  Whether it’s worth losing that to get what this project gives you - that's something you need to decide.

    There are other benefits of the SD450 being a “fresh chip” – software updates,...

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  • Design of Kite Open Mobile Platform, plus a sneak peek into Kite v2

    Shree Kumar04/08/2018 at 14:41 3 comments

    For the past couple of years, me & my team have spent a lot of time working with & refining Kiteboard & Kite.  Things kind of evolved to reach the current state.  Looking back, I can’t find a single document that anybody wrote which summarizes the design in a useful manner.  This post is an attempt to explain what has happened till now, and how we intend to change things in the future. 
     
    Before we go into design, architecture, etc, I would like to offer a simplified bird’s eye view of what goes into creating a phone.  I am painfully aware that it’s a simplification of a rather complex process fit into a few short paragraphs. If you are an expert, please excuse any inaccuracies in the next few paragraphs 😊

    Smartphones are based on SoCs – basically a lot packed into a single chip.  SoC vendors (Qualcomm, MediaTek) don’t stop at providing just SoCs, they provide complete reference designs for phones.  Generally, a reference design tightly integrates various chips from the same vendor – the SoC, a PMIC (power management IC), WiFi/BT, RF circuitry, and Battery Charging.  Reference designs also include other parts required to build the full phone: RAM, storage, peripherals, connectors, antenna designs, and everything including the enclosure of the phone.  A reference design generally provides several alternatives for various components (it’s a huge market, choice rules!).  Reference designs represent reasonably tuned solutions, from a hardware, software, cost and performance perspective (that is saying quite a lot in one sentence, by the way!). 

    Most smartphone vendors leverage the reference designs, changing mostly the “peripherals” – display/touch, cameras, maybe sensors, casing, battery.  Peripherals & the base platform decide the market positioning of the device.  Making a smartphone is a tight exercise in space optimization too. For every device, shape of the board and connectors on it are changed to accommodate the selected peripherals & the overall design.  Antennas are designed & positioned carefully, and are highly influenced by safety testing (SAR) considerations.

    Overall, a complete smartphone is a single block of tested hardware & software.  It is “hard”ware – hardcoded (in software terms) to achieve a single, cost optimized device.  Mass market consumer devices essentially go through an aggressive BOM optimization, which eliminates unnecessary components – down to the lowly resistors.  Smartphones are designed to sell in the millions. Even a few wasted resistors are a no-no at that scale.

    Reference designs are the secret to the flood of devices you have been seeing in the market for the past N years.  Most devices based on any given platform don’t differ much in terms of performance and feature set.

    Abstract Design of Kite v1

    We wanted to create a design that would allow us to build a variety of devices using a standard set of components.  Here’s a block diagram that reasonably captures the design of Kite, in generic terms – without reference to specific technology:

    Before I get down to explaining each piece, here is the color coding used in the block diagrams in this post:

    • Green for PCB
    • Blue for peripherals
    • Pink for connectors

    At the center of the design is a “Core Board” (henceforth shortened to “Core”). It’s basically the guts of a full featured smartphone… If I were to draw an analogy with the PC, I would call it the “motherboard” of a smartphone.  Basically, this includes the important,...

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  • PianoPhone, with LOUD music

    Shree Kumar04/04/2018 at 05:32 0 comments

    Smartphones include amazing technology.  Unfortunately, a lot of it never gets exposed to users, mostly due to form factor considerations (my guess), and possibly due to “consumers don’t need it”. 

    What do we have for this post? Let’s make some music with Kite… And not just any music – let’s make it LOUD.  The speaker in Kite is fine for personal use, but that’s not something that showmen would fancy.  To motivate you to read the rest of the post, here’s the PianoPhone:

    For reference, the files required for this build are in piano-phone-v01.zip.

    The centerpiece of the Piano Phone, is Pimoroni’s Piano HAT. This includes one octave implemented with capacitive buttons. It has LEDs for feedback - could possibly be used a learning aid too. Plus octave & instrument keys. To top it off – it’s a joy to behold. 

