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Coin-sized, powerful, affordable, open source wireless computer running Linux — created for professionals and enthusiasts
Coin-sized, powerful, affordable, open source wireless computer running Linux — created for professionals and enthusiasts
Coin-sized, powerful, affordable, open source wireless computer running Linux — created for professionals and enthusiasts
1,363 backers pledged NZ$ 77,694 to help bring this project to life.

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Black Swift — tiny wireless computer

NZ$ 77,694

1,363

Successfully funded! What's next?

Dear Kickstarters! Thanks to you - and thanks to Kickstarter's excellent crowdfunding platform - we achieved 235 % funding. And we can't find words  enough to express how much we are grateful to you and how much we appreciate your support!

But that's not the end of the road - it's the very beginning. So we are moving to our official website www.black-swift.com - there's online shop with international delivery there (until we get real boards we are taking preorders) as well as documentation and usage examples we hope to expand and diversify.

Stay tuned.

Sincerely yours, Black Swift team.

In a few words, Black Swift Board is a tiny — almost coin-sized — computer with 32-bit CPU, megabytes of memory, integrated 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, USB 2.0, and other interfaces. It was created to become not only affordable and easy to use computing and communication core for modern connected devices, but also the great tool for anyone interested in electronics. We made it with both professionals as well as enthusiasts in mind. Black Swift is great as professional-grade embedded computing core in the Internet of Things era — and at the same time it is easy to learn and easy to use, allowing novices to gradually raise their experience.

Black Swift needs nothing but a 5 VDC microUSB power adapter to start — and at the same time it can be seamlessly integrated in professional electronics designs, bringing a lot of capabilities.

Black Swift runs OpenWRT Linux, and it can be programmed in a bunch of languages — from C/C++ to PHP, Python, Perl, and Bash scripting. There's even Node.js port.

Black Swift is powerful and able to execute complex tasks, including databases and web servers with dynamic pages, it is well suited to control different preipheral devices — from buttons and LEDs to touchpads and all kinds of sensors. Even Arduino boards can be easily used as peripheral devices.

We created Black Swift for ourselves — but we decided to share it with you and with everyone else.

Because we were not happy.

We are a small team of professional electronics engineers — and we were not happy with existing microcomputers. Arduino is undeniably great, but for our demands it's a bit underpowered — 8-bit AVR CPU is not capable of running complex tasks, not even regular web interface for your device. And if we are talking about IoT, we definitely need some web interfaces, and better with PHP, jQuery, bells, and whistles.

Raspberry Pi is powerful, affordable and easy — but every magic comes with a price: it's a little too big to be considered as embedded computer we needed as engineers. Raspberry Pi Computer Module is much smaller, but a little unfriendly — you need to have some kind of motherboard with SODIMM connector just to power it.

Black Swift is on the right, SODIMM is on the left
Black Swift is on the right, SODIMM is on the left

And all of them don't have on-board Wi-Fi adapter, which means we have to use an external one.

There are other embedded computers — Intel Edison, Carambola 2, BeagleBone Black, to name a few — but they need development board to start, or too costly, or too big...

Actually, as we see it, modern microcomputers can be divided in two categories:

  • For professionals: small, powerful, designed to be embedded from the scratch — but unfriendly for enthusiasts because of special connectors, surface mounting to motherboard, and, last but not the least, closed sources.
  • For enthusiasts: ready to use, easy to connect to peripheral devices, often open sourced — but too big, too bulky to be considered as proper embedded systems by professional engineers.

Finally we decided to create our own computer — and put the best of both worlds in it. And this is how Black Swift was born — a coin-sized computer with onboard Wi-Fi, great and easy to use as standalone as well as embedded solution.

There are a thousand ways how you can use Black Swift in your projects and hobbies. To give you some pretty basic ideas on it let's define some outlines. Basically, there are three major ways:

  • Standalone. Often you don't even need to solder anything — connect the power to one microUSB socket and USB device you need to the other (or several USB devices — with USB hub).
  • Weekend projects. Connect peripherals you need (LEDs, buttons, sensors, relays) to Black Swift with 1.27-2.54 mm adapter board or by soldering thin wires directly to the board. Use breadboard, eurocard or simple PCB to assemble peripherals you need.
  • Professional electronics. Create motherboard with all the peripherals you need and assemble Black Swift to it by soldering and mounting it with detachable connector.

