A Russian startup has produced a Linux-based WiFi controller board for remote control and video observation applications, and has demonstrated its use in a remote controlled car.
Two-year-old Virt2real Ltd is still something of an after-hours project run by several Russian techies, but has become well known in the Russian hacker community, according to co-founder Eugene Pomazov. Its principle international recognition came from a video it released back in March. Several sites, including Wired and Gizmodo, picked up on Russian media coverage of the company’s video demo of a remote controlled “Bond Car.”
Virt2real team prepares Bond Car for testing
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Inspired by Back to the Future, as well as the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, the technology project followed up on an earlier project in which micro-cars were raced remotely over the Internet. In the Bond film, Pierce Brosnan remotely controlled a BMW 5 car via a ’90s-era Ericsson cellphone. By contrast, the Bond Car demo shows a Vauxhall (Opel) Vectra being remotely controlled by an iPad via WiFi. The iPad interface includes touchscreen-based steering wheel, brakes, and accelerator, which are mirrored in the car by a mechanical contraption that physically turns the steering wheel and pushes the brake and accelerator pedals.
Bond Car setup and snowy test
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“I think this was interesting because it looks like ‘drunky Russians, after kicking out bears from their garage, has made old rusty pail driven with iPad just with a hammer and several nails,” relates Pomazov, who appears to be well versed in America’s Russian stereotypes. “Our hardware and software part of a project was not interesting to journalists.”
Linux-based Virt2real wireless controller
As it turns out, the project depends on a Linux-based WiFi controller board called the Virt2real, or Viturika (see farther below for tech details). After doing its own informal crowdsourcing this summer, Virt2real Ltd produced the first 1,000 units of the 70 x 42 x 10mm single board computer (SBC). It recently opened pre-orders for Russian customers, but hopes to expand to other markets in 2014.
Virt2real SBC top, and bottom
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The Virt2real SBC can be used for remote control of a wide variety of devices ranging from model cars and aircraft, to a full pseudo-self-driving car. It can also be used as a surveillance device for everything from baby monitoring to security cameras. Robots are said to be another possibility.
The project has been accepted by Indiegogo for further crowdfunding, but the company is holding off for now until the device is more polished. Kickstarter turned them down because it does not support video surveillance applications, says Pomazov. (Presumably, though, they’d have no problem with someone driving a full-sized car by remote control.)
The Virt2real SBC’s Linux 2.6.3-based firmware has already been released as open source code on GitHub, and the board is said to support Android as well. The company plans to release expansion shields as open source designs, complete with schematics. Virt2real has also built a forum and wiki, and is on the way to building a full community site.
The company has yet to decide whether to release the Virt2real board itself as open source hardware. In fact, Pomazov has asked our opinion on the matter. To avoid any conflict of interest, we instead extend that invitation to the reader: a comment section follows this story.
“We think that the usual geek-enthusiast cannot assemble a 10-layer board with about 400 components (including several BGAs) at home,” says Pomazov. “If we open schematics of main board, it can only be interesting to huge companies, who can just use it for free in their products. Possibly we can make it free for use for education organizations or non-commercial use.”
The company also plans to move forward with a kit version of its Virt2real-based Bond Car that will work with most cars. It also has a number of other projects, including an Arduino-based network-controlled webcam, and several remote controlled robotic manipulators.
Inside the Virt2real SBC
The Virt2real SBC is built around the Texas Instruments DaVinci TMS320DM365 system-on-chip, which has been widely used in surveillance applications. The DM365 combines a 300MHz ARM926EJ-S core with a pair of 720p video accelerators, and an image signal processor (ISP) offering features like video stabilization, noise filtering, defect pixel correction, auto white balance, auto focus, auto exposure, and edge enhancement. The Virt2real also supports the similar, 400MHz DM368 SoC.
