Chumby, R.I.P.

Posted on Jul 20, 2013

Chumby One

What is/was a Chumby anyway?

Chumby was an open source hardware project by Andrew “bunnie” Huang (mostly known as the MIT student who made his own hardware to help crack the original Xbox security) that was meant to put all the great promise of the web right by your bedside or on your desk.

It was an ARM based linux box with a 3.5" resistive touch screen, decent speaker, WiFi, Accelerometer, microphone and flash support. This came from an era when flash was big on the web and making embedded flash widgets was an obvious choice.

Why did I get one?

I remember when they first came out they seemed like something far out of my reach as a lowly student in the UK. But as time passed they released an updated version with better specs and I was working, so could afford the £100 to get it when they finally became available here in England.

When I got it, it was one of the coolest things and I was certain that in a few years everyone would have a decive similar to the Chumby. Alarms were no longer just beeps or pre-set mp3’s on a phone, I could now wake up to shoutcast radio streaming my favourite stations from the web. Widgets would tell me what the weather was like before I’d even opened the curtains. Even the little flash games on it were fun.

Diving in deeper

TFL Widget

I made some of my own widgets, most popular was a TFL widget that scraped the TFL site for the status of the London Underground (this was before TFL had an open API).

Adobe Kuler widget

I also made an Adobe Kuler widget that showed the top colour combos of the week, scrolling through them and tapping to see more detail.

I did try experimenting with fancier widgets as my flash skills increased, at one point reverse engineering the client protocol and making a Chumby widget to play from my stations. That wasn’t really abiding by the Chumby ToS so I never made it public, but it still works, if anyone wants the source let me know.


Unfortunately they ran out of money. How Chumby Industries would earn revenue was always a bit of a mystery. They dabbled with an android app that displayed the Chumby widgets on your phone (Gizmodo featured the Chumby app once, including my name and London Underground widget). They also branched out in to third party hardware and embedding the software in TVs for a while.

Unfortunately it never really came about. Smartphones took over the world, giving all the same functionality as the Chumby did, and more.

Click here to see a nice campaign video to save the Chumby

The site went dead in January 2013, and with it the centralised widget-host went down too, which means that every Chumby was effectively bricked. This ties in to my usual, some people deem irrational, dislike of centrally hosted and third part hosted SAAS system. Some people have tweaked the firmware to run using local widgets, with my TFL widget included in the pack. They never asked me but I’m happy it’s there still living on.

Brave new world

With the centralised widget host dead I started to think about how I could still continue to use my Chumby.

I started working on a qt/webkit based widget system. One of their developers showed how to compile an older version of qt embedded with webkit to get a browser running on the Chumby and so far I’ve modified it to have touch controls and even make use of the hardware buttons.

In the future it’d be nice to have access from widgets written in javascript to some of the hardware values and be able to call some of the linux scripts it comes with. Unfortunately I don’t know much about webkit, qt, c++ or embedded linux so it’s all an uphill struggle! But, to me at least, it’s a struggle worth doing. If nothing else I should learn more about Qt/WebKit and C++ development than I do now.

If I ever get anything worth showing I’ll push my private git repo to github and let people take a look.