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Touch-panel PC automates with Linux, Zigbee

Feb 15, 2008 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 24 views

British Columbia-based embedded board and development services vendor Techsol announced a customizable touch-panel equipped single-board computer (SBC) based on Linux. Techsol's ARM9-based TPC-43 Medallion is designed for the building automation market, and available with a ZigBee wireless networking option aimed at… technically advanced home automation do-it-yourselfers.

Techsol's Medallion line of ARM-based SBCs and mini-systems are targeted at industrial control and monitoring applications, especially ultra-low-powered devices supporting solar power. Techsol has spun out a company called zPoint that sells a wireless ZigBee “Experimenter's Kit” (pictured at right) aimed at technically advanced home automation do-it-yourselfers. The kit is arailable as an option for the TPC-43.

zPoint Experimenter's Kit
(Click to enlarge)

zPoint Experimenter's Kit

zPoint Products says the Experimenter's Kit includes “everything you need to set up a ZigBee mesh network connected to your PC.” The kit is “ZigBee certified,” rather than merely “Zigbee ready,” and works out of the box without programming, reportedly. On the other hand, sample applications are provided with re-usable, open source-licensed source code, for those who do wish to pimp their hive to the max.

Zigbee (IEEE 802.15.4) is a low-duty wireless networking protocol designed for use in home automation and other devices where battery life must extend into multiple years. For example, it could be used to wirelessly connect HVAC systems to devices such as outdoor thermometers in locations where running electrical power may not be practical. Once projected to ship in 80 million devices by the end of 2006, the technology has been slower to catch on than expected.

Components of zPoint Products's Experimenter's Kit include

  • 2x ZigBee “Combo Platter” boards, featuring a wide variety of I/O, with 4x each of analog inputs, relay outputs, and digital I/O, plus light and temperature sensors
  • 1x ZigBee USB dongle plugs into a PC
  • 1x ZigBee coordinator plugs into an AC outlet
  • USB and serial cables
  • 2x AC adapters for the I/O boards
  • 1x CD, containing Java and Windows programs, along with their source-code

The TPC-43 (touch panel computer 43)

The wall-mounted, 4.6 x 3.7 x 1-inch TPC-43 comes with a 4.3-inch touchscreen, compared to Techsol's previous 3.5-inch TPC-35 model. Like the TPC-35, the TPC-43 is powered by an undisclosed ARM-920T-based system-on-chip (SoC) clocked at 200MHz or 266MHz. Techsol previously shipped a CPU module powered by a Samsung s3c2410a SoC that uses the same core.

Techsol TPC-43 Medallion Touch Panel Computer

The TPC-43 comes standard with 64MB of “mobile SDRAM,” and 64MB NAND Flash (more available on request). The board also includes a separate NOR flash part of undisclosed capacity, which Techsol says stores the boot-loader and can be used to stage software updates.

Additional features and specs for the TPC-43 include:

  • 4.3-inch WQVGA (480×272) color, TFT LCD display with 256,000 colors
  • 16-bit audio I/O
  • Low-power RTC (real-time clock) with battery backup
  • SD/MMC card connector
  • Full-speed (12Mbps) USB host port with Type A connector
  • USB device (gadget) port with Type B connector
  • 44-pin expansion header with SPI, I2C, UART, IrDA, GPIOs, 8-bit expansion bus, and other signals
  • 10/100-BaseT Ethernet interface with RJ45 connector and LEDs
  • RS232 serial interface on DE9 connector
  • 16-pin header for use with custom power-supplies — also supports a single 5V supply
  • Optional ZigBee wireless capability
  • Dimensions — 4.6 x 3.7 x 1 inches (115.7 x 94.5 x <25 mm)

On the software side, the TPC-35 comes preinstalled with a “proven” Linux 2.6 kernel and drivers, the company said. Embedded GUI stacks listed as either available or included are:

  • Linux framebuffer (FB) driver, operating in 16-bit, 65,536-color mode
  • Nano-X on FB, “for a simple, Windows-like API”
  • Qt/Embedded on FB, “for a contemporary, appealing visual design and enhanced functionality”
  • X11 (KDrive) on FB, for “standard Linux/Unix graphics”
  • FLTK on X, for a “full-featured, extensible, yet free GUI”
  • GTK+ on X, for “full PC compatibility”
  • Other “obscure” GUIs, including EZWGL, for “critical control environments where C++ is not allowed (such as food processing lines)”


USB ZigBee Dongle
(Click to enlarge)

Linux-based development kits for the TPC-43 are available now, and production volumes will be ready to ship in March. Prices for the 200MHz model start at $400, with discounts provided for 100 units ($360), 1,000 units ($340), and 10,000 units ($320). Information on development kit prices is available upon request. zPoint Products has not yet announced pricing for its experimenter's kit. It charges $100 Canadian for a single USB ZigBee dongle with integrated configurator (as pictured at right).

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