The Virt2real supports up to 256MB DDR2 RAM and 256MB NAND flash, expandable via a microSD slot. For external communications, it offers both a Fast Ethernet port and a WiFi controller with antenna. The SBC is currently limited to Composite NTSC/PAL and Component video output, but an LCD-ready version is planned for the future, and an HDMI option is under consideration. End-user access to the Component interface is under development, says the company.
The camera interface has been tested with popular OmniVision sensors. However, it should work with most 8- or 10-bit sensors, says Virt2real. An industrial temperature support version is available for outdoor cameras.
The Virt2real board offers USB 2.0 host and client ports, as well as onboard audio I/O. The SBC is equipped a wide variety of onboard peripherals beloved by roboticists and mechanical gadgeteers, including PWM, UARTs, analog and digital controllers, and 51 GPIOs.
Virt2real SBC stacked with a shield
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To bring these interfaces to life, the Virt2real main board offers a connector to a stacked expansion shield. A standard breakout shield ships with the device, but can be replaced by other expansion shields. The default shield is said to be connected to outputs from GPIO and Ethernet interfaces, and includes power chips connected to terminal blocks for connecting power loads such as motors and light bulbs.
Assortment of Virt2real shields
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Currently, the other expansion shields include:
Partial specifications for the Virt2real (Virturika) SBC include:
- Processor — TI DaVinci TMS320DM365 (1x ARM9 @ 300MHz with 2x 720p video accelerators, and ISP); also supports 400MHz DM368
- 128MB DDR2 RAM, expandable to 256MB
- 256MB NAND flash
- MicroSD slot
- Video I/O:
- Analog Component video out
- Analog Composite (NTSC/PAL) video out (max 480p); routed to expansion board
- Video processing features:
- MJCP and HDVICP hardware acceleration
- Hardware support for H.264, MPEG4, MPEG2, MJPEG, JPEG, WMV9/VC1
- 720p @ 30fps video for D1 and lower video encoding resolution (1080p with DM368)
- 4:2:2 (8/16-bit)
- 8/16-bit YCC up to 24-bit RGB888 digital out
- Hardware On-Screen Display (OSD)
- IPIPE (IPIPEIF) interface
- Histogram module
- Lens distortion correction module (LDC)
- Hardware 3A statistics collection module (H3A)
- Tested with OmniVision OV7690, OV7675 (8-bit bus), OV9710 image sensors, but should work on any 8- or 10-bit bus
- ISIF (Image Sensor Interface)
- CMOS Imager interface
- Input for digital cameras
- CQ93VC codec (AAC-LC, G.711, MP3, WMA)
- Audio line-out (mono)
- Speaker audio out (mono, 300 mV at 8 ohms load)
- Analog mic
- Wireless — 802.11b/g (HDG104 chip); antenna
- Networking — 10/100Mbps Ethernet port
- Other I/O:
- USB 2.0 high-speed host port
- USB client port
- 51x GPIO (3.3V and 1.8V logic levels)
- 4x PWM
- 5x SPI
- 2x UART
- 3x DAC
- 6x ADC
- Expansion shields — standard DIY shield; optional WiFi, Motor, Relay, and Development shield
- 2.8-15 V supply
- >5V @ 220mAh (typical, with WiFi on)
- SEPIC adjustable power supply circuit
- Power load connectors for motors (3x L293D chips)
- Operating temperature — commercial or industrial (-40 to 85°C)
- Dimensions — 70 x 42 x 10mm (main board only)
- Operating system — Linux 126.96.36.199; SDKs available for RidgeRun (currently), MontaVista, Arago/OE, Angstrom; also supports Android
Here’s a video of one of the first tests of the Bond Car, made by the Virt2real team. (Warning: contains Russian profanity!)
Bond Car test video (in Russian)
The Virt2real board is now open for pre-order in Russia for $119, here. More information on the Virt2real board may be found on the Virt2real product page. More on the Bond Car, including videos, may be found here. A company blog (in Russian) may be found here.