[Freedombox-discuss] Android stick-PCs as a potential Commotion/FreedomBox/OpenWRT platform?

Paul Gardner-Stephen paul at servalproject.org
Sat Apr 27 22:06:33 UTC 2013


On Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 8:00 PM, chris hall <bitmonki at gmail.com> wrote:

> Paul Gardner-Stephen <paul at servalproject.org> writes:
> > (snip!)
> > The newer generations of the Android stick-PCs have dual-core 1.5GHz ARM
> processors, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of
> > flash, dual-antenna 802.11n Wi-Fi (although the firmware is not ideal,
> more on that later), USB host port,
> > microSD slot, and HDMI out, all in a tiny thing about 80mm x 35mm x 15mm
> depending on the particular variant
> > you get.  You get all that for under US$50, e.g., from geekbuying.com.
> >
> I just ordered an MK808B, for reasons very similar to what you have
> stated.
> I am developing an Erlang variant of FreedomBox, and was doing a fairly
> exhaustive survey of the more recent 'system on a board' offerings in
> order to find an initial system for a baseline and development.
> I'm really intrigued by Olinuxino (operating temperatures 0-70C!) and
> Beaglebone Black (both are Free/open hardware), but the former is a
> little expensive, while the latter isn't likely to be shipping in
> quantity anytime soon - the shortest leadtime I saw on the larger
> suppliers was 7 weeks, the rest were at 17 weeks and up.
> Plus, neither one has a case, etc., and are really more targeted at the
> Maker community.

These are indeed quite interesting.
>From a meshing perspective, what would be really nice is if one of these
had an Atheros Wi-Fi chipset so that it would be easy to do AP + ad-hoc
simultaneously, which is really what is needed if you want to allow phones
and other devices to easily participate in the mesh.  I have emailed the
olinuxino people to see if they are interested in making such a thing.

Of course, it might be possible to get the realtek Wi-Fi chipset to do
this, but I don't know.  Perhaps someone on one of these communities might
have the time and hardware on-hand to look into this.
In that case, it becomes easier.

With regard to cases etc, yes, that is a little annoying, but fairly easy
to solve.

> >From a FreedomBox perspective, in addition to their computational
> benefits, these ostensible TV/movie player doodads provide:
> * perfect cover for activists ("oh that, I just watch movies on it"),
> * significant interest in 'ordinary folks' ("you mean I can watch Netflix
>   in HD on it, too? I'll take 3!")

Yes, dual-purpose hardware has many attractions beyond amortised price.

> > These typically come with a root-enabled ROM, and are very easy to flash
> with a complete new operating
> > system.
> >
> The one I ordered has Android Jellybean (I think 4.1.1, but we'll see).
> Further, I discovered a couple of interesting apps on the
> Google Market today:
> * "Lil' Debi: Debian installer" from the Guardian Project. Installs
>   Debian into a chroot, also intended to work with other Guardian
>   project apps like their Tor proxy and secure chat.
>   https://guardianproject.info/
> * "Debian Kit" Installs Debian as 'co-equal' with
>   Android, will start servers, etc., intended for people who just want
>   Debian on their phone or tablet. (Sweet!)
>   http://sven-ola.dyndns.org/repo/debian-kit-en.html (appears to be part
>   of the German FreiFunk (Free Radio?) project)
> Both require root.
> Does anyone have any thoughts they'd care to share re: Debian in a
> chroot under the Android kernel vs. side-by-side/as part of Android
> userland?

I've not played with either.  We are using a rooted Android 4.2.2 ROM for
the MK808B based on the Minix NEO X5. This rom includes lots of kernel
modules, which is normally the pain with other Android distributions if you
want to do things like plug in packet radios, which is important for us.

It looks like this rom can do ad-hoc Wi-Fi, but probably not simultaneous
ad-hoc + AP Wi-Fi, but I haven't figured out the right insmod magic to
manually control the Wi-Fi.

> I've never really played with chroot, but I understand apps launched from
> it can't (for the most part) 'see' the non-chroot part of the
> filesystem, but what about apps launched outside the chroot -- surely
> they can 'see' into it?

