Actual news and a Balthazar development progress
A short history of Balthazar:
Development of Balthazar as a possible and a realistic device has started at the end of April 2019 as a result of the long sessions that lasted a bit more then a few weeks of conferencing and emailing while discussing "whitepaperish" content and realistically putting it into the context with the various sides involved.
We have talked to various people, representatives and teachers in EOMA68, Tripodo, SiFive, Altinkaya, HiTechnic, Tipro, TUFTS, Bauhaus University in Weimar and LEGO on a joint support in creating a working committee and a case for Balthazar.
Balthazar as a name for a laptop draws its associations from the Three Wise Man known as a Magus from Babylon and a Professor Balthazar, a 1970's cartoon character that creatively solves problems in a cooperative and inventive ways, being helped out by picturesque early depiction of an AI machine, "Veronica", in a process.
Conclusion was that Balthazar laptop has to be magical and beautiful personal computing device incorporating ethos, cooperative, inventive and innovative characteristics as a combination of those two historical characters whether they were real or a drawn.
a day Zero, where we realised that it can be done, it should be done and we even know how.
started preliminary talks to Tripodo started on an Intellectural Propery licences and issues for a famous XO PixelQi screen with a dimmable backlight and sun-readable features. That is still pending on. Domain is registred and a website goes up with a rather white-paper content leaving an input open for contributors that came from all the sides.
a concept for a form-factor came up and a first drawings and sketches were made. Deep dive into RISC-V ISA and foresight of viable future processors came up. Keyboard design was in the making, also thorough research was carried on, under the wise guidance especially in some technological approaches of EOMA68 developer Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton. That collaboration gave us some useful tips and helped us to find good reasons not to reinvent the hot water again. We won't.
All the security wish-features were added to our whitepaper style webpage, professor Chris Rogers from TUFTS helped us to make the case in educational aspects of Balthazar, HiTechnic's owner Steve Barker gave his views in designing and building Balthazar with tons of useful tips and contacts. Michael Anderson, ex-LEGO electronic engineer and HW designer guided some technical decisions sharing his production knowledge experience. We also applied for some minor external funding to NLNET, as it is not easy to make a totally new approach in designing the laptop investing just our own financial resources.
prepared a primary presentation, description and imaginary nice to have specs and a Bill_Of_Materials. A first semi-public presentation was held at the end of August in premises of Bauhaus University in Weimar to a working group consisting of 30 + Master and Bachelor students of Media Systems and with the help of Charles Wuetrich and his Chair for Computer GFX. There were tons of questions in a discussion and some valuable points were incorporated into the further strategy of the development.
A second public presentation , this time at even more appropriate event, was made in Venice, Italy, during the ESC - End of Summer Camp where advanced computer and internet users, some HW developers, as per default, offered their participation in a various aspects of development. Really an enthusiastic and very knowledgeable crowd. We collected ourselves old and new bunch of Linux capable boards that we used over the years, some new micro-computers, SoC's and SoM's and started looking into software features and encryption modes and options that we can make a use of it. Keyboard design and a secure keyboard to motherboard concept was done, even more drawings were made and put up as for UI and UX also for proposed educational interface. We talked with HiTechic again on the development of a secure USB dongle and GPIO boards design and they gave us an estimate and some overview in expectations for prototypes. Power supply design requirements are made and also battery and other issues (magnetic vs. mechanical switches etc.) were worked on, until we all agreed on how, what and when.
We did the first renders and a few design studies of the casing, but more we will discuss with LEGO Moulding people in December. Also some 2D and 3D drawings were made, still to be detailed before it goes to the CNC alpha case phase. Presented project by mailing a Turkish high quality moulding company that is specialised in "electronic enclosures" for internal plastics and guidelines, cooling etc. Collected and decided on a few software models that are Open Source and rather powerful when combined. A German screen and eInk company was questioned for a second screen choice, with our requirements. Looks good, so far. We also got the support from NLNET in a shape of technical support and a financial donation to speed up R&D and come up with tangible prototypes faster. What a great push that is.
Somewhat longer emailing between SiFive and us on adopting RISC-V and ISA making it work with GPUs. We met with Armbian people that might help us with setting up RISC -V build tools and work deeper on HW encryption. Visited Tipro a well known European custom and industrial keyboard company with proposals and basic HW design and software. Keyboard's design and FW driven bus we will base on smaller RISC-V controller for bus-to-motherboard encryption and we will work on it together over the coming months. We have drafted a mutual agreement to publish it all publicly under CERN/GPL3 licences, more to confirm on that later in the year. A more serious RISC-V development boars namely Freedom Unleashed are ordered and those are on the way, as well as a few of EOMA68 evaluation boards. We are also off to Denmark, Billund to meet with Moulding people from LEGO and also brief some representatives of LEGO Education on our current development. In Weimar end of November latest mid December at the Bauhaus Uni we will gather in a formal first meeting with steering committee members and set the strategy and a path for the next few month of accelerated development. We are looking into CrowdSupply support and options we have there. One thing we do know for sure is - we do not want to over-promise.
Some case design proposals are now in and we evaluate those, as we met with few LEGO design people and got a good insight into plastic casing designs and heat issues. Also hinges are bit of an issue, but till the end of the year there will be some viable solutions. We prepare the 2 day meet-up in Weimar, somewhat later then anticipated, but will happen in the next 2 weeks provided that all steering members can commit to attend. As it is an end to a one very exciting year, we work hard towards having everything ready before holidays. Some boards are in and received and some are still coming, so with the help of Armbian team we will see and choose what the best options are there. Also thanks to IBM 's Open Sourcing move in Power9 ISA field, we started to look really hard into that direction, too.