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This DIY Linux-Powered Business Card With USB Port Costs Just $3

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We have seen various types of business cards with fun features such as emulating USB flash drives or wireless transceivers. But an engineer managed to create a Linux-powered business card and I think all open-source enthusiasts would agree that it’s pretty cool.

George Hilliard, an embedded systems engineer by profession, decided to make a barebones Linux board in a business card form factor. It is a complete, minimal ARM computer that runs customized Linux firmware built with Buildroot.

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Now Even Your Business Card Can Run Linux

  • Now Even Your Business Card Can Run Linux

    It takes a lot of work to get a functional PCB business card that’s thin, cheap, and robust enough to be practical. If you can even blink a few LEDs on the thing and still hand them out with a straight face, you’ve done pretty well for yourself. So you can imagine our surprise when [George Hilliard] wrote in to tell us about his $3 business card computer that boots into a functioning Linux environment. If this were a bit closer to April, we might have figured it was just a joke…

Original and Slashdot coverage

  • My Business Card Runs Linux

    I'm an embedded systems engineer. I spend a lot of my free time looking for things I could use in future designs, or things that tickle one of my fancies.

    One of those things is cheap Linux-capable computers, the cheaper the better. So I started diving into the very deep rabbit hole of obscure processors.

    I thought to myself, “These processors are nearly cheap enough to give away.” After a while I hit upon the idea of making a barebones Linux board in a business card form factor.

    As soon as I had the idea I thought it would be pretty cool to do. I have seen electronic business cards before, with various fun features including emulating USB flash drives, blinkenlights, or even wireless transceivers. I have never seen one running Linux, however.

  • 'My Business Card Runs Linux'

    In a detailed write-up, Hilliard goes on to explain how he came up with the design and assembled all the components. Naturally, there were some problems that arose during the construction that he had to troubleshoot: "first, the USB port wasn't long enough to reliably make contact in many USB ports. Less critically, the flash footprint was wrong, which I worked around by bending the leads under the part by hand..."

    Impressively, the total cost of the card (not including his time) was $2.88 -- "cheap enough that I don't feel bad giving it away, as designed!"

  • Designing My Linux-Powered Business Card

    I started by looking for processors that were the magic combination: inexpensive, USB, no BGA footprints, and purchasable somewhere, even if I had to get it from Taobao. (You usually can't buy these processors from Mouser or the manufacturer.) Ideally, there would also be a known-good piece of hardware I could get as a development board.

    I also really wanted a part that had RAM included in the package. This is fairly rare for microprocessors, in contrast to micro_controllers_ which typically don't have enough juice to run Linux. This constraint really narrowed down my choices, but I stuck with it because it would make design and assembly a lot easier.

    Many of the processors in this price class are made by Chinese companies and there's not a lot of info about them available in English, so finding them takes some digging. (If you know of other Chinese-only processors in this category, please let me know about them as I would be excited to learn about them.)

    My first attempt was using an STM32F4, which can be persuaded to run Linux if it's hooked up to external SDRAM, like in this Emcraft Systems system-on-module.

This Business Card Runs Linux And You Could Build One Too

  • This Business Card Runs Linux And You Could Build One Too

    Business cards are a staple in the business world and can help make a good impression. What kind of impression would you make if your business card not only shared your contact information, but also ran Linux? One embedded systems engineer did just that. George Hilliard created his own business card that can run Linux and shared the process on his website.

    According to Hilliard, his idea for the business card came to him when he thought, “These processors are nearly cheap enough to give away.” He noted that he had seen electronic business cards before, but their functions tended to be rather limited. He believes that his own Linux business card could be a great idea for larger business, since they could likely get the needed materials at an even lower price.

This business card is a Linux computer (made from $3 in parts)

  • This business card is a Linux computer (made from $3 in parts)

    Business cards continue to be a thing in the 21st century because despite the fact that many folks are carrying around smartphones capable of storing contact details for millions of people, it’s still quicker and easier to hand someone a card than to sit around while they type your details into a phone.

    A lot of cards probably get tossed out… but some folks have found ways to use to tech to make truly innovative, memorable, and maybe even useful business cards.

    There was the developer who made a business card that’s also a musical instrument, or the one who made a card that acts as a Magic 8-Ball game. But George Hilliard’s business cards may be the first that are actually wallet-sized computers that run Linux.

This Business Card Runs Linux And Costs Less Than $3

  • This Business Card Runs Linux And Costs Less Than $3

    Although George has seen electronic business cards before that includes features such as emulating USB flash drives, blinkenlights, or even wireless transceivers, he has never seen one running Linux. He also noted that electronic business cards have limited functions.

    George’s business card is a “complete, minimal ARM computer running my customized Linux firmware built with Buildroot.”

    So, how to get the card running? The bottom left corner of the business card has a USB port that can be plugged into a computer. Once the card has been inserted, it boots in about 6 seconds and shows up over USB as a flash drive and a virtual serial port that can be used to log into the card’s shell.

This business card is actually a Linux computer

  • This business card is actually a Linux computer

    Computing and manufacturing have changed so much that things that were almost impossible to do unless you were a giant corporation are now something hobbyists accomplish in their spare time. That apparently includes making computers the size of business cards. No, this is far from being a Raspberry Pi clone that is the size of a hundred business cards stacked on top of each other. This computer that runs Linux is really a business card, the type that you give out for free to impress people and impressed they probably will be.

"There are many business card-sized SBCs, like RPi 4."

This Innovative Business Card Also Runs Linux…

  • This Innovative Business Card Also Runs Linux…

    The business card belonging to systems engineer George Hilliard is a bit unusual. Yes, it has his name, his email address, and other contact information, but it also has a USB port on the side.

    Why? Because his business card doubles up as a Linux-powered computer!

    Or is it a Linux-powered computer that doubles up as a business card? Either way, it’s both a pretty nerdy and a pretty neat make at the same time.

This Incredible $3 Business Card Runs Linux

  • This Incredible $3 Business Card Runs Linux

    There are many ways to leave a lasting impression through a cleverly designed business card, but nothing screams “now this is unique” quite like a business card that doubles as a stripped-down ARM computer running Linux. That’s precisely what Embedded Systems Engineer George Hilliard has built, and with a total cost that’s surprisingly affordable.

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