Talking BeagleBoard with [Jason Kridner]

[Jason Kridner] is a member of the i3 Detroit hackerspace and during the Hackaday meet-up we were able to spend a few minutes talking about what’s going on with BeagleBoard right now. For those of you that don’t know, BeagleBoard is a non-profit foundation which guides the open hardware initiative of the same name. This includes BeagleBone which is the third iteration of the platform. [Jason’s] a good guy to talk to about this as he co-founded the organization and has been the driving force in the community ever since.

Right now the organization is participating in the Google Summer of Code. This initiative allows students to propose open source coding projects which will help move the community forward. Students with accepted proposals were paired with mentors and are paid for the quality code which is produced. One of the projects this year is a 100 Megahertz, 14-channel Logic Analyzer which [Jason] is waving around in the video. It’s the GSoC project of [Kumar Abhishek] and you can learn more from his proposal.

Also of interest in the video is a discussion about the power of the BeagleBone’s PRUs, or Programmable Real-Time Units. They’re basically unused microcontrollers that have direct access to a lot of the processor’s features and are just waiting for you to bend them to your will. Having these is a huge boon for hardware hackers. If you haven’t played with them before, check out our earlier article on what PRUs are all about and then give it a whirl yourself.

After the break there’s a brief table of contents which maps the topics in the video above.

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Yo Fish, We Pimped Your Tank


[Studio Diip] a machine vision company based in The Netherlands has created fish on wheels, a robotic car controlled by a goldfish. The idea of giving fish mobility on land is nothing new, but this definitely is a novel implementation. A Logitech 9X0 series camera captures overhead images of the fish tank. The images are then fed into a BeagleBoard XM, where they are processed. The image is thresholded, then a centroid of the fish-blob is determined. With the current and previous blob locations known, the BeagleBoard can determine the fish’s swim direction. It then and commands the chassis to drive accordingly.

The system appears to work pretty well on the video, however we’re not sure how much of the input is due to the fish swimming, and how much is due to the water sloshing and pushing the fish around. We definitely like the chrome rims and knobby tires on the fishes’ pimped out ride.  This could become a trend. Just make sure no animals or humans are hurt, and send your animal powered hacks to our tip line!

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Tre: When Arduino Meets Beagle Bone

Although yesterday saw the announcement of an x86-based Arduino powered by an Intel chip. This may have not been the big story to come from [Massimo] at Maker Faire Rome. Announced along with the x86 Arduino Galileo was the Arduino TRE, a collaboration between Arduino and the BeagleBoard foundation.

The TRE is really two Arduinos in one: in the center is basically an Arduino Leonardo with the standard Arduino headers and an ATmega32u4. Elsewhere on the board is a TI Sitara ARM Cortex A-8 processor running at 1GHz with 512 MB of RAM, 10/100 Ethernet, HDMI out, USB host and device ports, and a bunch of connectors intended for an LCD and a ZigBee.

There is, of course, the obvious comparison between the TRE and Raspberry Pi. Hardware-wise, the TRE is very close to the BeagleBone Black, a bit more powerful than the Raspberry Pi, and able to do some very cool stuff (i.e. OpenCV) the Pi just can’t handle.

There is – I think – no official price for the Arduino TRE quite yet. It will be available in spring, 2014, though. You can check out all the press release photos in the gallery below.

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USB sniffing with the BeagleBoard-xM


[Matlo] wrote in to share his USB sniffing project using the BeagleBoard-xM. It builds on the Google Summer of Code project from 2010 that used the non-xM version of the hardware to build a pass through USB sniffer. [Matlo] couldn’t get it to work back then, but recently revisited the project. He’s cleaned up some scripts and generally made it a bit easier for others to pull off as well.

The ARM-based BeagleBoard seen above acts as man-in-the-middle. You connect your target USB device to the board and the board to a computer. The board emulates the target device, passing packets in either direction while also logging them. The captured data is in the correct format for display using WireShark, the de facto standard for making sense of captured communication packets.

This is great for figuring out how to use USB devices on non-standard systems, or vice versa.

Ubuntu with a GUI on a Beagleboard


The Raspberry Pi is great if you’re looking for a cheap yet powerful computer running Linux, but let’s not forget all the other ARM dev boards out there. [Adam] spent some time this weekend putting together an Ubuntu distro for his Beagleboard XM to give it the convenience of a GUI and a whole bunch of drivers to get a lot of stuff done.

The Beagleboard XM is another high power ARM dev board that is a little more capable than the Raspberry Pi. With an integrated USB hub, LVDS LCD displays, and a camera board, the Beagleboard already has a lot of peripherals that are now only promised for the Raspberry Pi. The only problem with the Beagleboard XM is the state of drivers and software; a problem [Adam] resolved by bringing Ubuntu to the Beagleboard.

[Adam]’s distro comes with all the goodies a relatively high-powered ARM dev board should have: Python, scipy, numpy, and a few cool extras such as GIMP and Chromium. He says it’s a bit faster than the stock Raspbian distro on the Raspberry Pi, so if you’re looking for the best ARM/Linux dev board for your next project, you may want to give [Adam]’s distro a try.

Can a robot be a safe and cost-effective alternative to guide dogs?

[Tom Ladyman] is making the case that a robot can take the place of a guide dog. According to his presentation, guide dogs cost about £45,000 (around $70k) to train and their working life is only about six years. On the other hand, he believes that this robot can be put into service for about £1,000 (around $1500). The target group for the robots is blind and visually impaired people. This makes since, because the robot lacks a dog’s ability to assist in other ways (locating and returning items to their companion, etc.). The main need here is independent travel.

He starts with the base of an electric wheelchair — a time-tested and economy-of-scale platform. The robot navigates based on images from four downward facing cameras mounted on the pole seen above. The X on the top of the pole allows for a much wider range of sight. The robot identifies its companion via a tag on their shoe, but it’s got another trick up its sleeve. The cameras feed to a set of four BeagleBoards which work together to process them into a 3D map at about 12 FPS, allowing for obstacle avoidance.

Check out the video after the break for a bit more information. The 3D guidance system is also explained in detail at the link above.

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