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I am curious what some people here have to say on this since this field seems to be rapidly changing as far as hardware goes lately. Some of these things may be software dependent, but the hardware is my main concern.

I am looking to design a rugged smaller color display (3-8") to update some information from a control system for a user interface.

After digging into this there seems to be a very large amount of options available.

  • Android Application with a tablet. (touchscreen not ideal for environment and not a lot of options for durable/quality hardware)

  • Low level micro I am familiar with like a STM32 and TFT display (possibly underpowered, low level implementation)

  • Panel PC (Very costly from what I have seen, but can use existing code, native OS)

  • Something similar to a Beagleboard with an OMAP or similar processor running Linux or Android (cheap, linux heavy software, high design cost/time overhead)

We already have a GUI designed in Qt running on Windows. So something in Linux should be doable using a similar software base and familiar tools.

I have done plenty of designs with STM32 and other similar micros, but these higher end micros do have some complications regarding BGAs, and higher frequency lines and just sheer massive amounts of I/O to deal with. Have seen some off the shelf production options here to consider though.

Any ideas on where to go with a design like this?


Good points in the comments. This is going to be standalone powered from a 12-24V DC system typically attached to an engine/generator so low power is not the biggest concern. Will communicate to the existing controller via RS-232 (or bluetooth converter for android case). Some applications are outdoors, but most cases where these would be used are well lit and inside, but a back-light of some sort will likely be needed.

Looking to display data with some sort of graphical widgets. So similar to a tachometer type representation, raw textual data will likely be used as well. Other options would be considered if economical. Currently have a 128x64 mono working, but cost-wise is hard to compete with a tablet in production or these higher end (and resolution) options.

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Wireless, stand alone, independent power, room backlite. –  Optionparty Jan 14 '13 at 20:06
You say display, but focus mostly on computing hardware, rather than displays. What information must you display? Text? Graphics? Under what viewing conditions? –  Chris Stratton Jan 14 '13 at 20:09
And when Chris asks about viewing conditions you should consider and add details about the environment: temperature, vibration, humidity/water, ambiant lighting, power source, etc... –  kenny Jan 14 '13 at 23:46
The environmental uses of this product are not defined at this point. IP67 and vibration tolerance would be ideal, but for many applications can be worked around. Not expecting much beyond 0-50/70C for usable temperature from most displays, anything else would required a specialized solution. Lighting and power source have been addressed in my edit. –  radix07 Jan 15 '13 at 14:48
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closed as off topic by Brian Carlton, Olin Lathrop, Leon Heller, placeholder, W5VO Jan 16 '13 at 0:00

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1 Answer

From a critical reading of the question:

  • Volume of production not stated, assuming dozens to hundreds, not tens of thousands
  • Productization timeline appears short - UI and back-end already developed awaiting deployment hardware finalization
  • Background information provided indicates the need for not just a display module, but a device platform with display capability
  • No clear indication of the need (as opposed to the desire) for a custom-built device
  • One time engineering budget assumed to be low to mid range, not high enough to justify design of a competing alternative to established mass-produced platforms
  • Environment proof standards not specified, IP56 / IP65 / IP67 and MilSpec 810 assumed

Given this set of assumptions, the recommended approach would be to use an established consumer device as an interface to the industrial systems in question. Engineering effort would thus be concentrated on software porting and communication with existing system.

This approach also minimizes cost of Engineering Change Orders (ECOs) that are common with any new introduction, especially in the industrial space.

For example:

The FortisX V5 ruggedized Android device sells on Amazon for $290 retail, and can be sourced from sites like AliExpress for much less in volumes.
FortisX V5 Image from the Amazon listing.

This is an IP67 Rugged Waterproof, Dustproof, Shockproof 3.2" Touchscreen 3G Android 2.3 Smartphone. Deploying a control interface on the Android platform would be trivial.

Alternatively, if the budget permits, consider suitably ruggedized Windows tablets instead - That way, the existing UI will not even need significant modification to work on the deployment platform.

Either way, the kind of ruggedization testing and product stability you would get from any such consumer market product, would cost a fair amount of money to replicate in a custom device. Replacement cost also becomes trivial - If someone breaks a unit, just plug in a new unit and install the software.

To address the classic "product differentiation" / "Our custom-built hardware" management agenda, a method that has been followed by many Android vendors can be adopted (HTC with their Sense UI for instance), thus:

Contact an OEM manufacturer that encourages whitelabeling of their device - Many of the Chinese manufacturers do, even big players like Huawei - and get customization done on the device enclosure. Leave the underlying OS as-is, but add your application as a full-screen default UI, something like the Kiosk Mode that Windows has supported for a long time, or Windows Media Center as another example.

End-users would not be provided any means to break out of this UI shell, while system support could use debug mode to release updates or undertake fixes.

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Most all assumptions are correct, although I don't need a full fledged platform necessarily, but it could likely be leveraged at some point. The demand is from a few customers and some comparable items in the competing market, with sales quantities pretty much unknown (Sales says 1000s typically means maybe 100s). I do have a currently half functional Android application in progress for this, since this seems to be quickest and most economical route. My manager seems to think we need something else (wants HW to sell?). –  radix07 Jan 15 '13 at 14:39
@radix07 That last bit, "wants hardware to sell", is pretty common. A solution that works is to contact an OEM manufacturer that encourages whitelabeling of their device - Many of the Chinese manufacturers do, even big players like Huawei - and get customization done on the device enclosure. Leave the underlying OS as-is, but add your application as the default UI, something like the Kiosk Mode that Windows has supported for a long time. –  Anindo Ghosh Jan 15 '13 at 16:36
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