Hands on with PocketBeagle

[Ken Shirriff] is no stranger to the pages of Hackaday. His blog posts are always interesting, and the recent one talking about the PocketBeagle is no exception. If you are old enough to remember the days when a Unix workstation set you back tens of thousands of dollars, you won’t be able to help yourself marveling at a Linux computer with 45 I/O pins, 8 analog inputs, 512M of RAM, and a 1 GHz clock, that fits in your pocket and costs $25. What’s more the board’s CPU has two 200 MHz auxiliary CPUs onboard to handle I/O without having to worry about Linux overhead.

These last parts are significant, and although the Beagles have had this feature for years ([Ken] talked about it earlier), the access and communication methods for using these slave processors has become easier. [Ken] shows a small snippet of C code that outputs a 40 MHz square wave no matter what the Linux OS is doing. In this way you can use Linux for the parts of your application that are not that critical, and use the slave processors to handle real time processing.

Continue reading “Hands on with PocketBeagle”

Friday Hack Chat: High Speed Data Acquisition

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking all about High-Speed Data Acquisition. If you’ve ever needed to shove voltages, currents, logic signals, temperature, pressure, or sound into a computer, you’ve used a DAQ. If you’ve ever needed to acquire a signal at a very high speed, you’ve probably paid a lot of money for that piece of equipment.

Our guest for this week’s Hack Chat will be [Kumar Abhishek], engineering student, Hackaday Prize finalist, and creator of the very, very cool Beaglelogic, a logic analyzer for the BeagleBone. The interesting bit about the Beaglelogic is its utilization of the Programmable Real-Time Units (PRUs) found in every BeagleBone.

These PRUs are basically DMA machines, shuttling bits back and forth between memory and GPIOs. This year, [Kumar] turned the Beaglelogic cape into the Beaglelogic Standalone, a device based on the Octavo Systems OSD3358 (the ‘BeagleBone On A Chip‘) that gives those Saleae logic analyzers a run for their money.

In this Hack Chat, we’ll be discussing the PRUs found in various iterations of the BeagleBoard, how the Beaglelogic performs its data acquisition, and how programming the PRUs is actually accomplished. If you have a question for [Kumar], leave a comment on the Hack Chat page

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. Usually, our Hack Chats go down at noon, PDT, Friday. This one is different. Because [Kumar] is in India, we’ll be running this Hack Chat at 9:30a PST, Friday, November 17th. What time is that in India, and what time is that where you live? Who cares! Here’s a time zone converter!

Click that speech bubble to the left, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

We’re also looking for new Hack Chat guests! If you’ve built something cool, you’re working on an interesting project, or you’re about to introduce a really cool product, hit us up! Email our wonderful community managers, and we’ll see if we can slot you in.

Friday Hack Chat: The Incredible BeagleBoard

Over the last year or so, the BeagleBoard community has seen some incredible pieces of hardware. The BeagleBone on a Chip — the Octavo OSD335x — is a complete computing system with DDR3, tons of GPIOs, Gigabit Ethernet, and those all-important PRUs stuffed into a single piece of epoxy studded with solder balls. This chip made it into tiny DIY PocketBones and now the official PocketBeagle is in stock in massive quantities at the usual electronic component distributors.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re talking about the BeagleBoard, BeagleBone, PocketBeagle, and PocketBone. [Jason Kridner], the co-founder of BeagleBoard and beagle wrangler, will be on hand to answer all your questions about the relevance of the Beagle platform today, the direction BeagleBoard is going, and the inner workings of what is probably the best way to blink LEDs in a Linux environment.

Topics for this Hack Chat will include the direction BeagleBoard is going, the communities involved with BeagleBoard, and how to get the most out of those precious programmable real-time units. As always, we’re taking questions from the community, submit them here.

As an extra special bonus, this week we’re giving away some hardware. Digi-Key has offered up a few PocketBeagle boards. If you have an idea for a project, put it on the discussion sheet and we’ll pick the coolest project and send someone a PocketBeagle.


Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat will be going down noon, Pacific time on Friday, October 13th. Wondering why the Brits were the first to settle on a single time zone when the US had a more extensive rail network and the longitude so time zones made sense? Here’s a time zone converter! Use that to ponder the mysteries of the universe.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

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.

Continue reading “The Tiny, $25 PocketBeagle”

Shoot Video in 26 Different Directions

[Mark Mullins] is working on a project called Quamera: a camera that takes video in every direction simultaneously, creating realtime 3D environments on the fly.

[Mark] is using 26 Arducams, arranging them in a rhombicuboctahedron configuration, which consists of three rings of 8 cameras with each ring controlled by a Beaglebone; the top and bottom rings are angled at 45 degrees, while the center ring looks straight out. The top and bottom cameras are controlled by a fourth Beaglebone, which also serves to communicate with the Nvidia Jetson TX1 that runs everything. Together, these cameras can see in all directions at once, with enough overlap for provide a seamless display for viewers.

