Tiny Headless Servers Everywhere

Quick, what do “cloud compute engines” and goofy Raspberry Pi Internet of Things hacks have in common? Aside from all being parody-worthy buzzword-fests, they all involve administering remote headless (Linux) installations. It’s for exactly that reason that a new Ubuntu distribution flavor, Ubuntu (Snappy) Core, targets both the multi-bazillion-dollar Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud and the $55 BeagleBone Black.

If that combination seems unlikely to you, you’re not alone. But read on as we hope to make a little more sense of it all.
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BeagleBone Green Hands-On: Lower Price, Same Horsepower

Although the BeagleBone Green was announced at the Bay Area Maker Faire last May, there hasn’t been much said about it on the usual forums and IRC channels. Now, it’s finally out and I got my hands on one of them. Through a cooperation between the BeagleBoard foundation and Seeed Studios, the best small Linux board for doing real work with small Linux boards is now cheaper, a little more modern, and green.

The BeagleBone Green is an update to the venerable BeagleBone Black, the dev board based on a TI ARM Cortex-A8. It’s an extremely capable machine with a few interesting features that make it the perfect device for embedded applications. With the BeagleBone Green, the BB Black gets a small hardware refresh and a drastic reduction in price. If you want to do real work on a Linux board, this is the one to get. Check out the review below for everything that’s been updated, everything that’s the same, and why this is one of the most interesting developments in small Linux boards in recent memory.

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BeagleBones And Teensies Become KVMs

[pmf], like most of us, I’m sure, spends most of his days on a computer. He also has a smartphone he keeps at his side, but over the years he’s grown accustomed to typing on a real keyboard. He came up with the idea of making a USB switch that would allow his keyboard to control either his computer or his phone, and hit upon a really neat way of doing it. He’s using a BeagleBone Black and a Teensy to switch his keyboard between his computer and his phone with just a press of a button.

This homebrew smart KVM uses a BeagleBone Black for most of the heavy lifting. A keyboard and mouse is connected to the USB host port of the BeagleBone, and the main computer is connected to the device port. The BeagleBone is set up to pass through the USB keyboard and mouse to the computer with the help of what Linux calls a ‘gadget’ driver. This required an update to the Linux 4.0 kernel.

With the BeagleBone capable of being a USB pass through device, the next challenge was sending keypresses to another USB device. For this, a Teensy 2.0 was connected to the UART of the BeagleBone. According to [pmf], this is one of the few examples of the Teensy serving as a composite USB device – sending both keyboard and mouse info.

There are a few neat features for [pmf]’s build: the keyboard and mouse don’t disconnect when switching, and thanks to a slight modification of the USB OTG adapter, this will also charge a phone as well as allow for the use of a keyboard. Because the BeagleBone Black has more than one UART this build can also switch keyboards and mice between more than two computers. For those of us who invest heavily in keyboards, it’s a godsend.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A BeagleBone Logic Analyzer

If you have a BeagleBone, you already have a lot of tools. We’ve seen them used in driving hundreds of LEDs at a very high frame rate, used as a video card for ancient computers, and as a software defined radio. For his entry to The Hackaday Prize, [Kumar] turned his BeagleBone into a 14-channel, 100Msps logic analyzer that’s good enough to debug just about all those hobby electronics projects you’re working on.

The BeagleBone is only able to have this sort of performance as a logic analyzer because of its PRUs, those fancy peripherals that make the Beagle great at blinking pins really, really fast. [Kumar] is using both PRUs in the BeagleBone for this project. PRU1 reads from the input probes, and PRU0 writes all the samples into DDR memory directly. From there, the samples are off to kernel modules and apps, either sigrok, dd, or something you coded up in Python.

Compared to the cheap logic analyzers we have today like the Salae Logic and the DSLogic, [Kumar]’s project is just as good as any commercial offering (provided you can live with 14 channels instead of 16), and because it’s based on a BeagleBone, the software is infinitely expandable.

