Complete schematics for sub-$150 handheld (learning?) device

21 03 2007

In my last post, I picked up Dr. Paul Trafford’s idea for a $100 PDA, and he was gracious enough to add his comment:

Your thoughts on a $100 One-PDA-A-Learner are very welcome. Many thanks for picking this up. My musings on OxPDA are now more than 2 years old and since then connectivity has improved a lot, so my wishes should probably be revised.

An affordable Linux-based PDA sounds a good candidate, but brand new equipment always comes at a considerable premium. If it is to work I think it is important to bring in experiences from a broad range of initiatives, each of which can contribute at least some lessons. One project that offered much promise a few years ago was the Simputer, but it didn’t prove as cost-effective as hoped.

I’d be ecstatic to see Paul’s revised thoughts on what a $100 PDA might incorporate today, given advancements in technology in the last two years. I agree with Paul that brand new equipment generally carries abit of a price tag, but this is often the result of manufacturer, wholesale, and retail markups – a hurdle side-stepped by the creators of the OLPC by controlling their own manufacturing and distribution, rather than purchase a marked-up consumer model. Having control over design and manufacturing also meant the OLPC machines could be designed from the ground up to support pedagogical objectives – rather than the usual consumer entertainment or business objectives.

So… what if we could make this thing from scratch, and cut out the mark-ups? What if the project was run as an open-source platform, enabling its hardware and software to be continuously revised and improved by a community of developers? To inspire ideas about what might one day be, I refer to the Chumby project, (which I’ve previously blogged), an open-source handheld computing platform being developed as a from-scratch device with an expected retail cost of under US$150 – I reckon that would put the actual parts and manufacturing cost around $100.

Because it’s an open source project, all of the Chumby hardware schematics and component lists (indeed, even a blueprint of the PCB and assembly drawing) are freely available to their developer community, as well as the Linux-based OS that it runs. The documentation demonstrates that putting together a $100 handheld device from scratch is highly feasible. The Chumby concept certainly isn’t my idea of an ideal handheld learning device; but it does provide some inspiration for a working model of how such a device might be designed, refined, and implemented.

So… what would *you* like to see in an ideal handheld learning device? Ideally, such a question should be answered in pedagogical, rather than technological, terms, with every bit of incorporated technology in the design underpinned by a set of learning objectives or opportunities it facilitates, and justified on a (educational) return-on-investment basis.

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One response

21 03 2007
Complete schematics for sub $150 handheld… | Pilka

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