Business cards used to be these little slips of paper containing contact information that important business people would use to get in touch with each other in order to conduct important business deals. Then the push towards professional networking caused every business person — important or not — to hand out a card to every other business person. They were all promptly thrown away. To stand out today, you need a special business card — ideally one that isn’t paper at all. That’s what George Hilliard has done with his Linux business card, but does that take things too far?
Hilliard is, naturally, an embedded systems engineer, so this project was right up his alley. After noticing how incredibly inexpensive some SoCs have become, Hilliard wondered if it would be possible to build a simple Linux computer into a business card form factor and keep the BoM affordable enough to give it away. As it turns out, he could! Each unit costs less than $3 to produce. That’s certainly more expensive than the cheap paper business cards that you can buy in bulk, but these are also far less likely to get tossed into a trash can. That’s a worthwhile investment for the right business contact.
Each card contains the bare minimum number of components needed to run a functional Linux kernel. The most important of those is an Allwinner F1C100s ARM9EJ-S core SoC. Other than the flash storage, that contains just about every part of a working computer in a single chip. A separate 8MB flash chip and some miscellaneous discrete components finish things up. One corner of the card is a USB connector, and can be plugged into any computer. When it is, the business card will show up as a flash drive and virtual serial port becomes available that the user can use to log into the shell.
Even with the tiny 8MB available, Hilliard has managed to include the Linux kernel itself, a README file, his resume, some photos, a MicroPython interpreter, and even a few Unix games that can run in the shell. That FIC100s has a CPU that runs at 533MHz and has 32MB of embedded DDR SDRAM, so the performance is better than you’d expect at this size and price point. So, does this business card take things too far? Probably, but it’s an impressive demonstration of Hilliard's engineering skills, and could be what makes him stand out among the competition.