The BeagleBone Blue – Perfect For Robots

There’s a new BeagleBone on the block, and it’s Blue. The BeagleBone Blue is built for robots, and it’s available right now.

If a cerulean BeagleBone sounds familiar, you’re not wrong. About a year ago, the BeagleBone Blue was introduced in partnership with UCSD. This board was meant for robotics, and had the peripherals to match. Support for battery charging was included, as well as motor drivers, sensor inputs, and wireless. If you want to put Linux on a moving thingy, there are worse choices.

The newly introduced BeagleBone Blue is more or less the same. A 9-axis IMU, barometer, motor driver, quad encoder sensor, servo driver, and a balancing LiPo charger are all included. The difference in this revision is the processor. That big square of epoxy in the middle of the board is the Octavo Systems OSD3358, better known as a BeagleBone on a chip. This is the first actual product we’ve seen using this neat chip, but assuredly not the last – a few people are working on stuffing this chip onto a board that fits in mini Altoids tins.

45 thoughts on “The BeagleBone Blue – Perfect For Robots

    1. As opposed to the comment to which this was supposed to be a reply (but failed, due to not clicking the “reply” link), this comment is not very informative or useful.

      1. Fair point. There just seems to be a common mindset in this community that everything should be free, which I find short sighted. I projected this onto the comment unduly, as it is useful information.

        1. I never noticed it, but that would be a pretty childish mindset. Only the information should be free, including software. Material things should merely be affordable for everyone. :-)

          1. Was that a general ‘software should be free’? If so, as a professional software developer, I disagree. Which is not to say that it shouldn’t be free of course. It’s just that software costing money enables me to live in a building for which I have keys; it also allows me to contribute to free software projects.

          2. I don’t think software should be free. We should consider software as goods aswell as hardware is. If you are refering that software “embedded” or bundled by necessity you could argue that the price of the hw covers the developement cost of the software. Otherwise you’re implying that Adobe Photoshop should be free because it’s not material.

          3. It’s the equivalent of responding “But who will work on my plantation?” to “All men are free.” I’m not saying “give everything for free to me now”. All I’m saying that ideally, in a perfect world, all information would be free to everyone and all goods would be affordable to anyone. It might still take some time to get there, but I think we are making some progress.
            And yes, I work as a software developer too. All the code I write is free, once I’ve written it. But you still have to pay me to write it.

  1. I don’t understand those “everything you could possibly need for your robot in a single package” things — they always have just the wrong stuff on them. A servo controller? That’s great, but it only supports 8 servos, I will need to connect my own. An IMU? Excellent, but I will need to connect the Bosch one that does fusion already. And I’m paying for a motor driver that I’m not going to be using. Someone making a different robot will probably need a motor driver for more motors, or different kind, than on the board. And so on. At this level/price there are no generic, universal parts.

    1. True, but *IF* what it has built-in is good enough for many people, they will buy it?

      What is more expensive: having a $1.00 part on the board that you don’t use, or getting a stripped-down board and spending time and effort to add another $1.00 board with the desired feature (with the associated costs of wires and connectors)?

      1. Or spending time and effort to get it to work with the components you have there, when simply getting a more suited component would have solved the problem easily. The IMU is an excellent example for this. So you spend time and effort on this anyways — which is actually a good thing when it’s a hobby, because that’s the whole point.
        I’m not sure if you recently checked the prices of wires, but they are considerably less expensive than good motor drivers or sensors. And you will need wires anyways — those expensive ones, with special connectors for this board, not generic pin headers and dupont cables, like in the case of selecting the components yourself.

        1. Yes, wires are not so expensive. The convenience of not having to mess with them is worth much more. Plus, your project looks neater with less stuff hanging off of the processor board.

          Don’t like it? Don’t buy it. If the price is good for what it offers, I see no problems with the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach.

          Have you ever refused to buy and AVR or PIC because it had two UARTS and you only needed one?

          Oh no! This chip has an A/D converter that you don’t need! Throw it away!

          Seriously, pretty much every microcontroller will have features that you don’t need. This trend is just going down to the board level. No big deal!

          1. STM8s are the cheapest microcontrollers around (< $0.50 or ~$0.70 for a chinese dev board) and they have lots of peripherals you'll never use, from IrDA to square wave beeper, from LIN to hardware rotary encoder support.

            But this isn't exactly that cheap.

          2. True, this is not that cheap. My point stands, however. Most of the cost is the CPU (BeagleBone on a chip). How much could you save by leaving off that ONE motor driver that you don’t need, or that ONE servo channel? I would guess that the price drop would not be enough to make a bit of difference.

          3. The real problem is not the cost, but the funneling into sub-optimal solutions, by artificially making most of the choices much harder. “I should be really using a more powerful motor driver, but this one is built-in”, “I wanted to use 10 servos, but there are only 8 sockets on this board, so I will make some of them share signals”, “I could have the robot do dead reckoning using its IMU, but the one that is built-in is too hard to program”, etc. This effectively shrinks your design space, and forces trade-offs that go against the actual needs of your robot. It’s not the “I will not use this AVR because it has two UARTs”, it’s more the “I’m using one of the UARTs to bit-bang SPI for the display”. Sure, it can lead to some interesting hacks, but ultimately it’s harmful.

        1. I don’t mean that to indicate that it has no value. Your comment may drive somebody to reconsider purchasing it because of reasons you mentioned, while the other comment in question may cause somebody to reconsider not purchasing it because of the (at first glance) “high price”.

    1. Well, there is both a pwm driver for the hobby servos, and a motor driver for the grownup servos (and a quadrature encoder), so in theory both. But in practice you will need custom encoders and drivers for your servos anyways, so you can ignore this.

  2. I tried to purchase one from Mouser and after the purchase was completed they sent me an email requiring me to fill out and fax!?! a End User Certificate confirming I will not ship it overseas and am not some kind of terrorists before they would finish processing the order.

    I called them and asked what was up with that and they said it was required by the manufacturer. I said I didn’t have a fax machine and they said I could print out the form, fill it out, take a picture and then email it back to them. I said no thanks and cancelled the order.

    If that is the way they will handle orders for this board I suspect its not going to go over very well.

        1. In my case I am in the US and the shipping address was the US so I was surprised to have this happen. This is the first time something like this has happened to me, well, ever. She wouldn’t fix it over the phone and I didn’t want to mess around with forms and the rest.

    1. Happened to me too when i wanted to buy a simple eval board for a SiLabs Happy Gecko. Was kinda surprised but figured that maybe they realized that we are a company dealing with security and military applications so they wanted to make shure it does not end up in a military application wihout theyr approval.
      Turns out it is probably just some new law to increase bureaucracy for normal customers riding on the desire to stop terrorists that don’t follow the law anyway from building a bomb or something.

      1. Most likely one of the chips are ITAR restricted, so they will likely have to make that call with every one of these boards. Since it has military implications/uses (the chip), the supplier has to confirm that the end user swears they’ll not export it to a list of countries.

  3. Please, please dont make this for an Altoids tin. There are 52625362753786 other, more suitable , just as affordable enclosures to choose from. The Altoids tin was stupid to begin with , and now its played out so much its not even funny.

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