- 1 Actual news and a Balthazar development progress
- 2 March 2021
- 3 February 2021
- 4 January 2021
- 5 December 2020
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- 25 April 2019
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, 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.
We got both I/O USB and keyboard modules working and paired with a screen panel that we would use. Screen panels are tested and those seem like a good choice. QMK firmware is getting last check up and will be soon done and uploaded on our Github, however there was a temporary lack of chips that we want to use, so we are running a bit later than expected - we are trying to catch up so we can move to another phase - which is to decide on a final housing design and hinge system. We have some mock-up layouts and speakers and touchpad layouts and internals.
We made a preliminary mock up with positioning PCBs into the first proper dimensions within the housing and now we basically can see the whole Balthazar slowly coming to a shape. When QMK firmware is finished and tested we will upload it to Github. Expected in this month is to have first screen shots of interconnected keyboard, power supply, I/O USB, screen and password input before the boot into system done in QMK.
Power supply and I/O USB PCBs came in a bit later than expected, but that was fine as we were busy with QMK firmware and perfecting our keyboard. The screen is being mounted into prototype frame with the hinges, also tested for resolution. We had borrowed 3rd party HDMI PCB drivers for testing the whole system using Raspberry Pie 4 and some other more open similar modules.
We wait for the first batch of PCBs that is merged into one - the power supply and I/O hub - as a single test module. Keyboard PCB is now in the testing phase and we will publish the results. While there are no real issues encountered in the first testing and firmware setting phase, we also wait for the silicone cover keys, but we were told that it might take the time until we get our hands on it. Housing is getting milled, changing and adopting minor dimensional changes and so far we are also rather happy with the preliminary results and overall achieved dimensions. Also a rather good choice is made on the speakers and a camera/mic module, so those are ordered as we await for the packages.
Screens arrived and also some of the PCBs are on the way back to us. There is a preliminary casing being drilled and milled and also a hinge system looked into with few simple yet robust solutions under way. Soon we will publish photos and a first look of the casings and the other possible designs we play with and about. Also the tests and results of our freshly arrived keyboard PCB and adjoining prototype modules will be published.
We have continued development of a unified PCB that will serve as a hub to support various additional Systems-on-Module delivering power and all the I/O connectors needed. Also we still wait for the first batch of first prototypes of 2 PCBs and a special keyboard PCB. On those we think also in merging those into the one as it will reduce the costs. Very soon we will have the first bottom chassis CNC-ed housing and cabling designed and incorporated into CNC housing. Screens are on the way as we have ordered various resolutions and the types. We need to evaluate those first and see the larger batch availability and that depends also on our production partners. We do expect to have all those PCB received and tested during end of this or the following month.
We have ordered a couple of screens that we might want to test and choose the one to use. Also we will be travelling to Italy and Spain to meet with our development partners discussing some aspects of the design and some clearance in the technical solutions. After the mid September we expect to have the housing case and its elements and get all the PCBs ready for fitting and testing. We also look now into the options of some SoM to use for testing the modular elements. During the next couple of weeks we intend to CNC some crucial parts of the housing from plastic and aluminium, adjusting the external and internal dimensions of built-in elements. Naturally, photos and detailed description, with all the results and measurements will be published here.
While waiting for PCB samples to arrive we have been working on a few 3D models and overall designs for the housing. Also we started to design further PCBs to accomplish and complete the innards of Balthazar. We will try during August and some early September to CNC some of possible designs and see what would be the best fit. Also in the coming weeks we will look into the screens that we might want to use.
We had a short summer break. PCBs are back-ordered and now we are waiting for the first prototype boards to be made and arrive apparently in late August. Also we will see into camera, speakers and other peripherals and order few samples to test and see what would be best possible fit as a prototype.
June is a revision month and we are applying to FSF for a check-up on our hardware compliance, also the first breadboard/prototypes will be made. And we are going to start working on overall design incorporating also CNC prototype of housing with a fitting keyboard and a space for other modules.
May has started with finishing the designs for I/O hub and a board that will enable a connect to our keyboard and power supply. I/O USB page was set up and files were ready to publish. We now have three original PCBs freely downloadable and ready for prototyping.
It has been a one year that our idea has been born. We have opened a Github page with KiCad files ready to download. Also, our licence is now CERN OSHW instead of GNU v3.0. There we will be updating files and all our "deliverables". In March and continuing this whole month we have started to develop I/O USB board and work on it to deliver files for our internal I/O USB docking board for keyboard, power supply, camera, microphone, somewhere in mid-May.
Two PCBs keyboard and a power supply are ready real soon, we aim at or around March 15th and we will upload all the relevant data and files. So there after bit of C-19 crisis delay as we were caught with a quarantine we have delivered both PCB designs and a schematics also worked towards opening a Github page.
We have started to develop 2 PCBs - a keyboard and a power supply. It is expected to be ready in a month also with PCB schematics, Bill of materials and a design guidelines.
With New Year comes also the new prospect of cooperation with Slimbook - a pure Linux laptops manufacturer from Spain. We are researching to see how we can incorporate our design proposals and align to have a joint development. We have also released the power supply concepts, looked into the price and the availability of the parts for it and started our encrypted keyboard PCB development. Also schematics and PCB for overall "modular upgrade ability and add-on" concept is in the development.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 day Zero, where we realised that it can be done, it should be done and we even know how.