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Old 05-06-2009, 06:08 AM   #1
Cavelion
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Lightbulb Designing an E-Book device for educational purposes

Hello all.
As my first post I would like to start a thread discussing what would entail a good e-book device for educational purposes. What would be needed both on software and hardware front.
So far I have made a "requirements" document as follows. Please comment on it and expand it. Let's discuss it, maybe one day we can hold it in our hands, thinking about all the suggestions we made for it to become a good working tool.

1. Hardware requirements
• Dual screen book layout where the screens are protected in closed condition
• A4 screen or slightly larger (this format has to be decided up front, and no later changing it, this allows for publishing companies to know what to expect layout wise)
• No buttons: except for power, reset , volume buttons, mute button and maybe a back to start screen (or library), and maybe a second row of up to five buttons placed along the screen to allow for adaptable (according to the current ebook needs) functions (wilcard buttons)
• Touch-screen interface: with fingers and with stylus
• Sound output through headphones or speakers (working with two or more, at home with parents, …)
• Microphone input
• Battery life which can withstand a full school day (10+ hours) of intensive use with sound, note taking, …
• Rugged so that it can survive the harshness of K12 school-life, preferably hard plastic instead of glass.
• Wifi-connectivity
• Enough disk-space to store lots of books, sound and notes (at this moment I would say around 64 GB to 128 GB)
• 16 shades of grey and in the near future at least 256 bit of color.
• A compartment allowing the pupil to easily put in: stylus, spare stylus, head-phones and microphone
• No screen glare (if possible)
• Allowing screen protectors to prevent scratches from daily note taking
• Screen outset and not inset to allow for rulers and such to be used
2. Software requirements
• Stable software (even after a crash a pupil needs to be able to recover any made work)
• Open source software
• Easy library management
• Intuitive interface
• Good OCR recognition including handwritten characters (maybe based on movements made during writing)
• Inter E-books operations
• Dictionary support, including translating dictionaries
• Good communication between e-book devices and computer:
i. Teachers pushes screen to one or more e-books
ii. Teacher can pull screens of a pupil’s e-book
iii. Teacher can lock the e-books of pupils: no display, no input, no dictionary lookup, no leaving the current pages, book, test, …
iv. If a pupil’s device leaves the influence of the teacher’s e-book device, control is surrendered back to the e-book of the pupil (preventing locking mishaps when going home, …)
• An e-book format: which can be reflowable, but at the same time allows for fixed positioning
• Note taking should be easy to do and easy to correct
• A teacher should be able to swiftly gather notes from the students devices, for archival purposes. E.g. Tests taking need to be archived for many years.
• Note taking should be versioned so that a teacher can see the original, his corrections, the pupils corrections, …
• An interface which allows the teacher easy control over the pupils e-book devices
• Text-to-speech software with several voices, publishing firms could provide their own voices with their books.
• E-book format allowing for sublevel speech hinting, allowing books to be read aloud to those pupils having dyslexy.
• The interface should support easy access to the internet (withstanding support for moving images (but who knows what the future of e-ink brings))
• Selfcorrecting software allowing for exercises at the level of the pupil.
• School and internet-library access could be integrated so that students can easily be offered more reading material and this on a lending basis limited in time
3. Musings
This new to develop device should first and foremost enhance the capabilities of the learning tools. This e-book device with the appropriate software would allow also sound (including text-to-speech), voice recording (learning languages, …), auto corrected exercises (with no teacher involvement). Also this devices would allow students to work more individually as the software could explain the necessary things with sound and the teacher can help then those who need it.
Interaction between teacher, pupil, e-book devices, computers and not forgetting the interactive whiteboards would allow for more easy transfer of knowledge in any formation: individually, selected pupils or the entire class.
The dual screen interface would also work much better for providing the necessary screen estate to simultaneously show a text book and a work sheet.
This device would also be a benefit for the pupils to be able to drag all of their stuff home, including dictionaries, atlas, encyclopedia, … and all of this without breaking their backs. All you would really need anymore is your e-book device.
Also if there are mistakes in the provided e-books a quick update is all that is needed to correct the mistake, instead of re-printing those books for a few mistakes.
Please let me know what you think. Append what I have forgotten as of yet. Maybe if we have worked out a solid idea we could step to a company like the OLPC to develop the hardware and software for such a device.
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Old 05-06-2009, 06:41 AM   #2
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As far as higher-ed is concerned:
I think in the more practical med/short-term (12 months) we can expect the "dual" use - is it Pixel-Q eink/backlight that I'm thinking of? - screen laptop (or netbook) 10"-15". Most universities are already using a CMS (such as moodle) for distributing class content and interactive activities - so web access is a must. A touchscreen is needed for taking notes in class and for marking up docs and texts.