    Wiring this up is a bit more work than wiring up our name badge, though.  Nothing too difficult.  Let’s open the back cover & see for ourselves. Looks a bit of a mess, but hey we need quite a few wires.  The Piano HAT is sensitive to exactly which wires you connect, though.  At first try, we wired up the other 3.3V pin, which the Piano HAT just didn’t like.  To cut a long story short, here is wiring:

    That bit of tape ensures that we don't end up with accidental shorts.  An essential safety mechanism...

    The wiring looks a bit messier than what it is. Reason for that is I have cheated a bit & wired the I2S and power lines that we will need a bit later in this post (all the wires going over the pogo pins).  I am documenting this at the end - after putting everything together - too lazy right now to tear up a beautifully built up unit for documentation.   

    Coming to the software : Kite runs Android, and that means that you need a tiny bit of effort to get Raspberry Pi HATs to work.  Not too much work , mind you – but things may not work out of the box completely.

    One of the things I like about the stuff from Pimoroni are their decent Python libraries.  The chroot linux environment on Kite is the best way to get started (for a background on this, do have a look at the Name Badge post).  The Piano HAT has two capacitive touch controller chips. The Piano-HAT library talks to it over I2C.  The LEDs are connected to the same chips – making them very easy to control from the code.  Each touch controller has an “Alert” GPIO associated with it.  This is monitored by the python library. 

    Now, if there’s anything that Arduino has taught me (and the world) – it is this: interrupts are evil.  Don’t do interrupts when… when you can just poll.  The Piano-HAT library relies on RPi.GPIO, getting which to work with the same semantics on Kite would have been a serious pain; not something I was keen on.  I wanted to make music, not war.  So, I went to poll.  I did.  Luckily for me, Piano-HAT already had code to help me poll.  Set the alert pin to -1 to unlock the magic.  I wrote a silly wrapper for RPi.GPIO to ensure I don’t change code unless absolutely required.  In case you are wondering what “poll” means in this context... it’s a while loop that executes in a separate thread, and periodically checks the capacitive touch sensing chips over I2C for events (checkout piano-phone-v01/kite-chroot-pianophone for all the gory details!)

    --- a/Piano-HAT/library/pianohat.py
    +++ b/Piano-HAT/library/pianohat.py
    @@ -191,11 +191,11 @@ def setup():
             return True
     
         # Keys C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F# and G
    -    _piano_ctog = cap1xxx.Cap1188(i2c_addr=0x28, alert_pin=4)
    +    _piano_ctog = cap1xxx.Cap1188(i2c_addr=0x28) #, alert_pin=4)
         _setup_cap(_piano_ctog)
     
         # Keys G#, A, A#, B, C, Instrument,...
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  • Kite has HDMI – Convergence, ahoy!

    Shree Kumar04/02/2018 at 12:23 0 comments

      First came the desktop.  Then came the laptop.  And the netbook.  And the smartphone.  There was talk of “convergence”. That somehow didn’t go well as planned.

      With KiteBoard, we did plan for convergence.  To that end, we kept the display connector reasonably generic – generic enough so that we could support a variety of actual displays by creating a new “display interface board”.  The following possibilities can be supported with an appropriate interface board:

      1. a standard display + capacitive touch module (these are used in common smartphones)
      2. HDMI with audio output
      3. LVDS displays, with or without a touch panel
      4. RGB displays, with or without a touch panel
      5. DisplayPort
      6. VGA!?

      That should pretty much cover all display technologies that one would want to reasonably use with Kite. 

      Kite’s display connector includes a bunch of MIPI DSI signals (4 data+1 clock– all of them differential pairs), PWM, I2C, I2S, a few GPIOs, and power.  All these make it possible to connect KiteBoard to any display.  Up until now, we have only shown the 5” phone display connected to the phone… with an intermediate display board. That worked well till now.  When I call Kite a “smartphone” kit, people start thinking in a restrictive manner. Fair enough – given the state of today’s smartphones. However, Kite is more like a “swiss army knife” of mobile computing. To demonstrate that, in this post, I show how you can connect the KitePhone to a HDMI display.

