Evil Dragon from DragonBox has shared some nice updates regarding the development of the Dragonbox Pyra, the successor of the Open Pandora Linux handheld device. There is still not a firm release date, but a few problems have been more or less kicked out of the way.
Last time we reviewed the DragonBox Pyra status, we were discussing the great overall progress on the Pyra and how everything was shaping up towards completion. But as you are aware, even when you 90% done with something, the remaining 10% can take a disproportionate amount of efforts and time, and there is still a lot of work going up behind the scenes to make the Pyra a reality in the not too distant future.
The Rotation Chip
There were a couple of recent updates related to the Pyra development a couple of days back. First, the rotator chip has now become semi functional. There were apparently two issues after the initialization issues were figured out.
- The trace for the LCD cable did not get enough power so the rotator chip could not display anything. This was fixed by adding additional traces on the said cable, resulting in the rotator chip being able to display an image.
- The displayed image was shifted (probably a refresh rate timing issue) and Notaz was able to fix this (at distance, using an ingenious setup involving a Pandora, a webcam and SSH access – pretty cool to use all of this that way).
Though the images going through the Rotation Chip are now displayed without any issue, the rotation is not activated at this stage. That will be the next step (we will see if it proves a headache or not). Hopefully this will be trivial… EDIT (10 June 2015): Actually at the time of writing, the rotation had already been achieved without any issue, and now the last step is to implement anti-tearing.
The case is almost reaching the final stages of design. A prototype closed to the final version should have reached ED on June 5th, with the following changes based on his post.
- Optimized the lid so that the LCD sits perfectly, no pressure is applied to the screen when someone pushes on the frame and the LCD cable is seated neatly.
- Added the slits for the LCD cable
- Changed the battery compartment to make the battery fit perfectly
- Changed how the logo in the lid is put together so that it doesn’t break (now it consists of multiple parts that are invisibly glued together)
Great to know there are improvements to make the battery fit perfectly, since the Pandora had some issues with that sometimes (the battery cover is less than optimal on the Pandora… for some users a thin paper had to added below the battery to make up for unreliable contacts between the battery and the power supply pins on the motherboard). ED is considering using screws instead of clips for the battery cover, to make the thickness decrease a little bit. I would be in favour of that – since the battery should last for a fairly long time you should not need to replace it on the go very often anyway, and I would prefer screws to hold things tight.
The KeyMat Challenge
This is the part with the most significant progress so far. The design of the keymat is basically finished, and it will look like the following picture.
It should require less force than the Pandora keyboard to press its buttons, which is a good thing (the Pandora buttons are a little too stiff to most people’s liking). The gaming buttons feature a flat base and a slightly convex surface at their center.
This being said the keyboard layout itself (i.e. what keys should be on the keyboard) is far from being fixed and is still the cause of endless debates on the Pandora boards. Many discussions are about the multi-language support (how do you ensure the keyboard will support English, Spanish, French, German, etc…), the symbols that should be accessible easily (for programming or for keyboard shortcuts), and so on. As you can guess there is no “ideal” solution for this kind of things and there’s enough ideas out there to fill hundred of pages of posts.
Don’t ask me the status, they have succeeded boring me to death and now whatever is chosen in the end can only be good instead of losing additional time. As long as it’s not worse than the Pandora keyboard I am pretty sure people will manage…
So Where Are We Now ?
I would like to give you an overview of what how far the work has progressed on the Pyra at this stage, high level style. 100% means the part is complete is ready to be ordered in its final form. I have checked the following with Evil Dragon so this should be representative of how close each element is to completion.
- Screen: 95%
- Case: 90% (only missing moulds, basically)
- CPU-Board: 80%
- Main board: 95%
- Display-Board: 99%
- Keymat: 90%
- LCD-Cable: 90%
- OS: 98% (it’s just Debian, some setup scripts have been added but are not fully featured, like first boot wizard)
- Drivers: 80%
Note that a high percentage does not mean that the said part will be finished tomorrow. Sometimes the smallest details take the longest time to get right. The rotator chip is a good example of that: looks straightforward on the paper, then once you try to implement it multiple things go wrong and several iterations of trial and error are required to solve its issues.
There are two major unknowns at this stage, on top of the technical challenges. First, no firm release date is fixed yet. Everyone is still hoping for 2015, but Q2 is already almost over and the Pyra has not entered any stage of pre-production yet. While there is clear progress I am now enclined to think late 2015 / early 2016 has become a more likely target in my opinion – the mold alone for the case will take 2 months to be produced, so that’s already bringing us in Q4 2015.
The second unknown is financing. ED has announced he would need half a million Euros to start manufacturing, and that sum is not on the table yet. Many options are out there (pre-orders, Kickstarter, sponsoring) but in any case that will require more work as well, which may impact the timeline (if a KS campaign needs 1 month to run that’s one month where no much can be ordered).
In the meantime if you are interested in seeing the Pyra in action, there will be a good chance to do at the upcoming Gamescom in Germany during Summer. If you plan to be there be sure to check the DragonBox booth out!