Case study for the Argon Design project for Dialog Semiconductor. – Electronic design services with Argon Design Ltd.

Portable multimedia demonstrator

Skill sets used

Multimedia, Image and Video Processing, Embedded products, Electronic engineering, Portable products, User interfaces, Software engineering, Product definition

The Challenge

Dialog Semiconductor commissioned Argon Design to develop a system to test and demonstrate a new range of novel, low power, display interface ICs for the next generation of 2D/3D and Passive Matrix OLED displays for mobile phones and hand held devices.

To demonstrate their ICs, driving a range of display sizes and technologies, Dialog required a flexible platform that:

  • was aesthetically pleasing (as this would by demonstrated to Dialog's end customers)
  • was mobile (battery powered, rechargeable)
  • had a mobile form factor (to demonstrate the product in a platform similar to a mobile phone with a similar user interface)
  • was flexible (re-usable for demonstrating other display products in future)
  • was easy to use (easy for customers / sales teams to pick up and use, no "techie knowledge" required)

So that potential customers could easily see the product in its intended use case, Dialog wanted the platform to have the look and feel of a mobile phone. They also wanted an "easy to use" and "impressive" demonstration. The platform also had to be re-usable and easy to reconfigure to demonstrate other Dialog products.

Our Approach

Argon Design proposed a two part solution using a base board, running a customised port of the Android operating system, with multiple interchangeable daughter boards tailored to each display type. By using the Android OS, Dialog was able to demonstrate the performance effect of their ICs across a wide variety of mobile applications.

To provide a convincing mobile experience, Argon Design ported Android onto the platform (with application and driver customisations as appropriate). The benefit of using Android was that it provided an engaging user interface experience. We also customised the Android port so that Dialog could easily write and add other demo applications using the standard Google development tools.

In order to provide a flexible and re-usable system, we designed the hardware as a stacked two PCB system, containing a 'base board' and 'daughter board'. The base board contained the majority of the electronics and provided an expansion connector for the daughter board. The various daughter boards contained the various Dialog devices to be demonstrated and providing the interface to the displays and other peripherals being demonstrated.

The system used a replaceable, rechargeable Lithium Ion Polymer battery, that was rechargeable using a USB connection or a 5V power brick, and was able to run for a minimum of 2 hours. A custom metal battery clip allowed the battery to be swapped without dismantling the PCB stack.

The base board used an off the shelf Gumstix Computer-On-Module, COM, to reduce the development costs and timescales. The Gumstix Overo® Water COM contains an OMAP3 application processor from Texas Instruments, plus power supply circuitry and flash storage, with the remainder of the processor IO and peripherals interfaces brought out to connectors.

See the story of the project on the Gumstix website >>

To create an aesthetically pleasing system, the PCB sandwich was topped with a custom Lexan printed label in customer colours with the customer's Logo, and a final custom machined clear polycarbonate top plate to provide a robust wearing outer skin. A black custom perspex plate on the bottom of the device completed the system.

Argon Design produced limited quantities of the full systems, with a handy carry case, for delivery to Dialog's customers.

The Outcome

Argon Design produced the first demonstrator systems to aggressive timescales with the system hardware and software working first time.

Dialog was able to issue each member of their sales and marketing team with a slick Android demonstrator platform that their potential customers could easily use and evaluate.

A whole range of further demonstrator systems have since been developed on top of the core platform to demonstrate a 2D to 3D display chipset, further PM-OLED display variants and even a Dialog audio chipset.

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