Seems to me that this is quite realistic within 12 months from what I read. Price will be an issue, and availability of textbooks, and training!
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Old 05-06-2009, 08:11 AM   #3
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I must say that the list has a high demand but having been in the academe myself, most of it are highly needed. But it may take sometime for companies to develop such device. I'd like to see comments coming from IT or engineers if its possible to incorporate all requirements listed by Cavelion.
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Old 05-06-2009, 08:22 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cavelion View Post
A4 screen or slightly larger (this format has to be decided up front, and no later changing it, this allows for publishing companies to know what to expect layout wise)
I'd say: The total of both screens A4 - otherwise the device would be too clumsy.
Quote:
No buttons: except for power, reset , volume buttons, mute button and maybe a back to start screen (or library), and maybe a second row of up to five buttons placed along the screen to allow for adaptable (according to the current ebook needs) functions (wilcard buttons)
Touch-screen interface: with fingers and with stylus
Agreed.
Quote:
Sound output through headphones or speakers (working with two or more, at home with parents, …)
Speakers are not needed IMO - you could attach external speakers (e.g. docking-station with computer-connection, speaker and power supply)
Quote:
Microphone input
Battery life which can withstand a full school day (10+ hours) of intensive use with sound, note taking, …
Agreed - though school-tables could be equipped with power supplies and LAN (lower interference then WLAN, especially with lots of devices in one room).

Quote:
Enough disk-space to store lots of books, sound and notes (at this moment I would say around 64 GB to 128 GB)
I'd say this is too much - 1GB stores quite a lot of books or sound, so 16GB of storage is more then enough ... Equip it with one or two Micro-SDHC (or similar) connectors - more flexibility, lower price. High capacity is still expensive.

Quote:
16 shades of grey and in the near future at least 256 bit of color.
I'd say color is a must - we are not talking about a device that will be released in the next year...

Quote:
A compartment allowing the pupil to easily put in: stylus, spare stylus, head-phones and microphone
I agree with the stylus - the rest could be fitted into a bag. No need to make the device too big.

Quote:
Good OCR recognition including handwritten characters (maybe based on movements made during writing)
Difficult!

Quote:
Good communication between e-book devices and computer
Stuff like this is already solved in software for computer rooms (roughly the same software requirements apply).

Quote:
An e-book format: which can be reflowable, but at the same time allows for fixed positioning
HTML is fine, provided CSS(3) is fully supported.

Quote:
The interface should support easy access to the internet (withstanding support for moving images (but who knows what the future of e-ink brings))
The teacher should be able to deactivate internet (or inter-device) access (oh and you forgot to include inter-device access - sometimes pupils will have to copy stuff from one device to the other).
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Old 05-06-2009, 11:06 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rgeorg View Post
As far as higher-ed is concerned:
I think in the more practical med/short-term (12 months) we can expect the "dual" use - is it Pixel-Q eink/backlight that I'm thinking of? - screen laptop (or netbook) 10"-15". Most universities are already using a CMS (such as moodle) for distributing class content and interactive activities - so web access is a must. A touchscreen is needed for taking notes in class and for marking up docs and texts.

Seems to me that this is quite realistic within 12 months from what I read. Price will be an issue, and availability of textbooks, and training!
Dual screens face-to-face sounds like a good concept to me, one being eink and the other a full-color LCD touchscreen. Color is a must for graphs and the like, especially if we're importing content from existing physical texts.

10" screens are more than large enough--in fact, if we're not worried about a keyboard, 8" would work fine.

Also, as tirsales pointed out, much of what the OP proposes having on-board would be better handled by peripherals, and more than 30-ish GB storage is unnecessary.
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Old 05-21-2009, 01:34 PM   #6
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Hi. Just stumbled onto your post. There is a small, but growing group of educators who are determined to develop something like you are describing sooner rather than later. We are trying to get a significant player involved in this, but we are willing to do some pilots with something less than perfect so that we can develop the software side of this while perfecting the hardware side. We are anxious to see how the new Pixel Qi screens turn out later this summer. That will be very important to a dual-purpose reader and traditional computing device in one. It sounds like their screen will do it.

CHeck out a bit of what we are thinking at www.padmoja.com. THanks.
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Old 05-22-2009, 07:42 AM   #7
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Jonafrica,

Thanks for providing me this information. I didn't know about the existence of the PADMoja project. I will follow your website and I am interested in future developments.
Is there a way to join your group to discuss ideas, ... ?

