Raspberry Pi’s and Arduinos come to Schulich

Launch of Raspberry Pi and Arduino lending program at Schulich - 21 Sept 2015We had a lot of fun this morning at Schulich launching our new Raspberry Pi and Arduino lending programme! These devices are two types of credit-card sized computer which are developing a rapidly growing following due to the ways they can be incorporated into a wide range of projects.

IMG_2108Schulich will start lending these items out later this week, for a loan period of two weeks, and will be monitoring the service over the next few weeks – the kits will be available on a first-come, first-served basis like all other library materials.  We’ll also be lending out a robotics unit and a wearable computing device.  Please come to the Schulich loans desk if you’d like to borrow a kit.

We’d love to hear about the creative ways these are used by the McGill community!  If you take out a kit, please spare us two minutes to give us your feedback using this form, and consider sending pictures of your project.

A Keyboard Without a Keyboard

keyboardWe all know there are apps for everything.  But now there is an app that can create something out of nothing.  Imagine typing up the next great novel by simply tapping your fingers on a desk.  Florian Kräutli is an industrial designer living in the Netherlands who has designed an app that can allow you to do just that.  His invention can literally turn any surface into a keyboard for your iphone.  For his master’s degree in cognitive computing from the University of London, he created the Vibrative Virtual Keyboard, an invention that is less like transmitting Morse code and more like playing air guitar.  Unlike similar designs that allow users to type onto a laser-projected keyboard, his app requires no additional hardware other than your nearest flat surface.  The app works by taking readings from the iphone’s internal accelerometer which measures vibrations near the iphone.  The user spends some time teaching the iphone what certain taps mean, and the software figures out the rest.  The app is in its early stages and the readings from the iphone’s internal accelerometer are not always spot on.  However, Kräutli claims that “if you made the accelerometer more sensitive you could improve the accuracy quite easily” (The Telegraph).  In the meantime, the app relies on a spell checker to get words right.  Here is the app in action.

How do you get your keyboard without a keyboard installed on your iphone?  The app is still in its proof of concept phase and has yet to be commercialized.  So for now, you’ll need some hardware or at least a pen and paper to get started on that novel!

Image from Goldsmiths, University of London

Tablet for the Masses


A tablet, touted as the world’s cheapest, designed and developed by a Canadian-run company with operations in Montreal?  Who knew?  Now priced at around $40, the product is called the Aakash and it’s heading into version 3.0.   Datawind, the company that produces it, has ambitions to bring the price down even further to around $25.  Their company slogan is: “Bridging the digital divide” and now that they have the largest market share of tablets in India, the world’s second most populous nation, they may just be living up to it.  In order to bring low-cost internet to developing markets, Datawind has patented a process that uses a proxy server between a portable device and an internet service provider’s server to reduce the volume of data that get transmitted over the web.  This process shortens the time users wait to view a webpage, which is especially useful in developing countries where internet access is often slow and expensive.

I had a chance to speak with Derek Kopke, a McGill alumni (B. Ed. 1992) who is Datawind’s Executive Vice President of International Business Development.  He explained that the Aakash’s popularity took off from the time the company won an Indian government bid in 2010 against 17 competitors to produce a tablet for use in India’ schools that would be subsidized for students.  Ever since the Aakash received endorsement by the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, it’s been a challenge to keep up with demand.

Datawind now has its headquarters in London, England and offices in India but maintains a Research and Development office and a touch screen lab here in Montreal.  In an interview given to the Montreal Gazette, Datawind’s Chief Technical Officer Raja Tuli states that the company finds Montreal to be a great location because it possesses “engineering graduates with impressive skills and he’s not sure he would be able to find the same level of expertise in another city.”

I was curious to know what kind of skills his company looks for in new employees.  Kopke said that they hire for very specific needs, but he suggests that new engineering graduates gain a basic understanding of how to work with open source software.   He sees future growth to be in low-cost and free applications and hardware.   For those of you in Computer Science, you may be interested in taking COMP 529: Software Architecture.  Last year’s syllabus describes the final project where students learn how to reverse engineer a large open source system.  The course will be offered again this winter.

I asked Derek if we can expect to see the Aakash on McGill campus anytime soon.  He said Datawind is planning to market their product in North America within the next couple of months.  And with that, Derek had to get back to work bringing his tablet to the masses.

Image from Smart Planet

PaperTab: a paper tablet

Queen’s University’s School of Computing, Plastic Logic and Intel Labs recently revealed a tablet computer, PaperTab, which “looks and feels just like a sheet of paper”.  It is interactive by a plastic touchscreen and can work with ten or more displays simultaneously.

Read more at here.