Speaking of specific devices, possibilities are limitless: those can be smart and connected home appliances, some funny robotics, wireless speakers and internet radios, smart home building blocks, IP cameras and, of course, totally new devices only you can invent. The choice is yours, and we are just providing some simplest examples here.

Standalone project: network music player.

Have speakers you never used? Turn them to the wireless music player able to play mp3s from your home NAS and controlled by mobile or desktop application. You will need Black Swift board, USB-OTG adapter, USB sound card, and 5 VDC power supply.

Additional software to be installed on Black Swift is mpd music daemon and samba network file client to get access to your NAS storage. All packages are already available and can be installed in almost no time with a few commands.

Network mp3 player: Black Swift and USB audio card
Network mp3 player: Black Swift and USB audio card

To control the player remotely, install MPDroid on your Android device (available in Google Play Market), QMPDClient on your PC, or some other client.

And finally, thanks to Black Swift's size, everything can be assembled  inside the main speaker, instead of hanging wires and boards outside.

Similar projects you can think of: IP camera, internet radio, wireless print server. By the way, print server is the case where size matters: you can easily fit Black Swift inside your old printer making it Wi-Fi-compatible.

Weekend project: Christmas tree lights controller.

On the brink of the New Year Holiday one of our team members suddenly realized he doesn't have proper lights to decorate the Christmas tree — and so decided to make it using available components, i.e. a few dozens of Betlux's BL-FL7600 ultrabright LEDs, L293 quadruple H-bridge driver and Black Swift.

Christmas tree lights controller
Christmas tree lights controller

This project, although a bit spontaneous, is a good example of what you can do with Black Swift and some knowledge of electronics over weekend, creating reasonably complicated project using breadboard (or, in this case, eurocard board) and readily available components. It has asymmetrical software PWM to drive two groups of LEDs with antiparallel connection (2 colors in each group, 4 colors in total) with half-bridge driver IC and, of course, web interface to change modes, speed and brightness without leaving the comfort of your bed.

There's an app for that!
There's an app for that!

By the way: schematics and source code.

Professional electronics: electricity meter.

Were you ever interested in what is electricity usage of some specific home appliance or whole apartments? Standard electricity meters usually don't display current power consumption, and nice meters attached to wall sockets are not suitable to measure combined power consumption of various devices.

With Black Swift it is fairly easy to design electricity meter that fits inside standard residual-current device's case and thus can be easily mounted on a DIN rail along with regular current limiters. With Wi-Fi connection, it's easy to implement web interface with real-time measurements as well as graphs and accumulated data, and export data somewhere else if you need to.

Energy meter: Black Swift and ADE7757 on a custom PCB
Energy meter: Black Swift and ADE7757 on a custom PCB

Electricity meter is based on Analog Devices ADE7757 chip with frequency output — or you can use more sophisticated ADE7753 chip and talk to it via SPI interface.

NB: probably your energy company would never allow you to pay bills according to your own meter, but anyway it's nice to know how much your air conditioner or washing machine may cost your. Or am I just a control freak?..

Professional electronics: smart home appliances. With Black Swift,  it is easy not only to design some specialized devices, but make existing home appliances smarter and connected.

It is possible to fully replace control board of the device you want to upgrade with Black Swift-based one, allowing Black Swift to control buttons, LEDs, relay and what else you need to control - at the same time providing wireless network connectivity and web interface (which you can easily turn into smartphone application). Or you can install Black Swift as an addition and let it emulate buttons and switches without fully replacing original electronic internals.

Black Swift is not just another nanocomputer based on popular SoC. It is a device we made for ourselves, professional electronics engineers. That's why its convenience as an embedded computing module was a top priority, no less than simplicity of use and programming. 