      To make that happen, we have created a compact HDMI board, pictured below.

      The display flex (that we used with the display board) is used to connect this to the KiteBoard.  The below animation shows how this works.

      The HDMI board converts the MIPI signals to HDMI using a “bridge” chip – ADV7535.    This bridge chip takes audio input over the I2S lines, and renders the audio output over HDMI.  The bridge chip is configured and controlled using I2C – through a kernel driver.  Those interested in the hardware details of the HDMI board are requested to refer to the schematic.

      How do we make this work with the phone, though? The casing does not have any provision for HDMI, so we will have to open the phone.  Using the screwdriver, we open the back cover of the phone.  Then, gently disconnect the earpiece connector.  Unplug the expansion board.  The display connector is now accessible.  Disconnect the display panel.  Connect the HDMI board in place of the display panel. Connect the HDMI board to a HDMI monitor.  Ensure that the monitor is powered on.  Next, connect the expansion board back in its position.  Turn ON the device by pressing the power button.  Keep the Volume Up button pressed.

      The vibration motor will announce that the device powered on, but you won’t see anything on the display. and you will now be in the bootloader mode.   After a few seconds, you will see images on the HDMI screen – the familiar “android” boot animation. 

      How did this work? If you are familiar with Android, you know that pressing the volume UP key while turning on the phone takes you to Android “recovery”.  The “recovery” mode generally invokes a kernel & a set of userspace utilities which handle the recovery aspect. 

      In my case, I replaced the recovery with a copy of my kernel boot image, with one difference: the recovery image is configured to use HDMI in place of the default 5” display panel.  Due to this implementation, you do not not see the splash screen (the bootloader is responsible for the splash screen –it did not change – the...

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  • Intro Session at PES University, Bangalore

    Shree Kumar03/24/2018 at 15:02 4 comments

    The best way to learn, apparently, is by teaching.  In my case, the best way to understand what I am doing has been by explaining it to others. For,  that requires me to structure things such that they are easy to understand.  The best explanations are the ones that need no jargon.  


    Ever since I made the intro video of Kite, I have had the desire to take a short intro session for students.  I was sharing the video with everyone. One of my friends, Channa Bankapur, watched the video.  He's a brilliant chap (an ex-googler, in case you want a quick intro).  He asked me if I would be interested in involving students.  It took us quite some time to arrange a session.  Channa teaches at PES University, a top-tier engineering college in Bangalore. Big thanks to him for making this happen!

    Given the multi-disciplinary nature of Kite, I had asked him to invite students from at-least a few departments - Computer Science, Electronics and Mechanical.  300 students said they'd come. 70 actually showed up.  Due to another technical fest that happened to run at the same time, there was a bit of a last minute change of plans. My session got moved from morning to afternoon.  That possibly caused a bit of a dip in the turn-out.

    The 70 students were almost split 60:40 between computer science, and electronics students.  I had prepared a reasonable presentation deck.  Along with me, from my team, I took Shalini & Saravana to help with the presentation. 

    Interestingly, I found that most students own phones in the price range 10k-20k INR.  Only 2 among them had actually used a 3D printer.  A lot of them had used Arduino & the Pi.  As expected, most of them use a smartphone as a consumer device.  It's powerful enough for programming, they get that - but the display is too small to do anything serious.

    I had a good time explaining the motivation behind making the Kite kit.  To spice things up, I had requested that a student make a presentation about "here's how smartphones work".  Priya Nayak from PESU made the presentation - to my surprise she had dug up one of my favourite quotes by Alan Kay. 

    People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware

    It also kind of proved my point - that Android is a black-box even to students who are into technical education.   In any case, I was happy to continue my preset story line.

