January 30, 2004

One Watt, One ounce, 200MIPS and you can build on it

Aleph One announces the availability of the Balloon board, a small
light low-power computer with a high-performance ARM processor and lots
of memory. The complete design is available to all, free of charge.Intended for application developers, the Balloon is conceived of as a
component in systems you tailor to your purposes. It might be used in
control systems, portable devices, wearable computers, instrumentation,
or robotics. It is already in use in seismic logging instruments and
multilingual portable speech synthesisers, and is planned for use in
vehicle instrumentation.

The board has a comprehensive set of signals brought out on a 200-pin
connector to which your own accessory board can be fitted, and is normally
supplied with Linux installed and booting at Power-On.

It provides a tried and tested Development Platform with enough
connectivity to encourage you to develop an accessory board for your
particular needs. Balloon boards are being produced in quantities large
enough to give some economies of scale, and the entire design is freely
available from the start, so you can manage your own production in large

Boards have SDRAM, NAND and NOR Flash RAM, an Intel SA1110 CPU at 206
MHz, simple Serial connector for Terminal, two CPLD devices, RTC, Codec,
Reset button and Debugging leds, Two JTAG connectors for programming
Flash and CPLDs, USB Host support and power, unique Serial Number chip

The design can accommodate different build options for varying needs:-
32MB to 192MB NAND Flash
64MB to 128MB SDRAM
0.5 to 64MB NOR Flash
Smart Media socket for 8MB to 128MB card
Compact Flash expansion socket (Ethernet, wireless, storage etc.)
Various power supply options, like 5.5V regulated giving 3.3V on Board,
3.3V regulated, 12-42V vehicle power, external 12V power brick

More details of the version available now are given below.

Users are encouraged to make public the designs they develop which may be
useful to others; this is an example of the application of Open Source
principles to hardware, not just software.

For example Guralp Ltd plans to develop boards they need to add:
- Low power 10BaseT or AUI ethernet: 3mW idle, 75mW flat out.
- Low power Serial ports 4-16
- One or two PCMCIA sockets
- ATA (probably only PIO) interface
- A programable level-sensitive interrupt controller
- 1-10Gb of Nand flash memory.
- About 32k of FRAM

Commercial products using Balloon boards now include the Lightwriter from
Toby Churchill Ltd in Cambridge, who have been an important part of the
development on Balloon. They use it is a communication aid providing
keyboard (and other) input and multi-language speech synthesis output.

The key source of information and means of communication about Balloon is
the web site: http://www.balloonboard.org where you can see detailed
schematics, photographs, build options planned for production, etc., and
join the mailing list.


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