Favorite hardware hacker Bunnie Huang gave this year's FOO Campers a sneak peek of the latest in cool gadgets: the chumby. The chumby is a low-cost, wifi-enabled information delivery device that's so appealing you'll want to keep one close.
Chumby's team of hardware hackers wanted this device to be fun and open, the anti-iPod. While iPod has a clean look and expensive molded plastic, it's not very accessible. The Chumby is meant to be personalized. If you're crafty, you can redesign it with a seam ripper; if you're a hacker, it's all open source inside.
One you've plugged in your chumby, it connects to your home network via wifi. Select "Trust the chumby" and it will autodiscover. Once you've registered online and picked from a selection of free widgets, the chumby displays a Flash stream of whatever you've configured - weather, news feeds, alarm clock, movies, pictures, stock tickers, etc.
The geeky details
Chumby runs on a a 266MHz ARM controller, with 32MB SDRAM running at 133MHz bus speed and a six-layer board. The touchscreen is a 3.5" TFT LCD with LED backlighting, and an ambient light sensor tells chumby when to dim its backlighting. There are stereo speakers, a headphone jack, and a power supply that can use between 6 and 14 volts. A squeeze sensor allows users to open up the case after it's been nestled inside its soft, Tribble-like shell.
My favorite item: the "chumbilical." This plugs into the board, and has a daughter card attached. As bunnie says, it's a "hacker-friendly portal to the world." This small card has USB; an SBI bus; and outputs for the bend sensor, speaker, battery, microphone, etc. Embedded software developer Steele also delivered a bunch of back doors for the hardware hacker.
Many small projects can be done by hacking the daughter card alone - so if you mess things up, it shouldn't break your Chumby. Bunnie's also developing an HSP (hacker sensor package), which will use the chumbilical to extend the chumby's capabilities. You could even add a thermometer to chumby. The HSP will add:
- 8 channel 12-bit A/D converter
- 8 channel digital input
- 8 channel digital output
- 8 channel one-amp motor driver
Steve Tomlin of Avalon Ventures and bunnie brainstormed up the chumby after last year's FOO. [Note: bunnie's lower-case 'b' is killing me!] They were soon joined by Ken Steele, Joe Grand, and Duane Maxwell. Six months later, the team had developed a "stretch" board that served as a large form-factor prototype, which was soon running a test animation display. Today's current, prototype hardware was ready to go in June, and FCC approval is in the works. As of 72 hours ago, a batch of alpha chumbys had been hand-assembled by the team (even VC Steve Tomlin helped out) for FOO Camp.
The team was excited to release the schematics and source code as
part of the chumby launch strategy. The chumby license grants users the
rights to use and modify the device, but withholds patent royalty
rights. The printing of the board is Creative Commons-protected, and
there is a separate open source license that covers the patent. The
team is encouraging users to hack the device (they even included a
parts list) and sell small apps, but not use the hardware in ways that
end-run the chumby creators.
If you're a regular user, your experience is to pay $150 (estimated price), get chumby out of the box, plug it in, and choose from the set of free widgets. An upcoming subscription service will provide even more widgets. What do you want to wake up to on your chumby?