    I showed many prototypes - including my new Piano Phone.  For the first time, I also showed off the HDMI capability of Kite.  Both of these blew away the students, I thought.  I also did obligatory screwdriver tear-downs of Kite. There was a hearty applause at the end of the presentation, and many questions from the students.  One question about a Satellite phone popped up, and I was happy to show some work-in-progress too. Post presentation, I had a detailed discussion with a couple of students.  They seemed interested to do some VR - and I pointed out the upcoming two display support in KiteBoard v2. I also explained the community angle in Kite, and the open interfaces(e.g. display). All in all, that went better than I expected...

    I have uploaded the slides for the session to SlideShare . I expect to refine my presentation next time...  teaching truly is the best way to learn & understand. 

    Here are my favourite three slides from the presentation. Smartphone vs PC:

    "who is impacted":

    and the "design philosophy" behind Kite:

    A few pictures from Channa's shaky camera... Introducing the speakers...


    The HDMI moment - at the end of the demo.  That was worth all the wait... at the end of the phones.

    That looks less than 70 .. ?

    Students having a closer look...
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  • Visions of ... an Open Hardware Android Phone - Are you Interested ?

    Shree Kumar03/07/2018 at 02:23 3 comments

    I put this project up on hackaday after some sane advise from various people, including

    @Anool Mahidharia 

    I have plans of starting a Kickstarter campaign for this kit - real soon.  We have plans to upgrade KiteBoard to v2.0 - a supercharged upgrade, if I may say so.   The new board will have powerful specs like a Octa-core 2GHz processor, 2GB RAM, 16 GB of storage, powerful GPU, WiFI a/c, two displays (both MIPI @1080p), 2 cameras, 4K video encode/decode, WiFi ac, USB 3.0, fast battery charging, plus a modem of course...

    These are fairly top high end specs, but then we are thinking: let's take this to the next level.  I am seriously considering to make the next version an Open Hardware design.  If you look at all the files I have released till now, you find find files for side boards and flex cables.  The main board, however, is not open at this time. This is set to change.

    This could have some rather far reaching impact for various category of folks. I am not aware of any compact board that is so powerful, integrates a modem, is feature rich & allows the design of a compact, battery operated device.  I am guessing that this will be heaven for students, startups, research folks, entrepreneurs, ... in short, anyone whose idea needs a mobile platform for their idea.

    So -- hackaday,  I ask you : how would you like the idea of an Open Hardware Android Phone ? ("mobile platform" would be more accurate, rather than "phone", really, if you see our design... )

    Also, do weigh in on what you believe would be expectations from such a design - hopefully your dreams & maybe even rants.

  • Can your phone double up as your name badge ?

    Shree Kumar02/14/2018 at 04:22 0 comments

    After we built Poorna, our base model, we had a bit of a problem. We had engineered a lot of flexibility into our design. Folks asked us, “what can you do with this?”.  My typical response, invariably, would be “a lot – anything, in fact”.  It took me a while to figure out that this was not working….  “anything” is “nothing” unless shown to be “something”.  After that realization, I set about building some demos.

    Explaining a new idea (and certainly something with wide possibilities like Kite) to folks is a lot of work.  In today’s world, getting attention & creating a first impression is very important.  After racking my brains for a while, I hit upon the idea of adding a name badge to my phone.  This is the same model that’s shown in my pocket in our intro video:

    We call this model “Minchu”, meaning “Lightning” in the Kannada language (spoken in Karnataka state in India; Bengaluru/Bangalore is the capital city, and also our base). The idea behind this name will be explained towards the end of this post.

    I have visited Shenzhen, in China, a couple of times.  Each time, I have come back impressed with the bewildering variety of stuff sold at Huaqiangbei, all at shocking prices of course. My favorite trinkets, purchased there four years ago, were a few scrolling LED badges.  Back then, I had not seen these online, but now Aliexpress seems to have a lot of choices. These badges feature bright LEDs of a single color – red (cheapest), green, blue and white(30% more expensive than red).  They pack a lot of SMD LEDs, worked off a battery, the whole thing was programmable with a USB cable, and included a rechargeable battery plus a magnetic clip at the back.  In any case, I was hooked - I must have purchased 10 pieces, at-least, at bargain prices!  They were a big hit in my office as well. I sold a few (at cost) to a few lucky colleagues.  Walking around, with one pinned to my shirt pocket, was a surefire way of grabbing attention at conferences.  A great conversation starter!

