The Tiny, $25 PocketBeagle

It was announced a day or two ago, but now the PocketBeagle has made its first real-world appearance at the World Maker Faire in New York this weekend. This is a tiny, tiny Linux computer that’s small enough to fit on a keychain, or in an Altoids mini tin. It’s only $25 USD, and from the stock lists on Mouser and Digikey, there are plenty to go around.

The specs for the PocketBeagle are more or less exactly what you would expect from any BeagleBone. There’s an ARM Cortex-A8 running at 1GHz, 512 MB of RAM, and SD card storage. I/O is eight analog inputs, up to 44 digital GPIOs, up to 3 UARTs, 2 I2C busses, 2 SPI busses, and 4 PWM outputs. All of this is packed into the OSD3358 System on a Chip from Octavo Systems.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Octavo Systems’ ‘BeagleBone on a Chip’ — Before the release, head Beagle herder [Jason Kridner] built a PocketBone in Eagle, which was shortly followed by [Michael Welling]’s similar efforts in KiCad. The PocketBeagle has been a reality for months, but now it’s accessible to hackers who don’t want to deal with soldering BGA packages.

This version of the PocketBeagle is getting close to as Open Source as you can get, with the design files available in Eagle and KiCad. One interesting feature of the PocketBeagle is which pins, busses, and peripherals are enabled by default. The killer feature of the BeagleBone has always been the PRUs — programmable real-time units — that enable vast arrays of LEDs, fast steppers for CNC machines, and DMA tomfoolery. The pins for the PRUs on the PocketBeagle are set up by default, with no need to screw around with configurations, modules, or drivers.

Of course, a new development board isn’t worth anything without a few demos and examples. For Maker Faire, [Jason] brought out two demos. The first of these is effectively a PacMan arcade game — just a simple 3D printed enclosure, a screen, and two d-pads made out tact switches. It plays PacMan and only PacMan, but it’s good enough to demonstrate the Linux-ness of the PocketBeagle.

The other demo [Jason] brought out was a simple FLIR thermal image sensor tied to an SPI TFT. It’s a tiny thermal imaging sensor with good enough resolution and a refresh rate that’s just fine It’s nothing incredible, but it is a great demo for this very tiny, very cheap single board computer.

44 thoughts on “The Tiny, $25 PocketBeagle

  1. Looks like it would fit in the smaller sized Altoids tins, can anyone comfirm/deny?

    What’s up with the extra Cortex M3 in the description? It’s not shown in the Octavio block diagram, but that would be kind neat to have on the side.

    The one thing that’s sort of keeping it from impulse-buy for me is the uSD storage, I really, really like the eMMC on the BBB and the scripts to duplicate an installation via uSD loads.

    1. There’s an M3 that’s used for power management. If you want to use power scaling, then you load a firmware blob into the M3 at boot time. Otherwise it sits unused. I don’t know if there’s any other use for it.

    2. The “4GB 8-bit eMMC on-board flash storage” on the BBB prevents me from buying one. I’ve had enough parsing errors on automated scripts and killed many SSD’s to decide that if the storage is soldered down, and not easily replaceable (I’ve no hot air station), it is probably a bad idea, at least for me.

      Ultimately it really does depend on what you are using the device for as to what is a bad or a good feature, at least for you.

      1. Lack of onboard networking is what kills this for me. The AM335x has two fairly nice 1GbE NICs, but none of the consumer boards use them to their full potential. This one goes the wrong direction by not using them at all, and not offering an option for WiFi outside of the USB host.

      2. If this really bothers you, either ignore the soldered storage or only use it for an initial bootloader you never change, and load your real system off something replaceable that you add.

        Ie, if you really want to, you should be able to make this as unreliably dependent on an SD card as a PI is ;-)

        1. I could do that, but it was a while ago and I ended up choosing a different product (Odroid) which uses replaceable eMMc modules instead. Basically they solder the 8/16/32/64GB eMMc chip onto a separate PCB and use a PCB-PCB connector (0.4mm GB042) to make it easily replaceable and upgradable.

    1. AM335x has one USB 2.0 HS OTG and one USB 2.0 HS host. The OTG port can be used for a second host, or in device mode for bootstrapping and Linux gadget driver stuff. No 3.0 though, certainly not in a $25 board.

    2. I’m not seeing a power jack, so this whole board must run off USB power (5V, <500mA).
      It would be nice to know the actual current draw, to figure out the limits of any attached hardware. BEFORE you try powering 100+ multi-color LEDs at the same time…

      1. Well the latest raspi sues USB power and uses way more than 500mA.
        And on the site you see the layout and I see a Vin, then in another section ‘batt + -‘ and ‘VOUT’ and ‘GND’
        https://github.com/beagleboard/pocketbeagle/wiki/FAQ
        And I read:
        72 expansion pin headers with power and battery I/Os, high-speed USB, 8 analog inputs, 44 digital I/Os and numerous digital interface peripherals.

        They should be a bit more clear about it though in terms of powerdrain.

  2. The PRU units are most definitely the killer feature in the Beaglebone. The other “killer feature” is the 4700 page technical manual from TI for the am3358/am3359 used in the original Beaglebone. If you want to do any real hacking or bare metal programming, this is a godsend. I have been meaning to check on what kind of TRM is available for the Octavio SoC. For me the availability of comprehensive technical documentation (or lack thereof) is a show stopper on some of the otherwise enticing ARM based SBC being offered. Try working with an Orange Pi for example, there is just enough documentation to suck you in, and maybe enough if you are willing to experiment and suffer and dig through source code.

    1. This is why I’m using a Beaglebone for a work project prototype – there’s a valid path to commercial production for the product.

      There isn’t for a Pi, there isn’t for the Allwinner stuff.

  3. “and from the stock lists on Mouser and Digikey, there are plenty to go around.”

    And how is this possible? I can find no listings of this product on either the Digi-Key or Mouser websites. While I haven’t done an exhaustive search on the web for this thing yet, it looks like it’s unobtanium from these two distributors.

    Unless the article is being sarcastic here, and I’m missing the point.

  4. Only peripherally relevant, but what does everyone think of the re-united Arduino.cc and the new MKR form factor stuff? Also, they mentioned that they’re working on separating out the build system from the IDE and they’ll be putting out an arduino-cli program that will do everything the IDE does. I don’t know if that’s news, but it certainly sounds promising.

  5. I haven’t used Beaglebone (decided to try RasPi instead), but does this version have HDMI capabilities? It doesn’t seem to have a connector, which is sort of ok for a thing with lots of pins on it, though calling something “Pocket_x_” implies it’s got all the pieces you need, but is there a well-documented set of pins you can use to connect to some flavor of HDMI connector?

  6. I just got mine! Awesome!

    Guess what….units come without any OS. Beagleboard.org is down and there are no links for the OS downloads and no spec sheets anywhere.

    Way to go GHI Electronics/Ti for releasing another un-documented device that looks great on paper specs with no software on the eMMC to make it work out of the box.

      1. Obviously you don’t have one and are talking out of your arse…

        Paper printed web links provided with the hardware are dead links…
        FAQ provided at github is incomplete…
        The link you provided is nothing but the Processor Reference Manual
        Plugging the board into a PC with a USB cable yields NOTHING and DOES NOT appear as a drive as per the printed instructions…
        Trolling around google yielded some older links that say you have to jumper pins in order to install the OS…oh wait…its not even the same frigging board as what’s shipped

        Flame away dotard (word of the week)

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