BeagleBoard.org launched with support of Digi-Key in 2008 and DIYers quickly adopted BeagleBoard for migrating XBMC to ARM, building GPS accurate down to the centimeter, eight-legged robots and creating controller hacks. In 2010, Google Summer of Code students contributed numerous projects to help other open source developers, including sniffing USB traffic and XBMC performance optimizations. GSoC students are back at it again in 2013, providing solutions for booting BeagleBone from a Nexus phone, running Arduino sketches and even building new peripherals out of an on-chip microcontroller.
With the introduction of BeagleBoard-xM in 2010, projects accelerated with homemade tablet computers, open graphing calculators, cluster computing in a briefcase, repurposed laptop LCDs, remote presence and versatile RC robots, space cameras, USB killswitches and wearable LED matrices. BeagleBoard-based wearables back in 2010 even provided a strikingly similarity to today’s Google Glass.
BeagleBone launched in 2011 to the cheers of robot makers everywhere, even robot makers looking to replace guide dogs and soothe the everyday angry bird, but inventiveness wasn’t limited to awesome, futuristic robots. The tiny, low-power processing solution enabled tidy home power usage monitors, off-the-grid wireless outposts, QR code controlled door locks, networked LED marquees, portable 3D cameras and even cameras that would print scene descriptions in words. BeagleBone’s portable performance was utilized for countless goals, including cracking passwords, manufacturing money and helping to save the world from pollution.
BeagleBone seemed to find a surprising home in retro computing, mimicking PDP11 blinkenlights and saving dot-matrix printers from the dust bin. This seemed to be an inspiration for inventive minds seeking to teach others about the more subtle capabilities the board is packing. The two, small 200MHz 32-bit microcontrollers on-board were used to mimic external peripherals to a discrete 6502 processor, enabling more people to understand the capabilities of these independent units previously demonstrated performing independent generation of VGA signals using a simple resistor ladder.
The tutorials continued with everything from twiddling an LED and running Ubuntu with a full GUI, to extracting video signals and wiring up your own LIDD displays, even building your own dedicated Pandora radio. This is all before BeagleBone Black launched, boosting performance to 1GHz, adding on-board eMMC and HDMI and dropping the price down to $45.
BeagleBone Black is just getting its legs underneath it in its initial production run of 125,000 units with around half of those shipped so far. Early adopters were able to share some of their creations at Maker Faire, including LED strips being used to display live video. Beyond the obvious and popular lighting solutions, BeagleBone Black has found an early home in manufacturing solutions, especially with makers like Elias Bakken, who created the contest-winning Replicape 3D printer-enabling add-on board and a tiny HDMI display for use with BeagleBone Black, and Charles Steinkuehler, who has created the MachineKit software image containing LinuxCNC and Xenomi real-time Linux kernel. Both Elias and Charles have been steady contributors to the project and have helped enable several of the improvements making BeagleBone Black a complete and easy to use solution for all sorts of makers.
As of the recent June 20th software release for BeagleBone Black, significant improvements have been made since launch. Monitor support is greatly improved with better automated resolution setting and a documented process for setting specific resolutions over the command-line or at boot-up, including resolutions up to 1920x1080 at 24fps. The node.js-based BoneScript library has several bug fixes and a growing body of interactive wiring examples that work within Chrome and Firefox browsers. Support for the on-board 32-bit microcontrollers called PRUs has been improved with an updated assembler and documentation supporting previously undocumented instructions, including multipliers, and hints have been made at a C compiler being developed, including Pantelis’ example of using the PRU C compiler to add 32 additional channels of pulse-width modulation (PWM). The value of aggressively chasing the mainline kernel is also being shown with simple command-line statements for enabling UARTs, SPI, I2C, CAN and more peripherals, including improved cape add-on board support.
With an amazing community, stand-out performance and capability, a true open hardware approach that is profitable but not greedy, continuous demonstrated improvements and a focus on educating aspiring engineers and hobbyists alike, BeagleBoard.org has proven to be a force with which to reckon and an inspiration for makers everywhere. Happy Birthday Boris!