    These commercial name badge is programmed via a USB cable.  The badge uses a PL2303 serial to USB converter.  I could have used the same name badge itself, with a bit of reverse engineering. However, I was more interested in showing off the Raspberry Pi compatibility that we had built.  So, I chose to add the Pimoroni Scroll pHAT HD to Poorna.

    The Pimoroni Scroll pHAT HD features 17x7 LEDs. It is based on the IS31FL3731 LED matrix driver chip.   Prior to ordering, I had a look at the datasheet of the IS31FL3731.  A couple of features grabbed my attention:

    • Picture mode and animation mode
    • 8 frames memory for animations

    Would it be possible to use these features to animate my name on the pHAT while my phone is in sleep? Kite is a phone platform. It features very low power consumption (<5mA) even when connected to the cellular network.   If I could configure the pHAT in “animation mode” & then send the phone to sleep, then the animation would be visible when the phone is in sleep, without any additional CPU usage

    Being the lazy types, I searched online to see if folks were using the animation feature. Nothing relevant turned up.  That kind of made sense.  Most folks use a Scroll pHAT HD with a Raspberry Pi, on Linux.  Animation is typically implemented by repeated draw calls, followed by calls to update().  Generally, folks don’t put the Raspberry Pi to sleep while expecting it to do something useful….  

    To accommodate the Scroll pHAT HD inside Poorna, we...

    Read more »

  • Building Poorna, your first KitePhone

    Shree Kumar02/09/2018 at 06:40 2 comments

    A KitePhone is simply a phone built using the Kite Kit. Consumer phones go through a teardown, so that folks can understand how they are built. Kite is built for makers, so we take a "build" approach here. 

    In this post, I will show you how we’ve put together a minimally complete model of a phone.  We call this model, “Poorna”. Poorna is a Sanskrit word, commonly meaning “complete”. It can also mean “zero”, and there are philosophical interpretations too, but then I digress. Poorna is a complete phone providing functionality like the smartphone in your pocket.  No additional bells & whistles, just pure Android.

    Here is a short overview video (2 minutes, 17 seconds) of how to build Poorna, starting from Kite:

    Still reading, and interested to learn more?  Great. The complete details are down below, in quite some detail.  I need to warn you again: this post is long, and extremely detailed. It details the entire kit, some design decisions, throws some light into the mechanical design, and kit assembly. If I were you, I'd grab a cup of coffee (perhaps more), and then proceed!

    Read more »

  • Hello, World ! Details coming soon !

    Shree Kumar01/30/2018 at 10:04 0 comments

    Hi All !

    My first post on hackaday! I am excited to start this; my first project here...

    Few folks (and I thank them for their interest in the project!) are asking me, "where are all the documentation & stuff about this project?".  I am telling them, "I am adding it".  (Yes, I am adding things - just had a good fight adding the component list.  For some weird reason, I am unable to keep the list in the order I want -- the site seems to rearrange it according to it's own wish. Anyone knows why ?)

    It may look that I made this project  "public " too quickly - without adding adequate details.  I'd like to believe that there is a method behind my madness (is there - hmm? ) . Documenting a project like this in one shot is a lot of work. I'd rather have digestible chunks uploaded in phases. But that's just me.

    I do know that hackers & makers would love to see the details, not just a slick video (patting myself on the back here - I'd like to hear any comments about the video too!). My request for a few days - please bear with me while I make the details available in phases. 

    Thanks, again, for your interest in this project!

    -- Shree

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Discussions

Just4Fun wrote 03/29/2018 at 16:18 point

Wow!!! This thing is really revolutionary!

Even more with open source HW...

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Shree Kumar wrote 03/30/2018 at 13:28 point

Thanks a lot!

