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Project Ophelia – Mobile Computing as a Component

Dell seems to be working on a new type of “cloud” device.  Project Ophelia is described in the provided link.  Basically, it’s a small thin-client type of computer that’s the size of a large thumb-drive.

It will be interesting to see if the market will accept Ophelia.  Maybe there’s a window for her now?  Anyone remember Black Dog?  Let’s hope Dell pushes this project long enough for it to get some traction.  I, for one, would like to see what can be done with something like this.

I’m a huge proponent for modular design and flexible “components”.  It’s what makes Unix so cool, for example.  Do one thing well and make it easy to combine with other components.  It’s a powerful model and gives us options that maximize our investments; both in cash and the storage we need to keep all our electronic capital.  This device seems to follow that mantra more than a lot of other devices we’re seeing in the market today.

For example, do you love the processor in the Samsung Note II, but dislike the huge display?  You’re stuck.  Like the battery life of the Droid Razr Maxx, but wish it had more CPU or a newer OS?  Too bad.  Like the iPad Mini, but wish it had a better display?  Maybe you should have bought a Nexus 7.  😉

The nice thing about Ophelia is you aren’t locked into a set of shoes or wardrobe for her.  Accessorize how you wish.  Supply your own battery, display, and even potentially an OS for the adventurous.  At $100 it’s a cheap way to add more computing to your mobile tool-kit.  Maybe “wearable” computing will become ubiquitous with devices like this?

Here are some ideas for applications:

  • Combine with a Duracel PPS2 for power, use a cell phone, tablet computer, or maybe even a Vuzix M100 “glasses-style” device for display.  Use a bluetooth headset and voice recognition for input and control.  Become the ultimate geek on your block.
  • Give to students to teach Linux and/or programming.  A cheap, physical device becomes a sandbox instead of a VM or dual-booted PC.  Students could even “hand-in” their work using this model.
  • Use it as the heart in robotics or other DIY projects.  Daughter-boards and other accessories could be developed much like an Arduino, except on steroids.
  • Put MythTv and Netflix on Ophelia to create a personal PVR.  Take it with you and plug it into any TV in the house.

This technology has some hurdles to jump if it’s going to be successful.  As other sources indicate, there are likely marketing problems to address.  Maybe the device will be capable enough to be compelling.  Maybe consumers will see ample application.  Maybe DIY aficionados will jump on the band-wagon and create the next killer-app for it?

On a technical front, the device must be easy to connect to.  Since it’s not a complete solution to much of anything on it’s own, it must be easy to connect to.  Wifi is a great start on this front, but won’t be enough on its own.  Bluetooth, USB, and display interfaces such as HDMI are also likely requirements.  NFC might be a nice addition for situational awareness and other applications.

Creating a consumer device without a display isn’t a novel idea.  That said, a successful product of this type would be ground-breaking.  What if the device used voice as its primary means of input and output?  Touch-screens are great and becoming very common-place, but let’s try something new…  or old, depending if you’ve ever watched Star Trek.  😉

Hardware is one thing, but the software needs to be easy to connect to as well.  Open APIs and use of common protocols will be key.  Supporting developers with a usable SSH login and documentation would make the device more successful.

This device looks like a solution waiting for a problem to me.  The good news is that there are plenty of problems that could be addressed with a little community support and the imagination of a few thousand DIY hackers.  Let’s make it happen Dell.

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