Balloon History


The Balloon project was started by Steve Wiseman sometime around 1999 when he got interested in the LART project - the first open hardware ARM design. He had his own requirements for a Strongarm board, such as interfacing to some video chips and driving configurable kit-car displays.

The name

The balloon name came from the '1100' part of StrongARM 1100 ('lloo'='1100'). However as things progressed slowly due to it being a spare-time project the 1100 became obsolete and the StrongARM 1110 was the chip to use. But 'Balllon' is really hard to pronounce and, well just plain daft, so the Balloon name stuck.


Aleph One got interested in the open hardware idea and made a batch of LARTs in 2001. Some parts for those were already tricky to get by then so a newer design made sense and they encouraged Steve to get his done. Then Toby Churchill Ltd (TCL) got involved. They needed a new board for their hardware and open hardware and shared manufacturing sounded good to them so they firmed up some actual specs and kicked Steve until he finished a design.

There have since been 3 more iterations of Balloon to get to something (2.05) that works properly, with suitably low current sleep mode, is sensible to manufacture and versatile enough to be used either on its own or as a computing component.

In September 2003 Guralp became the first company outside the founding group to buy a batch for use in seismic sensor instrumentation and they are very pleased with them. So balloon is now a real commercial entity.

Moving Forwards

The balloon3 design process started in 2004, when the pxa270 was chosen as a logical upgrade from the strongarm 1110, and input was sought from existing balloon users as to which features they really needed kept compatible. Steve Wiseman did the initial design but real life got in the way before the layout was done and eventually this was completed by Chris Jones and Dave Bisset. A project like this is a large undertaking, and even with generous funding from Toby Churchill Ltd and contributions from the Eng Dept, it still took a long time to get things done using largely volunteer labour. The layouts were finished in Jan 2006 and initial prototypes were available in March 2006.

The Balloon3 development process was a long one with initial primary investment from CUED to get a proper batch made. There were problems with the reliability of this build, primarily due to it being only mostly ROSH-compliant parts amkign for an awkward soldering temp profile, but a large number of these boards are with developers and in use since 2007 for the CUED robotics course.

A Startup Created

Balloonz Ltd was set up at the start of 2007 to manage Balloon3 production. It was later renamed to iEndian as 'Balloonz Ltd' was taken. Balloon3's continue to be developed are as of March2010 are used in Toby Churchill Lightwriters, The Podpoint EV charging stations, and various smaller projects such as SPECS, and Vivoca2 at Sheffield University, Bridge and Tunnel monitoring systems installed by CUED in the UK and Japan, the HotwaterBalloon solar thermal control system.

Balloonboard: BalloonHistory (last edited 2010-04-15 15:04:26 by Wookey)