...stuff I do and things I like...

Tuesday, November 27 2018

Android InfoPanel aka Home InfoPanel Redux

In 2007/2008 I built a InfoPanel for my apartment to show me news, the weather and other interesting and fun things. The original InfoPanel was built using a VIA x86 micro ITX board and a 17" touchscreen all fitted in a self made wooden case. The InfoPanel survived until 2012 when I moved to the U.S. It was too old and too big to bring so I dismantled it.

I always missed it and thought about brining it back. For a brief time I used an old Samsung Galaxy Tab 10" but the device was just not right. Starting with a proprietary Samsung USB connecter that didn't allow for nice looking cabling, the device was black and silver so it didn't look too nice on the wall and finally the device was just old and slow. Long story short it only stayed on the wall for a couple of weeks and I just ran a full screened web browser.

The new InfoPanel

Hardware: Android 10" tablet in a white case with a USB connector on the long side.
Software: custom Android app that hides the Android navigation elements and status bar.

    I chose a Yellyouth Android 10" tablet, those tablets are damn cheap (just under $100) but also kinda tricky. The good parts: 4GB ram and a fast processor. The tricky parts: The product description says the resolution is 2560x1600 my device reports that resolution in the system infos but the screen reports 1216x800 pixels. The device does not contain any sensors such as a light or proximity sensor (you will see why that matters later). The GSM modem does not support T-Mobile/AT&T SIM cards, I thought this was a joke but I tried a Google Fi data-only SIM (T-mobile) and the device couldn't connect to any network (this is fine since I only use WiFi).

    I wrote a small Android application that basically shows a full screen webview. I've added a back and reload button to allow returning to the main page from links I clicked. The application hides all system UI (navigation and status bar). The user can swipe from bottom to top or top to bottom to reveal the back and reload buttons. The buttons auto hide after a short timeout. A really basic Android app!

    I wanted to conserve power and turn of the screen when I'm not using the InfoPanel. Luckily saving power is a default function of Android (you can just set the inactivity timeout after which the screen will be dimmed and eventually turned off).

    The catch: how do I turn the screen back on (without pressing the power button - since that is not super practical!)?

    • Motion detection using the camera: several projects exist and I've got it integrated but was not able to get it working while the screen was off (I also didn't want so spent a lot of time on this part)
    • Motion detection using the light sensor: I implemented this using a Nexus 7 tablet, a background service monitors the sensor and wakes up the device once it detects a significant change in brightness - sadly the Yellyouth device does not have a light sensor.
    • Audio activation: the idea is to monitor the ambient noise and wake up the tablet when there is a loud noise (finger snap or clap), I implemented this using a background task that records audio and discards the content and only monitors the amplitude (there is a built-in method in the SDK to query the amplitude!)

All in all a fun weekend/evening project of a few hours.

Tuesday, September 09 2008

Slides for my Home InfoPanel talk from MRMCD111b

I did a talk about my Home InfoPanel project at the MRMCD111b last weekend. In the slides I try to cover the idea, the build process, some obstacles and show many pretty pictures.

The slides are available here (40 MB)

Saturday, June 14 2008

InfoPanel Case is ready!

I finally finished the case for my Infopanel, well actually my father did most of the wood work. I only designed the case and he build it with a little help from me. Judith did the paint job. Thanks to both of them!

I made a bunch of fotos of the finished device hanging on the wall. Once the panel is completed I'll post even more with better quality. The part that is missing now is the webcam and the microphone. The little hole above the screen is for the webcam. I know it almost looks like an iMac :-)

Now I need to finish the infopanel software I've started in December last year.

Monday, January 14 2008

Knock-off touchscreen controller?

As described in my last post I have disassembled my Pennon touchscreen in order to identify the touchscreen controller type since it seems to be buggy and/or broken.

On the USB bus the controller looks like a eGalax touchkit device. But when removing it it looks more like a MagicTouch SE-E04U.