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dethoter wrote 03/25/2018 at 13:21 point

Awesome project! Can't wait to back you on kickstarter!

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Shree Kumar wrote 03/25/2018 at 15:32 point

Thanks a lot! Any feature requests ? I am all ears :)

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Lexie Dostal wrote 03/30/2018 at 22:43 point

Would be nice if it was a single board rather then needing a breakout board for the pins. This would hopefully make the board more compact or make the profile of the device not as thick.

If the screen could connect directly to the board with out going through a controller board it would also help with keeping the profile of the device thinner as well. 

I know its going to be impossible to get anywhere near the thinness of current mobile phones, and this board is more then just a phone. But these changes would go a long way to make custom devices made with kite fit in a pocket.

Looking forward to the kickstarter regardless.  

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Shree Kumar wrote 04/02/2018 at 05:24 point

@Lexie Dostal for some reason, hackaday isn't allowing me to hit "reply" on your message.  So here it is :)

You are right about the single board.  However, that comes with a drawback : we get tied to a single display or camera.  With generic connectors, we keep the main board free of such dependencies.  Have a look at the HDMI post I made today for an interesting take on this : https://hackaday.io/project/42944/log/137235-kite-has-hdmi-convergence-ahoy .

That said, I do agree that lowering the thickness is not only desirable, but an often requested change! A possible solution is to have all the required boards lie on a single plane - rather than being stacked.  My hope is to get the thickness of the device down to the range 10-12 mm with such changes - if not better.

Reducing the thickness is  truly is a multi-dimensional problem : we have various off-the-shelf components of various sizes - and all of them play a role in the current form factor.  We will try our best here.

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Lexie Dostal wrote 04/04/2018 at 22:12 point

Thanks for the response, I also cant reply for some reason. 

I understand having a generic connector would make the board work with more devices in the future. if the controller boards were designed with the dimensions of the main board in mind it wouldn't be too hard to fit them into a portable device.

Another nice feature would be having analog inputs. Always seems strange to me that the PI didn't come with any.

A lot of people were worried about the specs of V1 (me included), I just saw on the product description that V2 will be using Snapdragon 625.  I think those specs should be more then enough for most people looking for a DIY board like this. 


Cant wait for the kickstarter. Good luck

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Shree Kumar wrote 04/05/2018 at 04:44 point

@Lexie Dostal I guess hackaday doesn't like deep nesting for comments...

Thanks for your wishes. Coming soon to Kickstarter -- hopefully the week after next... Good to hear that the Snapdragon 625 works for you!

Analog inputs would be really nice to have. How many channels would be sufficient in your opinion ? 4 ? 

We could implement this by adding a discrete ADC chip on the expansion board.  I think the extra cost could be well worth it - in terms of allowing users to do stuff without adding an extra microcontroller just to get an analog input working.

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Lexie Dostal wrote 04/06/2018 at 21:37 point

@Ahmad Shrif 8 would be amazing, but 4 would be the smallest amount that would still be useful IMO. I plan on adding analogs joysticks to my kite project, I'm fine using ADC to get more analog inputs if need be. But 4 would go a long way to making the base board more useful for everyone.

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Shree Kumar wrote 04/07/2018 at 02:28 point

@Lexie Dostal  I think this requires some careful thought, then.  Looks like the beginning of a stretch goal to me :)

To get 4 analog inputs, you could easily use something like an adafruit ADS1015 ADC board(about $10).  To get 6 analog inputs, you could put an Arduino pro mini(again $10), and communicate with Kite over Serial pins. If you really need 8, you could use two of those ADS1015 boards.  All these boards are small - so you will end up with a great solution.  Do any of these solutions work for you ? I can work out an example & post it if need it, too!

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Lexie Dostal wrote 04/07/2018 at 06:16 point

@Shree Kumar I can add some ADC my self, its not a problem. Was more bringing up the suggestion incase the chip you are using for the GPIO comes with some analog inputs already and could be broken out.