UPDATE: After this post was written but before it was published, [Kumar] finished up a blog post on how he’s building a logic analyzer with the BeagleBone’s PRUs. It’s a true tutorial, with enough code demos to allow anyone to build their own 8-bit analyzer on a BeagleBone, and there are more updates coming.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

BeagleBones At MRRF

[Jason Kridner] – the BeagleBone guy – headed out to the Midwest RepRap Festival this weekend. There are a lot of single board computers out there, but the BeagleBoard and Bone are perfectly suited for controlling printers, and motion control systems thanks to the real-time PRUs on board. It’s not the board for you if you want to play retro video games or build a media center; it’s the board for building stuff.

Of interest at the BeagleBooth were a few capes specifically designed for CNC and 3D printing work. There was the CRAMPS, a clone of the very popular RAMPS 3D printer electronics board made for the Beagle. If you’re trying to control an old mill that is only controllable through a parallel port, here’s the board for you. There are 3D printer boards with absurd layouts that work well as both printer controller boards and the reason why you should never come up with the name of something before you build it.

[Jason]’s trip out to MRRF wasn’t only about extolling the virtues of PRUs; Machinekit, a great motion control software, was also there, running on a few Beagles. The printer at the BeagleBooth was running Machinekit and apart from a few lines of GCode that sent the head crashing into the part, everything was working great.

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BeagleSNES for Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, NES, and – yes – SNES

By far the most common use for the Raspberry Pi is shoving a few dozen emulators on an SD card and calling it a day. Everybody’s got to start somewhere, right? There are other tiny, credit card-sized Linux boards out there, and [Andrew] is bringing the same functionality of the Raspi to the BeagleBone Black and BeagleBoard with BeagleSNES, an emulator for all the sane pre-N64 consoles.

BeagleSNES started as a class project in embedded system design, but the performance of simply porting SNES9X wasn’t very good by default. [Andrew] ended up hacking the bootloader and kernel, profiling the emulator, and slowly over the course of three years of development making this the best emulator possible.

After a few months of development, [Andrew] recently released a new version of BeagleSNES that includes OpenGL ES, native gamepad support through the BeagleBone’s PRU, and support for all the older Nintendo consoles and portables. Video demos below.

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Hacklet 35 – BeagleBone Projects

The Raspberry Pi 2 is just barely a month old, and now that vintage console emulation on this new hardware has been nailed down, it’s just about time for everyone to do real work. You know, recompiling stuff to take advantage of the new CPU, figuring out how to get Android working on the Pi, and all that good stuff that makes the Pi useful.

It will come as no surprise to our regular readers that there’s another board out there that’s just as good in most cases, and in some ways better than the Pi 2. It’s the BeagleBone Black, and for this edition of the Hacklet, we’re focusing on all the cool BeagleBone projects on Hackaday.io.

lcdSo you have a credit card sized Linux computer and a small, old LCD panel. If it doesn’t have HDMI, VGA or composite input, there’s probably no way of getting this display working, right? Nope. Not when you can make an LCD cape for $10.

[Dennis] had an old digital picture frame from a while back, and decided his BeagleBone needed a display. A few bits of wire and some FPC connectors, and [Dennis] has a custom display for his ‘Bone. It’s better than waiting for that DSI display…

bed[THX1082] is making a bed for his son. This isn’t your usual race car bed, or even a very cool locomotive bed. No, this is a spaceship bed. Is your bed a space ship? No, I didn’t think so.

Most of the work with plywood, MDF, paint, and glue is done, which means the best feature of this bed – a BeagleBone Black with an LCD, buttons, a TV, and some 3D printed parts – is what [THX] is working on right now. He’s even forking a multiplayer networked starship simulator to run in the bed. Is your bed a starship simulator?


Beer. [Deric] has been working on a multi-step fermentation controller using the BeagleBone Black. For good beer you need to control temperatures and time, lest you end up with some terrible swill that I’d probably still drink.

This project controls every aspect of fermentation, from encouraging yeast growth, metabolization of sugars, and flocculation. The plan is to use two circuits – one for heating and one for cooling – and a pair of temperature sensors to ensure the beer is fermenting correctly.

If you’re looking for more BeagleBone Projects, there’s an entire list of them over on Hackaday.io with GLaDOs Glasses, Flight Computers, and Computer Vision.