Yes, you have it roughly right.  You an of course run an NFS or SMB server
on the outside part to serve controlled access to the chrooted part. You
can probably even do some creative loop-back mounts to achieve the same
thing, so that in effect you just have  rotated the filesystem tree rather
than truncated it.

> Debian-on-Android appeals to me for several reasons, not least of which is
> that to
> the uninitiated onlooker, its an Android device, but really its a
> Debian-capable device, although Debian is a relatively 'silent
> partner'.  Plus, the Guardian Project and Open Whisper Systems (
> http://www.whispersystems.org/ ) are certainly playing in the same
> ballpark as FreedomBox, IMO, so why not explore possible links/synergies
> that this environment might provide?
> Best (and worst?) of both worlds?
> I'd be very interested in anyone's thoughts as to the usefulness of this
> for either community.  Personally, I intend to to explore this further,
> but I do wonder about the security implications.
> > (snip!)
> > 1. The Wi-Fi antenna are little patch antenna, which probably don't have
> that great performance.  They could
> > be replaced fairly easily though, I suspect.  On the up-side, they do
> have two antenna for doing clever
> > 802.11n things.
> >
> > 2. The Wi-Fi firmware that comes with the ROMs I have found don't
> include simultaneous AP and ad-hoc
> > capability, at least as far as I can tell.  This would need
> investigation.  They apparently use a Broadcom
> > 8330 based Wi-Fi chipset in at least some variants, which leads to my
> next point.
> >
> > 3. The Wi-Fi chipset and design quality varies between suppliers of
> these, as it appears that they are all
> > using a reference design of the RK3066 chipset, to which they add Wi-Fi.
>  Some use realtek or mediatek
> > chipsets instead of broadcom.  Some implementations are better than
> others, e.g., some sub-optimal
> > implementations seem to have a common ground-plane between the Wi-Fi and
> USB, which reduces the sensitivity
> > of the Wi-Fi receiver. All this is both a negative and positive. On the
> negative side, some variants might
> > be complete duds for our desired use-cases.  On the positive side, it
> might be possible to encourage one of
> > these manufacturers to make one with, for example, an Atheros Wi-Fi
> chipset that is well supported by Linux,
> > OpenWRT and Debian.  Related, I have yet to survey the complete OS image
> to see if there are any other
> > closed binary blobs hiding around the place.
> >
> > 4. There is no on-board ethernet port on the cheaper models.  This could
> be solved with a USB ethernet
> > adapter, or again, encouraging one of the manufacturers to make a
> variant that is better optimised for our
> > communities needs.
> >
> The above is *exactly* why I continue to be so interested in
> Olinuxino/Beaglebone Black: since they are Free hardware (schematics,
> Eagle files, etc. freely available), no problemo, one can just modify a
> few to one's requirements.  Once one is happy, one can send out the
> updated files and have a few dozen/hundred/thousand
> made. Easy-peasey. ;)

Anyone in the communities here interested in doing this to make a really
nice hardware design that meets the needs of mesh-oriented users? ;)

> It would seem that the hardware outlook has suddenly gotten a *lot* more
> interesting: by all appearances Beaglebone Black is a response to
> Raspberry Pi that significantly raises the hardware capability bar while
> also significantly lowering the price (for projects such as ours,
> anyway).  I'm watching to see how Olinuxino (and others) react to this
> development.

Yes, things have got a lot more interesting in the past 12 months on this

> > If anyone in the community is interested in working on porting OpenWRT
> and/or enabling simultaneous
> > AP+ad-hoc Wi-Fi on these, we can probably arrange to provide a couple of
> MK808Bs to facilitate this.
> >
> I'd be very tempted re: AP+ad hoc, but the last time I worked that close
> to the metal was in the early IBM PC days, and it wasn't
> radio-related. :P
> > Paul.
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > Freedombox-discuss mailing list
> > Freedombox-discuss at lists.alioth.debian.org
> >
> http://lists.alioth.debian.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/freedombox-discuss
> Paul.
>  --Chris H
> --
> All difficult things have their origin in that which is easy, and great
> things in that which is small.
> - Lao Tzu
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