A while ago I contacted the eGalax (eeti) for support for the touchscreen controller since it looked buggy. I thought I might be able to do a firmware update. So yesterday I sent them the pictures of the controller so they could take a look (earlier they told me I have strange firmware version of 2.18 - which is supposed to be a DEBUG firmware). Now they of course told me that the controller is not made by them and that they are not going to support me (which I kind of understand). Also they mailed me this Urgent Announcement about fake/knock-off products.

The controllers shown on the site don't look like my controller so now I wonder if my controller is fake or not.

Anyway I'm kind of pissed about the whole story. Hopefully I find a cheap replacement that just works.

Sunday, January 13 2008

InfoPanel: Pennon 17" TFT disassembly

today I didn't feel so much like coding (I actually wanted to work on one of my many software projects) so I decided to do hardware stuff. I ended up disassembling the 17" TFT touchscreen I use for my InfoPanel project. This had two reasons. First I need to disassemble it in order to remove the casing to make it smaller so I can put it into my self made frame. Second I need to checkout the touchscreen controller. I think it is broken or has a software bug since it sometimes just stops reporting any events and only comes back to life after power cycling the display. I probably need to buy a new controller, any tips for where to buy such a controller (in Germany) is welcome.

On the good side I found that the actual LCD is perfect for my project. It is only 1 cm thick and has nice mounts on each side. This will make it really easy putting it in my own frame.

For those of you who like hardware porn, the images are here.

Monday, November 26 2007

CANCELED InfoPanel Talk @ 24c3

Due to some circumstances I canceled my talk at 24c3. I'll just not have the time to prepare the talk in December. I'm sorry! But I will attend 24c3 anyway.

Tuesday, November 06 2007

The Home InfoPanel @ 24C3

so it looks like I got the talk about my InfoPanel accepted at 24C3. Now I really need to get the project in a good shape. Don't get me wrong the InfoPanel works nicely and I already use it everyday but it still needs some important features I want to have.

One big part that will get really hard is the case for the panel. You don't want to see all the cables and stuff do you.

I'm really looking forward to tell people about this project and I hope it wont be too boring for the more experienced hackers (I would categorize it as a more entry level project).

Wednesday, October 24 2007

The Squid Cage in my InfoPanel

right now I'm heavily working on my InfoPanel project every night and weekend. So I decided to share one piece of software (or actually only some fotos of the software) with you. This part is the Squid Cage a Chumby emulator. Like a real Chumby Squid Cage plays back the channel of my Chumby account. Since my InfoPanel has a touchscreen the Chumby widgets are fully usable (besides the ones that use the motion sensor of the Chumby). The video below shows some minutes of playing with my Squid Cage. This is a 17" display by the way. More fotos are available on my project page.

Hopefully the Chumby people don't get this wrong. I really like their idea but until now you can't buy a Chumby anyway.

Friday, July 20 2007

Needed: Small computer for Home InfoPanel Project

The Home InfoPanel is my new project. The goal is home information system Star Trek style (just without the voice interface), basically it is a touchscreen hanging on the wall. During the day it will display fotos from my file server (or from services like Flickr). It will have time-of-day related special views e.g. for the morning. The Good Morning view will show stuff like: weather information and calendar events (birthdays).

Sofar I bought the touchscreen unit and wrote a first basic version of the software (python gtk).

The part that is missing is the computer that will run the InfoPanel. Besides the size and price (small and cheap) it must have: VGA-out, USB-host (2 ports if it doesn't have ethernet). I don't care if it is x86, ARM, MIPS or SH. Any hints are welcome!

Wednesday, March 16 2005

The Bluetooth StarTrek Communicator

so I finally found some time to write down yet another idea on how to abuse Bluetooth. The idea is fairly simple. Build a system thru which you can use your Bluetooth headset to talk to other people with just the push of a button. BEEP ... Ricker to Pickard

I know you can already do something like this using a WiFi-PDA and VoIP/SIP. The goal here is not having to carry a extra piece of hardware and the ability to do true voice dialing.