And taosaur yes I actually think the idea of 1 LCD screen and one E-ink screen would be the best way to go. Unless e-ink device start to get as fast as LCD screen to display multimedia.

The PADMoja project going the Thin-client route seems a good idea.
And I suggest that the hardware is actually built as a dual screen tablet PC with the capabilities to work on it's own, but when used in a school environment switches to a thin-client, booted over the network to save on power. And the software should be designed mostly around using the e-ink screen but when limited to displaying video or software needing color the LCD screen is engaged aswell.

I'm looking forward to exchange views about such a device.

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Old 05-22-2009, 10:43 AM   #8
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I hope you don't mind me contributing a little here. I'm new to the EBook scene, but an old hand at software development and a wide range of hardware platforms.

I think you have to realise that what you're proposing, as an interactive tool, is a different class of device from an ebook. It is entirely feasable to develop such a thing, but the requirement for continuous network access, interactivity, user generation and alteration of documents means that you're talking about a tablet or laptop, not an ebook.

EBooks are characterised by relatively simple hardware that can effectively switch off in between the brief moments when the user requires it to do something. Most of the time, this is turning a page - the user might read for a minute or so, during which time the machine sleeps, then it needs wake for only a few fractions of a second to update the screen before sleeping again. This, and the simplicity of the rest of the device means that it is (relatively) cheap to manufacture even in small numbers, robust, reliable and runs for significant time on a small battery.

Wireless network access, writing changes to files and handling complex user input all require that the device's electronics are 'on' for more of the time. That affects battery life, but it also has knock on effects - heat, more complex software, less reliability and so on. If a user is to use such a device for 'serious' note taking, the processor also has to be faster so as not to feel sluggish - and again that affects battery life and component costs. If you want to see what's possible, look no further than a netbook. Changing to an e-ink display does not change the equation that much.

Your description is far closer to a netbook with a tablet screen than an ebook. As ebook electronics become comoditised the gap is (hopefully) going to widen further as ebooks become cheaper by remaining simple, fairly passive devices.

Take a look at this touchscreen tablet netbook - it would be able to do much of what you require with the right software. Whilst it's battery life is poor, other netbooks are getting closer to 8 hours - and to be honest it would be easier to ensure your academic institution had charging points throughout than to attempt to develop a netbook that lasts for a day on a single charge. After all, for most lessons and study, students will tend to be in a small number of places - not roaming across open fields.

Last edited by Tuna; 05-22-2009 at 10:46 AM.
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Old 05-23-2009, 11:24 AM   #9
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I know. Why make eBook a very complicated device like a laptop? Why include Wireless? The main things to a digital book is really reading, marking, taking notes. No need for wireless.

Even Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google are telling us to turn off our computer devices and interact with others. See: http://www.geek.com/articles/news/go...uter-20090519/ or see http://tech.yahoo.com/news/ap/200905...pa_google_penn
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Old 05-24-2009, 08:52 PM   #10
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I think what you are asking for is very excessive for an educational device. I would make specific criticisms, but I need some context first; is this for elementary school, middle school, high school or college? Would this device be provided by the school or brought by students? If brought, would it be mandatory? If provided, would students be allowed to take it home? Questions, questions...
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Old 05-29-2009, 04:42 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jaime_Astorga View Post
I think what you are asking for is very excessive for an educational device. I would make specific criticisms, but I need some context first; is this for elementary school, middle school, high school or college? Would this device be provided by the school or brought by students? If brought, would it be mandatory? If provided, would students be allowed to take it home? Questions, questions...
It is certainly not excessive. For me this would be the future.
Each student having his/her personal Laptop/E-book for working on in school, out of school, to check out books out of a library, ...

This would range up from elementary school all the way up to university.
How the thing would get to the users, bought themselves, state funded, ... doesn't really matter (hopefully the latter) But costs for such a device drop if produced in mass quantity. If you take the average school population of the world, I think you will have a giant market, even bigger than the one currently existing for normal PC's.

This device's goal is to replace normal books. But also provide a student with a personal laptop which can do more elaborate things than only displaying books. Thus a touch e-ink (for only displaying books (low energy) and a touch LCD screen to provide more elaborate color instruction and displaying video.
Also a run time of one day should be expected, you can always recharge at night (and probably have some spare batteries at the school, just in case a kid forgets to charge it). Also the weight would not be a terrible problem. Provide a handle to carry it around, and even at 5 kilo's it would be still managable it is the only thing that kids would lug around, instead of the 15 kilos filled with numerous books heavy schoolbag. Oh yeah kids eating sandwiches and bringing an apple, would need to carry something extra, but I don't think that would be much of a problem. Once the E-Booktop is placed on the schooldesk it wouldn't need to move, so the weigth is not so much of an issue. All it needs is easy battery replacement.

