SmartphoneBrainScanner2 on BB Playbook

Recently I got BB Playbook from RIM (thanks Ash) to play around and see how research-friendly it is. Here in the lab we pay close attention to the developments around BB10: we like open, hackable and mainstreamed platforms. As folks at RIM were out of BB10 Dev units, they sent me Playbook, just to touch the base and check where the platform is and where is it going.

One of our large projects, the one where I do most of the coding, is SmartphoneBrainScanner2. It’s a framework for building real-time, multi-platform apps for EEG (check out other posts on this blog). So the very first thing I did with Playbook (after updating it…) was to try to compile and run an example SBS2 app on it.

The framework we use is entirely written in Qt4, the example app visualizing brain cortical activity uses OpenGL ES2.0 for rendering. The framework is growing fast, but as we try to keep the number of platform-specific hacks to minimum (and you do always have hacks in the mobile applications world…) the app compiled cleanly and nicely with BB10 native toolchain. There was some learning curve about the package structure (where to put the large files we use to keep math models or how to do icons), but otherwise it just worked ™: Brain on Playbook. Not much to write, code that was originally begun for Nokia N900 still compiles for Android and QNX (and hopefully it will remain like that for BB10).

BB Playbook and Nexus 7 running SmartphoneBrainScanner2

Although the software compiled pretty much out of the box, Playbook does not support USB hostmode which we use for connecting USB dongle for EEG neuroheadset. Streaming the data from the network however, the system worked perfectly fine. So if we ever see BB10 devices supporting USB hostmode (and HIDRAW), SmartphoneBrainScanner2 will automagically become available on the new platform. The power of Qt in its fullest.

My general impressions from playing with the NDK and putting stuff on the device were quite positive. Plus for using standards to do stuff (such as transfers over SSH), but the whole procedure could be more streamlined (keeping SSH session active in one terminal, transferring stuff in the other, such things).

For research we are interested mainly in two things: hackability and support for sensors. I’m hoping for BB10 to have a robust architecture and to behave as RTOS should. If we could do proper low-delay audio processing on it with integration with EEG, this would be fantastic.  And if we could deploy applications collecting (various) sensor data in a stable manner over weeks or months, we would probably buy a few hundred units right away (only recently we have purchased 200 Samsung Galaxy Nexus for an experiment).

For teaching mobile development, we need platforms that are fairly stable, offer streamlined development, support multi-platform SDK and give access to various stuff on the device (including raw sensor data, background processes etc.). Currently we teach Android for all these reasons, but to be perfectly honest, I’m growing so tired of the sometimes ridiculous bugs/features in Android Java (my favorite so far) and Google attitude of don’t-fix-just-run-forward (it may be possible that audio latency has been fixed for some devices in Android 4.1. Yup, after all these years, we may see decent audio arch in Android). Qt on Android is not yet ready to be taught in the classroom, but boy, I would love to go back to teaching QML on embedded devices. We tried it once with N9s and it was so much fun for everyone.

So RIM, please do it right. And think about your presence in research and teaching. You want to get to them while they are (professionally) young…

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