High performance. Black Swift is based on 32-bit MIPS 24K CPU core running at 400 MHz, with integrated USB 2.0 and Ethernet interfaces as well as Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n adapter. There is 16 MB NOR flash memory at your service and 64 MB DDR2 RAM.

Ultra-compact size. Designing modern electornics is not an easy job — and not in the last instance because you just don't have enough space to fit everything you need inside. Here comes Black Swift: with 25×35×4 mm dimensions and 3 g weight it can be easily integrated almost anywhere, and standard 2-rows 1.27 mm connectors allow to align it in different positions (including vertical) depending on specific design.

Variety of interfaces. Black Swift comes with more than 25 GPIO lines, hardware SPI and UART, software I2C, 1-wire, and PWM support. Two Ethernet interfaces, an USB 2.0 port and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi with onboard antenna are also available.

Integrated voltage regulators. Unlike most competing solutions, Black Swift doesn't need external precision voltage source — on the contrary, it may become voltage source for other peripherals. It can be powered from 5 VDC source, 3.3 VDC or 3.4...6 VDC range — even the lithium cell will do, actually.

ADE7757-based electricity meter prototype
ADE7757-based electricity meter prototype

Black Swift PRO. For those who want to develop not only userspace programs, but firmware and even bootloader, we created PRO version of the board — it comes with integrated USB-UART adapter to access bootloader or OpenWRT serial interfaces and even ability to reflash ROM completely using external programmer or another Black Swift board. Unbricking never was easier.

One can divide modern microcomputers in two categories — designed for professional and for amateurs. Former are easy to connect, setup and use, but, as a rule, are not suited to use as embedded computers in professionally designed devices. Latter are being developed as embedded from the start, that is why they are not good for amateurs — even to power it on you need some kind of motherboard. We made an effort to combine strength of both categories in a single device — Black Swift board, make it convenient for professionals and easy to start with for enthusiasts. 

Easy start. Black Swift does not require hardware programming device or any kind of motherboard to start — nothing but regular 5 VDC power supply with at least 300 mA output and microUSB connector; any modern smartphone charger will do. Just connect it to the board, and in a half a minute Black Swift will be ready.

Standard microUSB connector. The easiest way to connect additional devices to Black Swift board is to use second microUSB connector. Webcam, USB drive, soundcard, additional Wi-Fi or Bluetooth adapter — just connect it with regular USB-OTG adapter. OpenWRT OS already has all needed drivers for the most USB devices, so you can start using it literally in no time.

Connecting other modules. All Black Swift's interfaces and power lines are available on standard 2-rows 1.27 mm connectors — so on the next step you can use the board with adapter to the more usual 2.54 mm connector, solder wires directly to Black Swift board or design your own motherboard with all peripherals you need. Thanks to standard PLLD connectors, Black Swift is really undemanding to motherboard technology — be it factory produced double-sided PCB or something made with iron and laser printer.

Connecting relay module with the help of 1.27-2.54 mm adapter
Connecting relay module with the help of 1.27-2.54 mm adapter

Easy software development. Black Swift comes with OpenWRT preinstalled — the most popular Linux-based OS for embedded devices. A lot of well-known programming languages are available for it — from C/C++ to PHP, Python and even Bash scripting. There's no need in additional hardware to upload your application or debug it — everything can be done over regular Wi-Fi network. You would not need any special IDE either — with Black Swift you can use anything you like, Notepad++ or Eclipse.

We love open source. In fact, we are really grateful to open source community — without them we wouldn't be able to create Black Swift, as it uses open source OpenWRT operating system and U-Boot boot loader. So we decided to release everything related to the project to public.

  • Schematics. As soon as we get and test final revision, we will publish its schematics.
  • Board. Printed circuit board will be published not only in [nice but quite useless] PDF format, but in standard industrial formats as well, including Gerber RS-274X.
  • Bill of materials (BOM). Full list of components you need to build Black Swift — in case you want to build it by yourself.
  • OpenWRT patches. We did some adjustments to OpenWRT and some packages to make it better suited for our embedded needs — and we will open all the corresponding patches.
  • Utilities, tips & tricks. We are developing some small userspace utilities to help you with Black Swift, and we learned some unexpected tricks during that. We will publish them as well.