In the image to the right, [Mark] is testing out his software for getting the various cameras to work together. The banks of circles and the dots and lines connecting to them represent the computer’s best guess on how to seamlessly merge the images.

If you want to check out the project in person, [Mark] will be showing off the Quamera at the Dover Mini Maker Faire this August. In the meantime, to learn more about the Jetson check out our thorough overview of the board.

Hackaday Links: April 30, 2017

This last week was SEFF, a week of electric-powered remote-controlled aircraft above 1700 feet of Bermuda grass in the middle of Georgia. [Damon Atwood] has been bringing his 16-foot-wingspan Emmaselle to SEFF for a few years now, and this year we’re getting a great video of the flight. This is, or was at one time, the 3rd largest electric RC on the planet. It’s flying on 11S, and is absolutely beautiful in the air.

Speaking of electric RC meetups, Flite Fest West is going on right now. Flite Fest East will be July 13th through the 16th. Here’s the link to the relevant YouTube channel.

One of the very inexpensive 3D printers announced at CES by Monoprice is now on sale. It’s the improved $200 Cartesian, not the $150 delta. As I saw at CES last January, this is a slight improvement over the already fantastic V1 version of this printer. Improvements include an all metal hot end (an E3D clone) and working WiFi on the main board. Still waiting on the $150 delta printer? The only thing I can tell you is that it’s coming out soon.

StippleGen is an application from Evil Mad Scientists Labs to create stippled drawings. Stippling is dots, but not halftone. [HEXceramic] is using StippleGen to create laser cut molds for making ceramic tiles. The results look awesome, and I can’t wait to see one of these fired.

Hackaday has been voted, ‘The Hacker News of Hardware‘ by the Hacker News community. I would have included this in the links post last week, but feared that would be seen as manipulating the upvote system on Hacker News. This is great, but of course you already know Hackaday is seen as a reputable source of hardware and embedded news!

As a rule, Hackaday is nonpartisan and not political at all. In fact, two of my headlines have been shot down so far this year for using the word ‘trump’ as a verb. You’re welcome. This project is too cool, so we’re going to bend a few rules. This is a Trump gummi. It’s the rarest gummi of them all. It was carved by gummi artisans who work exclusively in the medium of gummi.

[Michael Welling] designed the PocketBone Mini in KiCad. It’s built around the Octavo Systems OSD3358, and is really, really tiny while designed to be as capable as a full size BeagleBone. He’s doing an interest check to gauge the community’s interest in this tiny, tiny single board computer.

A Modern Day PDP-11 Front End

Hands up if you feel your spiritual home is in front of a terminal with a “DIGITAL” logo on it.  It’s a name that has long ago been subsumed into first Compaq and then by extension HP, but it’s one with a lot of history when it comes to computing.

From the start of the electronic computing age, there were the computers we’d probably now describe as mainframes. Big computers that cost the GDP of a small country, filled an entire floor of a building, and could only be found in government departments, universities, and large companies. By the 1960s, the technologies existed to build computers that broke this mould, could be bought within the budget of a smaller organisation, and for which you didn’t need a huge air-conditioned basement to house. These so-called minicomputers were the great revolution of that era because they bought the fruits of computing into everyday business, and probably the most successful of the companies that produced them was the Maynard, Massachusetts-based Digital Equipment Corporation, or DEC.

DEC produced a succession of minicomputers in their PDP line, of which the most successful was their PDP-11 series. These were 16-bit minicomputers that remained in their product line from their launch in 1970 through to the early 1990s, and were available in a succession of configurations and physical form factors. The famous view of a PDP-11 is of a set of floor-to-ceiling racks, but there were also standalone terminal models, and desktop models. One of these, a PDP-11/03 from 1975, has come into the hands of [Joerg], and he’s used it to craft his LSIbox, the PDP11/03 card frame packaged with a BeagleBone for access via a modern-day interface. It’s a build in the vein of modern tube audio amplifiers that feature the retro hardware on the top of their cases, the card frame is exposed as a feature on top of a white case that is featureless except for a genuine PDP-11/03 front panel.

You might ask why anyone would do this in order to run PDP-11 software when the BeagleBone could almost certainly emulate the vintage hardware much faster than the real thing. But to take that view is to miss the point; the PDP-11 series are a seminal part of computing history, and to have genuine PDP-11 hardware on your desk is quite an achievement.

We’ve shown you a few PDP-11 projects in the past. There was this minimalist PDP-11 implementation using one of the later integrated PDP-11 processors, and we’ve seen a faithful reproduction of an earlier PDP-11 front panel powered by a Raspberry Pi.