BeagleBone Green, Now Wireless

Over the past few years, the BeagleBone ecosystem has grown from the original BeagleBone White, followed two years later by the BeagleBone Black. The Black was the killer board of the BeagleBone family, and for a time wasn’t available anywhere at any price. TI has been kind to the SoC used in the BeagleBone, leading to last year’s release of the BeagleBone Green, The robotics-focused BeagleBone Blue, and the very recent announcement of a BeagleBone on a chip. All these boards have about the same capabilities, targeted towards different use cases; the BeagleBone on a Chip is a single module that can be dropped into an Eagle schematic. The BeagleBone Green is meant to be the low-cost that plays nicely with Seeed Studio’s Grove connectors. They’re all variations on a theme, and until now, wireless hasn’t been a built-in option.

This weekend at Maker Faire, Seeed Studio is showing off their latest edition of the BeagleBone Green. It’s the BeagleBone Green Wireless, and includes 802.11 b/g/n, and Bluetooth 4.1 LE.

As all the BeagleBones are generally the same, each with their own special bits tacked on, it’s only fair to do a line by line comparison of each board:

BeagleBones

While the BeagleBone Blue is still in the works and due to be released this summer, the BeagleBone Green Wireless fills the WiFi and Bluetooth niche of the BeagleBone ecosystem.

Wireless

WirelessAs with any single board computer with a fast ARM chip running Linux, comparisons must be made to the Raspberry Pi. Since this is the first BeagleBone released with wireless connectivity baked into the board, the most logical comparison would be against the recently released Raspberry Pi 3.

The Pi 3 includes an integrated wireless chipset for 802.11n and Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity. The BeagleBone Green Wireless has this, but also adds 802.11 b and g networks. This gives the BBGW the ability to sense when anyone is using a microwave in the vicinity – a boon for that Internet of Things thing we’ve been hearing so much about.

Unlike the Pi 3, the BBGW has connections for additional antennas in the form of two u.FL connectors. While the Pi 3 can be hacked to use external antennas, it’s not a job for the faint of heart. The availability of external antennas in a small, compact, low-power format is the ideal solution for any wireless network connectivity dealing with range or a congested network.

Grove Connectors

Grove
The BeagleBone Green Wireless and Grove Base cape

The BeagleBone Green Wireless is a Seeed joint, and as with the original BeagleBone Green, there are Grove connectors right on the edge of the board. These connectors provide one I2C bus and one serial connection each for Seeed Studio’s custom modules.

To be honest, I’m of two minds when it comes to Seeed’s Grove connectors. On one hand, breadboards and DuPont cables already exist, and with the two 46-pin headers on the BeagleBone Black, there was nothing you couldn’t wire into the BeagleBone Black. The addition of Grove connectors seems superfluous, and in the most cynical view, merely an attempt to make a system of proprietary educational electronics.

On the other hand, there really isn’t any system of easy to use, plug-in modules for the current trend of educational electronics. Just a few years ago, people were putting out boards with RS-442 into RJ45 sockets. We don’t have DE-9 connectors anymore, and a smaller, easier to use connector is appreciated, especially when the connectors are a mere $0.15/piece.

Then again, the intelligence of a Grove module is purely dependant on the operator. On the BeagleBone Green, there are two Grove connectors, one for I2C, and another for serial. Apart from some silkscreen, there is no differentiation between these two connectors. On the Grove base cape, there are exactly four different implementations using the Grove connectors: four I2C, four digital I/O, with two GPIOs each, two connectors dedicated to analog input, and two serial ports. This is the simple way to connect a lot of devices via common wires; it is not the most user friendly.

Conclusion

The BeagleBone Green Wireless doesn’t really do anything new. The SoC is the same, and of course the PRUs in every BeagleBone are the killer feature for really, really fast digital I/O. The addition of WiFi is nice, and the inclusion of extra antenna connectors phenomenal, but it’s nothing a USB WiFi dongle couldn’t handle.

If anything, the BeagleBone Green Wireless is a signal for the future of the BeagleBone platform. The number of versions, each with their own small take on connectivity, is the bazaar to the Raspberry Pi’s cathedral. It’s encouraging for any fan of Open Hardware, and at the very least another tool in the shed.

31 thoughts on “BeagleBone Green, Now Wireless

  1. So far as I am aware the Pi 3 can connect to B and G (and likely A, but nobody really used those in the first place) networks, as I have yet to encounter *any* N radio that doesn’t also include those for backwards compatibility/

    1. It does indeed include A/B/G compatibility as per its radio’s specs from Broadcom, it’s another case of marketing tossing everything but the shiniest and newest thing it’s compatible with (just like Wireless-AC routers and NICs).

    2. Yeah, the “The Pi 3 includes an integrated wireless chipset for 802.11n and Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity. The BeagleBone Green Wireless has this, but also adds 802.11 b and g networks.” really baffles me: 802.11n is backwards-compatible with b and g per the WiFi-specs, so that claim makes no sense, whatsoever.