We are not afraid of competition. We want everyone to be able to learn, to gain experience from our work, to create customized Black Swift versions or completely integrate Black Swift's schematics into new projects. Moreover, if you want to make a custom project based on Black Swift platform, we are ready to help you with development and mass production.

We already published some documents and ideas, and that is just the beginning.

Here come the numbers:

Black Swift's pinout
Black Swift's pinout
  • Chipset: Qualcomm Atheros AR9331 (32-bit MIPS 24K CPU core)
  • CPU frequency: 400 MHz nominal, 200 MHz energy-saving (software selectable)
  • ROM: 16 MB NOR flash
  • RAM: 64 MB DDR2 SDRAM
  • Connectors: 1×microUSB (power), 1×microUSB (USB 2.0), 1×PLLD-1.27-20 + 1×PLLD-1.27-30 (signal interfaces and power)
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n (1×1, up to 150 Mbps), PCB antenna
  • Standard interfaces: 1×USB 2.0, 26×GPIO, 2×Fast Ethernet, SPI, I²C, 1×16550 UART
  • GPIO: maximum load 24 mA, voltage level 3.3 V max (5V non-tolerant)
  • DC power: 5 V (with full USB support), 3.3 V (w/o USB power), 3.4...6 V (using onboard voltage regulator, w/o USB power)
  • Power consumption: 120 mA typical (400 MHz CPU frequency, Wi-Fi enabled), 60 mA in energy-saving mode (200 MHz, Wi-Fi disabled), 300 mA max
  • Integrated voltage regulators: 3.3 V (switching mode, 1 A max, at least 700 mA available for powering external devices), 2.75 V (linear LDO, 300 mA max)
  • Operating system: OpenWRT 14.07 Barrier Breaker
  • Dimensions: 25×35×4 mm (1×1.38×0.16 in)
  • Weight: 3 g

Black Swift is being developed by a team of highly qualified professionals. We are specializing in software development and electronics design and manufacture. We are working and living all around the world — Russia, Hong Kong, and New Zealand.

All rewards will be shipped worldwide by Hong Kong Post at no additional fee.

1. Our thanks to all backers. There will be a special "Thank You!" page on our website with all the warm thanks to every one of our backers.

2. Black Swift board (basic version). Fully functional Black Swift computer, ready to work — all you need to start using it is 5 VDC power adapter with microUSB connector (yes, regular cellphone charger, that's it). Pledge $35 NZD (~$26 USD) to get it — and $25 NZD (~$19 USD) only for the very first 100 "early birds".

Basic version
Basic version

3. Black Swift PRO board with 1.27-2.54 adapter. Special version of our computer designed for firmware developers — the difference with basic version is onboard USB-UART adapter (with access to bootloader console interface) and ability to reprogram NOR flash using another Black Swift board or external programmer. PRO version will be shipped with 1.27 mm female sockets soldered and detachable 1.27 to 2.54 mm adapter. Pledge $45 NZD (~$34 USD) to get it — and $35 NZD (~$26 USD) for the first 100 "early birds".

Black Swift PRO with 1.27-2.54mm adapter
Black Swift PRO with 1.27-2.54mm adapter

 4. A few words from you to all Black Swift users. Our very special thanks and your very own personal text message on the start (logon) page of Black Swift's internal web-server default interface — unique chance to say "Hello world!" to the whole world.

Our main goal is to raise $33000 NZD (~$25000 USD) to fund mass production of Black Swift board — both basic and PRO flavours of it, as well as obtain our own MAC address range and pass FCC certification.

But our ambition goes beyond this point.

$66000 NZD (~$50000 USD): nice polycarbonate case for every Black Swift board sent to backers. We have 3D-printed prototypes, but mass-producing plastic things, even the small ones, is a costly business as we have to pay for the compression mold.