Usage
E.g. Kids at the age of 6 need to learn how to write. I think with a decent touch screen that task can be taking out of the hands of a teacher and assigned towards the E-Laptop. For instance: Draw an big Bold S on the screen, the kid needs to stay with in the lines of the S, after a few tries the S becomes smaller and less bold. If the kid can follow the line more or less properly, it can certainly learn to write. The software can decide on tested parameters when the kid is become proficient and can alert the teacher (if necessary) to instruct a new letter, or the E-Laptop can take it on to itself to decide when a new letter has to be assigned. Also since each person has his/her own style of writing the computer is teaching itself to recognize what the kids is writing. What better way to provide a writing recognision profile to a computer. This could even go further and if having a digital schoolboard, the PC powering the schoolboard could recieve the profile from the E-laptop and provide decent writing recognition so everyone can read properly what the kid has written on the schoolboard, even if the kid still has troubles with decent writing, the software knows what the kid is trying to note them and is the translator to the rest of the class. What a great way to have those with less motor function to properly take part in a normal class? And I'm not even speaking about disabled persons yet.

This is only one example.
But with the appropriate software, many tasks currently performed by a teacher can make it so, that he/she looses less time when teaching kids, and can spend his/her valuable time to tutor kids who need the attention. Already much can be left in the hands of software. With the advance of speech and writing recognition and also with the text to speech function, more and more "teaching" can be provided by means of a computer, with or without (extra) instruction by a teacher.

It is certainly not my interest to replace a teacher in a class, but to individualize the learning process per kid. A redistribute the precious time of our teachers to provide meaningful instructions to those who need it. If a kid can be more of an autodidact and only requires instruction at specific difficult moments the teacher will be available when needed, and not wasting amounts of time with for instance correcting an exercise in front of the whole class, while 85% of the kids already understand it and have everything correctly filled in. Let the software handle the correction, if mistakes are made, the computer can decide based on the number of mistakes to either provide more exercises, provide a recap of a seen lesson as re-instruction, or alert the teacher to tutor this kid one-on-one or with a small group of kids facing the similar problem. Don't stall the greater part of the group while only a minority needs more tutoring.

So what I am requiring is very complex indeed. It requires interaction of hardware, software and full communication between clients, server in small groups and over the internet, ...

It is a daunting task, but with the right mindset even now we have the means to start the design and construction of such an E-Laptop and the necessary surrounding software. And if I had a choice I would like it that all the software is open source and developed for linux along the lines of EduBuntu or something. That will ensure that no one can get a firm grip on the price of the software and the devices. But of course support contracts would be the way to go. Like immediate replacement of a faulty laptop. Providing servers, hosting and diskspace for the Tutoring software, monthly/yearly updates of content, ...

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Old 05-29-2009, 05:02 AM   #12
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This is a device ...

A quick search on the internet gave me the following link:
http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-9686982-1.html

This is a device of which the concept is what I am more or less looking for.
But replace one screen with e-ink, for less enery consumption and provide a way to operate on an e-book aswell as full blown PC level and we are set.
If you need a keyboard use it in landscape mode and lay way screen flat on your desk and use it as a keyboard (you would loose the tactile feel I guess, but an e-ink screen would be especially usefull. The screen doesn't need to change, unless you would want it to, in case of pressing, shift, alt, alt-gr, ...
So only the touch interface would require powering but not the screen as it can stay (mostly) still.

Edit: Also have a look at this site: http://www.estari.com/
Check out the Canova, replace one screen of it with e-ink, and your already half way where I want my design to go to.

Cavelion

Last edited by Cavelion; 05-29-2009 at 05:17 AM. Reason: Another link found
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Old 05-29-2009, 06:04 AM   #13
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Pure hardware requirements!

E-top:

Features:
Two screens:
Size: both screen 15.4 inch wide screen, capable of displaying one full A4 sheet, and some extra screen-estate to provide easy access to buttoned functions.
1 Screen: LCD or OLED (Full colour display)
1 Screen: E-ink (16 grey levels, and hopefully in the future a color version!)

The E-ink screen would provide us with a touchscreen keyboard, E-book reading, News paper reading, ... and also reading things in full daylight!
The LCD-screen is there to provide us with the traditional usage of a normal laptop.