    3. Included for backwards compatibility does not mean everything is fully functional. There are a plethora of devices on the market which include b/g/n frequently even with different bands, but are too basic in their software to allow routing between radios.

      This is the situation I faced recently. I had one RPi 3 and one RPi 2+ Wireless G adaptor. I was able to communicate with them both from my PC but not from my mobile or my laptop. Eventually I figured out that the only way was to connect all devices to a common network.

      Since then I bought a powerline Ethernet adaptor because my router was too damn stupid to make it work.

      1. Hi,i’m a freshman of beaglebone green. Could you mind talk in detail about “but are too basic in their software to allow routing between radios”? My beaglebone green is able to access the internet easily.And i had made a temperature&humidity measure app on it.The grove connectors and MRAA library are friendly to me,not like the author mentioned above.

    4. by spec 802.11g hardware 802.11g implicitly supports both 802.11a and b networks. Where 802.11a was notably faster than b as a result of it’s use of Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing and it’s use of the 5Ghz band. 802.11a is not compatible with 802.11b networks and hardware which use the much more crowded 2.4Ghz band. 802.11g was created specifically to bridge the gap between these two standards as their incompatibility had stifled the adoptation of the much faster (11Mbits/s vs 54Mbits/s) a standard. 802.11g was quickly adopted and became the norm until the whole 802.11n fiasco came about. Of course there is AC now, but there’s no need to go that far in to it.

      Granted, it wouldn’t be the first time something was labelled with a spec it didn’t adhere to, but in general you should be able to trust that anything labelled to support 802.11g supports 802.11a and 802.11b I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with cheapo manufacturers and horrific QC. I recall at one point getting a length of UTP Cat5e from china where it turns out, the manufacturer seems to think UTP Cat5e means untwisted pair cat5e instead of unshielded twisted pair cat5e. The cat5e spec requires pairs be twisted to reduce/prevent crosstalk- There is nothing sadder than seeing an entire spool of cat5 cable with straight wires bouncing around loosely in the insulation designed to house twisted pairs.

      1. I can name only two reasons for criticism: binary blobs, but they’re still much better of the competition on this one, and the Pi Zero move which revealed some nasty motivations on their side.
        Everything else, especially on the technical side, is all thumbs up for me and many others, but nobody can blame us for criticism if the PI “propaganda ministry” is pushing on almost daily basis posts about an almost non existing product they clearly have no intention mass produce and sell, just because it gets away attention from competitors just by writing about it. That IS a nasty move and deserves criticism.

  2. What about Digilent’s Pmods for “On the other hand, there really isn’t any system of easy to use, plug-in modules for the current trend of educational electronics.”?

    I’ve been using them with my Renesas S& development boards and they work pretty well. I only wish they all had a small eprom on them to identify which module was which, something that PCI got right. As is, you have to tell the SW what module is plugged into which port once at start up.

    1. Yeah, because those are the only things anyone might care about or consider. GPIOs, analog I/O, real time performance, CPU performance, none of those things matter. It’s just bluetooth, wifi, ethernet, and price, that’s all anyone cares about, ever.

      1. wait, you think beaglebone has better cpu performance? or that it has better realtime potential with two 200MHz PRUs agains QUAD core ARMv8 (you can dedicate whole cores to your program excluding them from interrupts/scheduling/kernel)?

        1. No, I think they are different.

          Speaking of different, do you have evidence that isolating two cores on an RPi 3 is, in every way, equivalent or superior to the PRU subsystems on the BBB? What are the hard guarantees on I/O access? Interrupt latencies? Cache contention, contention with the GPU that actually brings up the whole system?

          If you do, I’d be interested to see it, because I haven’t been able to find anything but people handwaving.

    2. I’m sad they dropped off the Ethernet on the BBGW. Pi3 ethernet is bog standard stuff but the Beaglebone has a nice industrial Ethernet MAC and PHY that does PTP so you can do proper time stamping. I’ve used a BBB to do CAN/RS485/Ethernet/GPS bridging and time stamping. Sadly this board looses that functionality.

  3. “On the other hand, there really isn’t any system of easy to use, plug-in modules for the current trend of educational electronics.”

    http://www.mikroe.com/click/

    These can be bought through mouser.com…TONS of breakout boards with foot prints that plug into their dev. kits. My only gripe is that their compilers cost so much.

    1. As a registered user of MikroC and owner of one of their old PIC dev systems (before the “click” was introduced though) I concur on the quality, their stuff is really good as are their documentation and the helpful community in their forums. But last time I checked their compilers were still pricey and closed, as were the programming protocols on their boards, so that their boards and programmers were tied together and one had to remove a chip to program it using any open platform, which stinks.
      That was years ago, I really wish it changed but am not holding my breath on it. Anyway, for those don’t giving a rat’s ass about shelling money for a closed platform then MikroE stuff can be a really nice option.

  4. “The addition of Grove connectors seems superfluous, and in the most cynical view, merely an attempt to make a system of proprietary educational electronics.”
    I can’t agree with this. I dont need to care about the hardware when i use the grove connector and the mraa library(maintain well),so that i can concentrate more on my application.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.