BeagleBone Black + RAMPS


The BeagleBone Black, with an impressive amount of computing power and a whole bunch of I/O, would make an impressive CNC controller, save for two shortcomings: The BBB isn’t in stock anywhere, and CNC capes are a little on the pricey side. [Marc Peltier] can’t do anything about finding a distributor that doesn’t have the BeagleBone on backorder for you, but he did come up with an adapter for the very popular RAMPS-FD 3D printer controller board (Forum, French, Here’s the Google translation matrix).

The RAMPS-FD is an extension of the RAMPS board and a shield for the Arduino Due. Both the Due and BBB work on 3.3 V, meaning controlling the RAMPS-FD is simply a matter of finding the correct wiring diagram and pin assignments on the BeagleBone. [Marc] solved this problem by using the settings from the BeBoPr cape and using the existing BeBoPr LinuxCNC configuration.

The end result of [Marc]’s tinkering is something a lot like [Charles Steinkueler]’s CNC capes for the BeagleBone Black we saw at the Midwest RepRap Fest. [Charles] isn’t selling his capes, but no one else seems to be selling BeagleBone Blacks, either.

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MRRF: ARM-Based CNC Controllers


8-bit microcontrollers are the standard for RepRap electronics, but eventually something better must come along. There has been a great deal of progress with ARM-based solutions, and of course a few of these made a showing at the Midwest RepRap Festival.

First up is [Mark Cooper], creator of Smoothieboard, the ultimate RepRap and CNC controller. It’s an ARM Cortex-M3 microcontroller with Ethernet, SD card, and up to five stepper drivers. It had a Kickstarter late last year and has just finished shipping all the rewards to the backers. In our video interview, [Mark] goes over the functions of Smoothieboard and tells us about some upcoming projects: the upcoming Smoothiepanel will feature a graphic LCD, SD card, rotary encoder and buttons, all controlled over USB by the Smoothieboard.

Next up is [Charles] with a whole bunch of CNC capes for the Beaglebone. By far the most impressive board was a huge I/O expander, motor driver, and everything controller for a Beaglebone featuring – get this – three parallel port interfaces. This was a one-off board costing thousands of dollars, but [Charles] did show off a few smaller and more practical boards for Beaglebone CNC control. Here’s a link to [Charles]’ capes.

Videos below.

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The 30th Anniversary Macintosh


It’s been just over thirty years since the original Macintosh was released, and [hudson] over at NYC Resistor thought it would be a good time to put some old hardware to use. He had found an all-in-one Mac SE “on the side of a road” a while ago (where exactly are these roads, we wonder), and the recent diamond anniversary for the original mac platform convinced him to do some major hardware hacking.

Inspired by a six-year-old project from a NYC Resistor founder aptly named the 24th anniversary Mac, [hudson] decided to replace the old hardware with more powerful components – in this case, a BeagleBone Black. Unlike the earlier build, though, the original CRT would be salvaged; the analog board on the Mac SE has pins for video, hsync, vsync, and power.

To get a picture on the old CRT, [hudson] needed to write a software video card that used the BeagleBone’s PRU. The CRT isn’t exactly “modern” tech, and everything must be clocked at exactly 60.1 Hz lest the CRT emit a terrible buzzing sound.

With a software video card written for the old CRT, the BeagleBone becomes the new brains of this beige box. It runs all the classic Linux GUI apps including XEyes and XScreenSaver, although flying toasters might be out of the question. He also managed to load up the Hackaday retro site with xterm, making this one of the best ways to make an old Mac SE useful.

Rex, the ARM-Powered Robot board


There are a million tutorials out there for building a robot with an Arduino or Raspberry Pi, but they all suffer from the same problem: neither the ‘duino nor the Raspi are fully integrated solutions that put all the hardware – battery connectors, I/O ports, and everything else on the same board. That’s the problem Rex, an ARM-powered robot controller, solves.

The specs for Rex include a 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 with a Video SoC and DSP core, 512 MB of RAM, USB host port, support for a camera module, and 3.5mm jacks for stereo in and out. On top of that, there’s I2C expansion ports for a servo adapter and an input and output for a 6-12 V battery. Basically, the Rex is something akin to the Beaglebone Black with the hardware optimized for a robotic control system.

Because shipping an ARM board without any software would be rather dull, the guys behind Rex came up with Alphalem OS, a Linux distro that includes scripts, sample programs, and an API for interaction with I2C devices. Of course Rex will also run other robotics operating systems and the usual Debian/Ubuntu/Whathaveu distros.

It’s an impressive bit of hardware, capable of speech recognition, and machine vision tasks with OpenCV. Combine this with a whole bunch of servos, and Rex can easily become the brains of a nightmarish hexapod robot that responds to your voice and follows you around the room.

You can pick up a Rex over on the Kickstarter with delivery due sometime this summer.

FPGAs For The Pi And ‘Bone


We’ve seen FPGA dev boards out the wazoo—even some following the current trend of putting an FPGA and an ARM processor on a single board. Take one good idea and mix it in with a few million Linux/ARM boards already piling up on workbenches the world over and you get LOGi: an FPGA designed to plug into the Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone.

Both the Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone versions of the LOGi feature a Spartan 6 FPGA with 9152 logic cells, 16 DSP Slices, 576KB of RAM, and 96 I/O Pins. There’s also 256 MB of SDRAM and a SATA connector. The Kickstarter has a few demos for this board, namely a machine vision, Bitcoin mining (though don’t expect this board to make return-on-investment with mining), and an autonomous vehicle control demo. The LOGi’s hardware is comparable to the Papilio Pro, so potential projects may include generating NTSC video, adding a VGA out, and a few retrocomputer emulations via OpenCores.

For what this Kickstarter asks for the Pi or ‘Bone version of the LOGi—$89 USD for either—you’ll get a surprisingly capable FPGA dev board that’s a bit cheaper than comparable offerings. Sure, you won’t save any money buying a Pi and a LOGi, but if you have a few Raspberries lying about, you could do much worse for a starter FPGA board.

Thanks [hamster] for sending this one in.

Speeding Up BeagleBone Black GPIO A Thousand Times

For both the Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone Black, there’s a lot of GPIO access that happens the way normal Unix systems do – by moving files around. Yes, for most applications you really don’t need incredibly fast GPIO, but for the one time in a thousand you do, poking around /sysfs just won’t do.

[Chirag] was playing around with a BeagleBone and a quadrature encoder and found the usual methods of poking and prodding pins just wasn’t working. By connecting his scope to a pin that was toggled on and off with /sysfs he found – to his horror – the maximum speed of the BBB’s GPIO was around three and a half kilohertz. Something had to be done.

After finding an old Stack Overflow question, [Chirag] hit upon the solution of using /dev/mem to toggle his pins. A quick check with the scope revealed he was now toggling pins at 2.8 Megahertz, or just about a thousand times faster than before.

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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