ELLO 2M: A DIY Computer for Hobby and Education
ELLO 2M is a DIY, “stacked PCB” portable computer for learning to program and experimentation.
ELLO 2M is the modern version of a REAL retro style computer with BASIC. ELLO is all about simplicity, learning, creativity, and pure joy of making stuff.
ELLO 2M has no plastic enclosures, no molds, and no mechanical parts.
The entire computer is built as a thin stack of 6 PCBs with carefully designed shape and thickness. Add to those a 7” display touch panel and a battery, and you have the simple and elegant ELLO. Only eight individual components in total making assembly easy for almost anyone.
ELLO 2M uses BASIC – a programming language which stands out with its simplicity and clarity. The version of BASIC used in ELLO is called MMBasic, which is a Creative Commons License written by Geoff Graham.
The hardware is built around the popular Micromite MMbasic (PIC32MX470-120), plus a number of added small hardware extras, including three microSD drives (one internal), RF transceiver, RTC, serial NVM, buzzer, and a solder-less prototyping space built from four PGA sockets, for electronic experiments.
The idea behind ELLO is not to boast with the top parameters, but to make a nice and cute, pure entry level machine. I hope you enjoy it!
The entire project is open source, with documentation posted in GitHub.
ELLO 2M Features
- ELLO 2M is Thin – 6.4mm total without sockets, consisting of 6 stacked PCBs.
- Prototyping space – available on ELLO Geek and above, so you can create and test your projects using ELLO.
- Real-time clock and buzzer
- Ample storage – 3 Micro-SD card slots and an internal serial FRAM for data and code storage.
- Built in RF module – which essentially emulates a wireless UART connection and also has an internal stack with ability for simple networking with similar devices. The range (by specs) is about 100 metres.
- keyboard – 2 layered keyboard to create pushable buttons, complete with optional backlighting and indicator LED.
With ELLO 2M you can
- Learn how to program in BASIC and C; more programming languages will follow soon
- Have an open field to create programs for everything; ELLO is new and your programs will be needed
- Prototype electronic circuits and control them directly from your programs
- Develop own expansion boards
- Write your own games
- Play alone or connected with friends
Simple and Built for All
All this may sound really complex, but the entire computer is only nine chips and some moderate number of discrete components, connectors and other stuff.
My concept behind this portable computer is to give in the hands of the kids something simple and friendly, just like the old 8-bit machines from my time. Something that will not focus on gigabytes and gigahertz, a massive OS, or other stuff of the sort, where a learner would most probably end up as a user of pre-made software, but the thing that inspires creativity without distracting with greed.
ELLO 2M specifications
- 32-bit PIC32 micro-controller with 128kB RAM (512kB RAM in the ELLO 2M² “hacker” version)
- 7-inch LCD touch-screen panel with 800×480 pixel resolution
- 3x micro-SD cards – one permanently built-in and two for removable storage
- Real-time clock
- 2.4GHz RF communication module with simple communication protocol
- Small speaker
- Optional on-board serial non-volatile data RAM
- Expansion receptacle
- Electronic prototyping space with up to 1156 holes
- 4500mAh battery for up to 12 hours of continuous operation (more in power-saving mode)
- Replaceable keyboard panels
- Composite construction from PCB panels only
Why ELLO was created – the vision behind it
Computing is not fun anymore! Yes, computers today are incredibly powerful, with vast resources and able to do unimaginably more compared to their early ancestors, but quantity does not always translate into quality. These powerful systems are just down to stiff business and are lacking the soul to inspire enthusiasm and creativity in the user. Even the most entry-level machines are racing for more and more hardware, thus completely missing the main point of being “entry level”. And that is exactly the opposite – how easy and approachable it is, and how much of it can be learnt and understood completely, before moving on to greater challenges later.
The early 8-bit and 16-bit computers had this advantage of being simple. Yes, by today’s standards they were stupidly slow and had a laughable amount of memory, yet that actually worked in the favor of all those kids in the last quarter of the past century who were genuinely curious about computers and how to make cool stuff with them. The simplicity lead to better understanding of the fundamental principles which make every computing system work. Being able to dig into the deepest details of a system allows for fiddling with every single element of it, fine-tuning, and inspiring creativity in attempts to get around all those hardware limitations so abundant in most systems of the time. The great specialists of today were those kids back then, and they have become so good purely due to those very same early exercises in creativity, and the simplicity of the computers and the software they started with.
Take the challenges away, and creativity dies.
By now the point is probably clear anyway, ELLO is not about measuring hardware parameters and comparing them to others. It is also not about Internet of whatever, shiny operating systems, or professional advertising with stock images of falsely smiling suited nobodies.
What ELLO is about, is creativity and challenge by emulating a modest system similar to those which created the current generation of engineers and programmers, to give one the chance to learn how to value system resources, and come up with optimized solutions.
ELLO is priced realistically on the basis of what is inside and what is needed to manufacture it. It is not aimed at being the cheapest system. That is actually quite impossible, considering the influx of near-zero cost sponsored electronics, sold way below the cost of their own materials. But low cost also results in low appreciation and less joy when you are actually holding it in your hands. Those same near-zero cost boards come and go on a monthly basis, every next one cheaper, stronger, and… all the same. ELLO is different from them in every aspect.
I have acquired initial quotes for manufacturing. The first goal is to manufacture and distribute samples to early supporters for marketing and presentation needs, and teasers sent to various educational institutions. A minimum start budget of $14,000 will be needed to ensure all is done properly and in high quality.
I am currently negotiating terms with several “one-stop” OEM companies to achieve the best speed and quality for money. Units will be shipped directly from the factory after individual quality inspection of each unit. Free shipping worldwide!
Risks and challenges
It is difficult to break the dogmatic thinking that more is always better. The main risk is if the backers presume ELLO 2M’s parameters are not “high enough” for their application by comparing it to other “entry-level” systems currently on the market.
Another risk is also purely volume based – ELLO 2M’s price will not be able (nor will ever try to do so) to compete against the two-for-a-dollar boards which are available on the market at the moment.
A significant challenge will be to penetrate the education market and replace the current existing chaos there through the introduction of ELLO 2M as a single and consistent platform to get an early start with computers, and for joy in one’s spare time by building electronic stuff.
If the campaign can raise $20,000, the below pledge levels will be available:
ELLO 2M² Bare PCB Set for DIY ($65)
Receive six bare PCB to build ELLO 2M², plus BOM and schematics.
ELLO 2M² Hacker – full without prototyping space ($180)
Receive full system with universal keyboard layout; blank PIC32MZ/EF.
ELLO 2M² Hacker XL – fully assembled and signed by the creator ($240)
Receive full system with universal keyboard layout; blank PIC32MZ/EF.