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Shree Kumar wrote 04/07/2018 at 06:29 point

@Lexie Dostal Oh I see! great to hear that :) Now I see your point about the Pi in a new light.  I can't speak about the Pi, but I can offer some insights about my board.

You are right in the SoC having ADCs. However, exposing these to users can be problematic, for at-least a couple of reasons: 

   1. The usable voltage range is generally low - e.g. between 0-1.8 V. 

  2. Chances of damaging the SoC in unpredictable ways are high - when a user feeds a higher voltage by mistake. 

With an ADC on the expansion board, if something goes wrong, only the expansion board is impacted.  Less of a problem, as the expansion board is cheap, and something anyone can replicate easily.

Finally, platform ADCs are generally specialized, not well documented & may be built to suit very specific purposes.  An off-the-shelf ADC can easily outperform the internal one, in a very safe, well defined manner. 

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bloom wrote 03/10/2018 at 02:30 point

The world's first completely DIY Modular Android Smartphone kit!

Spanish dictionary and translator

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Anool Mahidharia wrote 03/09/2018 at 06:41 point

I had a good opportunity to seen these devices up close in Bangalore during a meetup with @Shree Kumar. The design is fantastic and the modularity is something all of us hackers would love to have. This is the Google Ara beater phone we've all been waiting for. Can't wait.

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Shree Kumar wrote 03/09/2018 at 13:05 point

Thanks a lot, Anool.  Always a pleasure meeting you! Very soon we are coming.  I need to update the page too - caught up making video and plans.  More updates surely next week!

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Tillo wrote 02/18/2018 at 20:20 point

That's lit AF....

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Shree Kumar wrote 02/19/2018 at 04:12 point

Thanks very much @Tillo !

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brtnst wrote 02/09/2018 at 10:10 point

Wow, this is a very cool device! Do you use it as your everyday smartphone? What is the battery life? Do you have any estimations on how much it will cost? Can it run something other than android? (some normal linux distro with xorg?)

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Shree Kumar wrote 02/09/2018 at 10:38 point

Thanks! I have used it as an everyday smartphone for about a month.  Battery life is about as good as a consumer phone.

We are planning to put this up on Kickstarter soon.  If that interests you, then please subscribe for updates at our website http://www.kiteboard.io/contact . Also, watch out for an update I will make later today, on this page. I am quite sure you will like that!

Yes, it can run Linux... like your SDA project. I am catching up on a lot of documentation. Will get to that - hopefully next week.

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Sourabh S Nath wrote 01/31/2018 at 03:14 point

Why is it running an older version of Android? If it isn't powerful enough to handle it could you try Android Go? 

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Shree Kumar wrote 01/31/2018 at 04:26 point

The phone can already run Android N (with somewhat lower performance - N is RAM hungry).  Our demos are running on Android L at the moment.

A bigger reason, though, is that we are putting all our efforts towards our concept of modularity - interfacing various types of hardware, finding good use cases, making demos, spreading the word, and getting feedback. That's why the older version of Android.  

However, we do understand the value of upgrades. We are planning to address this in time for our Kickstarter campaign. If you're interested in that, please sign up at http://www.kiteboard.io/contact !

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Stuart Longland wrote 01/29/2018 at 10:39 point

Have you considered support for the 850MHz band?  I think Telstra (here in Australia) mainly uses that band.
I have a ZTE T83 which, whilst okay, I'm fed up with ZTE's lack of support for the device… completely ignoring its pirated OS.  The thought of having a nearly fully open phone with a SMA connection for an external antenna (there are places about 30km from Brisbane that have pathetic mobile coverage) is a real winner, but it counts for nought if the device can't connect to the bands the local networks use here.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Shree Kumar wrote 01/29/2018 at 10:58 point

Yes, we do support the 850 MHz band - LTE Band 5.  Do checkout the gallery for a picture of the signal receive strength with the SMA connector and external antenna. Just for reference : the LTE antenna in that picture is http://www.taoglas.com/product/tg-08-cellulargpsglonass-beidou-monopole-antenna-2/

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