Black Swift case prototype, 3D-printed
Black Swift case prototype, 3D-printed

$100000 NZD (~$75000 USD): additional accessories for Black Swift. First of all — at least 4 basic motherboards we call "Nests" to expand Black Swift's functionality. "Nest" is a small board attached to Black Swift that carries additional components and connectors. For example, "Ethernet Nest" will be equipped with 2 RJ-45 sockets, "USB Nest" has USB 2.0 hub and full-size USB female sockets, and "AVR Nest" has ATtiny or ATmega MCU onboard to provide ADC and multichannel hardware PWM capabilites (by the way, Arduino Yun compatible nest is possible with ATmega).

Basic ATtiny24 Nest prototype
Basic ATtiny24 Nest prototype

$133000 NZD (~$100000 USD): funding we need to develop support for Apple HomeKIt and Google Nest API, the best known Smart Home Automation protocols.

Imagination Technologies, a parent company for MIPS Technologies
Imagination Technologies, a parent company for MIPS Technologies
     
LinuxGizmos, embedded Linux news and devices
LinuxGizmos, embedded Linux news and devices
OpenElectronics.org — open source electronics projects
OpenElectronics.org — open source electronics projects
CNXSoft — Embedded Systems News
CNXSoft — Embedded Systems News
Geeky Gadgets — daily technology news
Geeky Gadgets — daily technology news
IoT Developer's Journal — free, weekly newsletter for developers interested in IoT, M2M, Maker Movement and inter-connected things
IoT Developer's Journal — free, weekly newsletter for developers interested in IoT, M2M, Maker Movement and inter-connected things
Vesti.NET TV News Channel focused on technology
Vesti.NET TV News Channel focused on technology
Lenta.ru, the biggest Russian news media
Lenta.ru, the biggest Russian news media
Hi-Tech.Mail.ru, exclusive hi-tech news & reviews
Hi-Tech.Mail.ru, exclusive hi-tech news & reviews
 
Ferra.ru Hardware News & Reviews
Ferra.ru Hardware News & Reviews
iXBT.com, best known Russian hardware news & reviews site
iXBT.com, best known Russian hardware news & reviews site

Black Swift project was started almost a year ago, and in January 2015 we finished designing third revision of Black Swift board (what you see on photos above are first and second designs). We expect samples to arrive in February and, if everything is ok, this design will be considered final and production-ready. Unfortunately, February is kind of a lost month for electronics manufacturers due to Chiniese New Year, so we plan to resume our work on starting mass-production in March. During this time we'll be busy polishing software too.

All in all, we expect first mass-produced batch of Black Swift boards to arrive around May-June 2015.

Risks and challenges

Black Swift is a well-established project: in fact hardware design already finished and soon it should be ready for mass production. We completed two rounds of prototype design — and we are already using those samples in our own devices. Although designs are different, there's more about polishing things and adding small features than fixing bugs — so we don't expect anything troublesome from the third (final) design.

Manufacturing will be carried out in China (Hong Kong, to be precise) and all rewards will be delivered by Hong Kong Post.

But there's always a risk, albeit a small one. Unexpected software and hardware glitches as well as PCB or component quality problems may shift the schedule by a month or two, although we will do our best to prevent such issues and send Black Swifts to our backers as soon as possible.

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    Pledge NZ$ 5 or more About $4

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    Pledge NZ$ 35 or more About $26

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    One Black Swift board (basic) - tiny single board network computer, and special mention at "Thank You!" page on our www.black-swift.com website.

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    One Black Swift board (basic) with female 1.27 mm sockets soldered to the board and 1.27-2.54 adapter.

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    Special set: two Black Swift boards (basic) plus one Black Swift Pro board with 1.27-2.54 adapter, limited edition!

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    3 Black Swift boards (basic), 2 Black Swift Pro boards with 1.27-2.54 adapters, very special mention at "Thank You!" page on our www.black-swift.com website, and special "Thank You!" message on the first page of default Black Swift web interface.

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Funding period

- (21 days)