As we did the first Russian smartphone

    This story began on October 1, 2012, when institute friend Igor called me and asked for help with the burning project. They tried to make a data collection terminal for technological use in Russian Railways. Such a thing for track walkers and carriages so that they can fix all the problems online.

    If you are too lazy to read - see what happened in the end

    Why did I decide to write about it now?
    First, five years have passed and confidentiality terms have long expired. Plus, I asked permission to publish the details of this story with the main participants in those events.
    But most importantly, not so long ago, I again gathered my old team, and we started developing similar projects. About which I will tell you in five years.

    Of course, it would be possible to use a regular smartphone or any data collection terminal for these purposes, but there was one “but” - all recorded problems should be digitally signed with an employee’s smart card. Because if somewhere because of a breakdown a train comes off the rails, then it is not only huge losses, but also criminal cases, landings and all that. So it would be better to have iron proofs so that each lineman would understand the degree of his responsibility.

    Obviously, there are no smartphones capable of counting a railwayman’s smart card, so this had to be completely custom development.

    The initiator of this project was originally a software developer, they already had some solution for desktops and they really wanted to make a mobile workplace in order to sell this project to railway workers. They asked the development of iron to make one large IT integrator, where my fellow student Igor actually worked. Naturally, the integrator could not develop and produce any piece of hardware in principle, and his role was limited to financing, payment, delivery, and proper execution of all tender bills.

    Therefore, as soon as the integrator received an order, they immediately ran for help to their good friends who were supplying smartphones from China. I will not describe what kind of company it was and why they couldn’t do anything sensible in principle, I’ll just show what they did in four months of work:

    And despite the fact that the developers of this miracle ardently convinced the customers that It should look like a terminal for the harsh walkers of cars on some polar station, it was absolutely impossible to show such a high railway authorities. The problem is that the show was supposed to take place anyway on October 17, 2012, at the Infotrans exhibition, otherwise the project was lost.

    I heard all this life-affirming story from Igor on the first of October, 16 days before the exhibition. During this time, nothing good can be done, which I immediately told him. But we will try very hard.

    So, what we had at the entrance:

    1. Software that developers have learned to run on a single smartphone - Google Nexus. The only thing, because the source of this Android could be taken in the public domain, and its TI OMAP 4 chipset was well documented on the Internet.
    2. Athena's card reader (now part of NXP), the only one on which the railroad card worked stably when connecting it to a smartphone. Smart card with contacts, such as credit cards. And it is absolutely impossible to replace it with RFID.
    3. Our great desire to make a miracle and very little funding from the customer.

    In any case, we had nothing to lose and we ran ahead.

    Part One: Exhibition

    For two weeks it is impossible to develop anything at all. Therefore we go a short way: we take Nexus, we take kadrider, we remove from them plastic, we thrust into the original case. Our task - wow effect at the exhibition, the main thing that was beautiful and the software started. And then we will deal with electronics, if you suddenly give a ride and our project is “bought”.

    Our planning was simple: two days for the design of the hull, another three days for the design, then a week for the production of samples, and there were still a few days left.

    Sixteen days to the exhibition.Making a design in two days is simple - we draw a series of sketches, we send it to the customer, we receive comments and completely ignore them - simply because there is no time left. The design goes in parallel - after all, while the design is being drawn, you can build a 3D model of a smartphone and a card reader so that everything can fit and somehow gain a foothold in our case.

    The hump on the back is a battery case with an increased capacity.

    Fourteen days to the exhibition.The first problem: the phone must be switched to OTG mode, in order for it to work with the card reader. But in this mode it is impossible to charge it, and you need to somehow learn how to control the switching of the phone jack from the USB host to the USB device so that the charging goes. And the second question: through which connector to connect the phone to the docking station? With charging, we decide simply - you can make a simple circuit on the wires by connecting USB via a normal relay. When we insert the phone into the docking station, 5 volts are supplied to the relay and it switches the USB contacts from the quad reader to the external connector. And the search for the connector itself is postponed until later in China we buy on the market.

    Twelve days before the show.We send our beautiful 3D model to China at the prototype factory. We have been working with this factory for many years, so we could start work without waiting for payment and make it really fast. Immediately we get the first unpleasant surprise: the minimum period for which they are ready to make five prototypes is 10 days. And that is not a fact, because the usual period for samples of similar complexity is two weeks. There is nothing to do, we will somehow try to accelerate.

    Seven days before the show.In order not to let things take their course, we jump into the plane and fly to China. First of all, we go to the market of radio components and select there relays and connectors for our sly scheme. It only seems that you can buy anything on the market. When you come there with a specific task - it turns out that the choice is very small. At the very least, they found a couple of variants of connectors and a suitable Omron relay.

    Four days before the show. Fortunately, our contractors have tried and today prototypes should be ready. We are going to the plant prototypes personally to take work and agree on the installation of connectors. We ourselves can hardly install them.

    The prototype factory is very few machine tools, and a lot of hard manual work.

    Normal prototypes are made by milling from a single plastic bar, and then painted - only this way you can achieve the closest possible appearance and durability.

    Soft rubber parts are poured into silicone molds. Unfortunately, our gum turned out too soft - we hope that they will not tear during the exhibition.

    We mount our connectors - fortunately, they fit perfectly.

    The last stage is to gum to the shells, we finish this work already in the middle of the night. The factory management and several workers are sitting with us to the last — we are very fortunate to have such loyal suppliers.

    Three days before the exhibition Prototypes are ready - now you need to mount our schemes in them. This is not such a simple task - we kill it all day.

    There is no time left, so you have to take on the soldering iron yourself.

    As a result, for some reason, charging does not always go, but this is not so bad - in the extreme case, we will charge the batteries in advance and we hope that they will be enough for the exhibition day. Worse, as the connection to the computer via USB sometimes falls off - it is obvious that our circuit with relays and snot does not work optimally on data transfer.

    Two days before cheers! They brought five beautiful prototypes to Moscow. It remains to fill them all with Google smartphones and card readers - and can be sent to the exhibition in St. Petersburg.

    Handsome - like a real one.

    I myself did not go to the exhibition - it was necessary to urgently save other projects, but I received online reports from Igor.

    For the visit of these people, and all started. I now do not remember who is who.

    Everything worked perfectly on the stand. It seems that no one thought that these were prototypes made on the knee! And as a result, the next day we received an order “to not change anything, urgently launch into a series!” And this means that we are great, and our adventures are just beginning.

    Continued ...

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