Can run for a full business/school day on a charge (equal to 12 hours or more): even in the most demanding situation.
Swift replacable batteries

Bookform with a twist.
Can be used in the landscape variety like any laptop. (E-ink screen is virtual keyboard)
Can be placed flat on a table in open bookform. (Dual screen: E-book and tablet mode)
E-ink slides/folds over the LCD screen (protecting it!): Single screen E-book mode
LCD Screen slides/folds over the E-ink screen (protecting it!): Single screen tablet mode
Can stand up straight in a portrait variety. (Least required)

Wireless B/G/N support.
Solid State Disk (60GB or more)
Flashcard (SDHC variety at least) reader
(No CD/DVD/...) and if provide of the slotin variety!
Bluetooth, speakers, webcam and microphone, earphone support (bluetooth and normal with wire and plug)
Ports: HDMI 1.3 or later, 2 x USB2/3 port, E-Sata port, Gigabit Ethernet link, Firewire 800 port. (This can be debatted on, and are more of extra's than actual requirements!)

Rugged: to withstand the harshness of school life!
If possible: no moving parts!

Dual driven: Intel or alike x86 processor driven normal laptop mode, and ARM-processor or alike to drive E-Book, low power mode (if providing huge energy savings benefit!)
If battery can sustain LCD + E-ink for 12 hours or more, the latter is possibly not required and decent economy modus on the regular laptop would suffice.

Software features:
Open source: preferably Linux like (Ed)UBuntu.
Handwriting recognition, and if possible multilanguage speech recognition aswell.
Text-to-Speech
E-book reading
Note taking and exchanging!

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Old 05-29-2009, 06:58 AM   #14
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Incorporate an epaper device with the Livescribe HWR capture device found here:

http://www.gearlog.com/2008/05/hands...pulsethe_l.php

Add to that the still being developed direct video over wifi vs. over a network which Nokia announced/demo'd over a year back as I recall. All from a small hand held N8x0 device.

Combine those individual techs and you have a simple easy, fast ultra portable education oriented device that is lightweight, can easily run all day long and would be under $1k. No HDD needed, perhaps dual hot swappable batteries and either a CF or some type of SDHC card slots. Include a few GB of user memory and you have the sort of device I think a lot of students would love for class/lab notes, it can all be transfered to their main work computer where as a part of their study workflow the student can correct and elaborate on any notes or drawings. The epaper device need only do screen captures as back up for the pen device. Once notes have been downloaded, corrected and whatever, they can then be archived off or simply discarded.

Yeah, I am talking a laptop/desktop as well as the reader plus very cool pen vs. one do everything device. But perhaps it can be made to happen faster this way. And of course profs can always make the lecture materials available for download before the class until the video over wifi becomes a real thing. Seeing the Nokia N8x0 send video to a big screen LCD display was super cool. No reason the prof/lecturer could not do the opposite, send video to be captured as the lecture moves on...

Interesting thread...I just had been thinking of this very same topic but from a slightly different direction. Leveraging the low power display tech and the ability of the existing LiveScribe Pen to create a hybrid device which also, of course can double as an ereading device. Toss in a couple CF or SDHC (or whatever tech they decide) and for all a person needs in a lecture it is there in at well under 2lbs total. No laptop or tablet needed. It could likely be built tomorrow for under $2k and in a year for under $1k...remember no need for full on video nor high end CPU power and especially no point in a HDD (SSD or otherwise) at all, just a few GB of user memory and a few GB of system RAM built into the device. Storage can be internal as well as to the cards as needed. And of course the pen holds the actual text added to the images on the device. A touch screen is needed to record the keystrokes to save in the screen capture but that is easy and already there.

Is it a rough idea? you bet it is, LiveScribe Pen system problematic for some, absolutely...but you could pretty much make it all work with any tablet/slate PC tomorrow if you wanted. But toss it all in a blender with a large format epaper device, and I suspect it's a workable solution. And, yeah, I know it is basically replacing a yellow pad with a hardware device (ok a few) with many potential points of failure, but for some reason it seems like a winning idea.

Love this thread...and sorry is parts of the post are garbaled, I am poop'd and off to bed but this idea has been on my mind since I discovered the LiveScribe pen system. I just do not care for the whole special paper thing which should be easily duplicated on a epaper display. I just have the intuition it is less difficult that a Wacom tablet/slate.

So, if I left something obvious out, try and read beyond what I typed...it's in my head but these old bones nees some sleep...
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