Do you own a LightBlue Bean or Bean+ from Punch Through? If you don’t have one now, you probably never will, as the company has recently announced they’re no longer selling or supporting the Bluetooth Low Energy microcontrollers. The company says that after selling more than 100,000 Bean devices, the challenge of keeping up with a constantly evolving software ecosystem became too difficult, and they are instead going to focus their efforts on advising other companies on how to best develop Bluetooth products.
Frankly, that sounds a bit like getting advice on how to build a fully armed and operational battle station from the Empire, but who are we to judge. While the Bean family of devices clearly wasn’t able to go the distance, Punch Through at least got them out the door and supported them for longer than many might have expected given the increased competition in the BLE market. It’s not hard to do the math: the LightBlue Bean retailed for around $35 USD, and today you can get a BLE-capable ESP32 for five bucks.
So what happens to all those Beans out in the wild? Normally, the parent company dropping support for a microcontroller wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but this time around we have the “Bean Loader” to contend with. This piece of software is used to push code to the device over Bluetooth, and it’s possible that the constant march of operating system upgrades (especially on mobile devices) will eventually break it. Long story short, there’s nothing to worry about in the short term. But down the road, these Beans might be baked.
Luckily, Punch Through did provide some pretty extensive documentation for the Beans. If there’s significant demand, we imagine the community will do their best to take over development of whatever ancillary software is required to keep the hardware usable for the foreseeable future. Speaking of which, the schematics and PCB layouts for both the Bean and Bean+ have been released under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that somebody else might put them back into production.
[Thanks to Chris for the tip.]
PunchThrough, creators of the LightBlue Bean, have just launch a Kickstarter for a new version called LightBlue Bean+. The tagline for the hardware is “A Bluetooth Arduino for the Mobile Age” which confirms that the hardware is targeted at a no-hassle, get it connected right now sort of application.
For those unfamiliar, the original LightBlue Bean is a single board offering meant to marry Bluetooth connectivity (think Cellphones with BTLE) to the capabilities of a microcontroller-based hardware interface. The Bean+ augments this hardware with a 300m+ range increase, an integrated LiPo (600mAh or more), and headers/connectors where there were only solder pads before.
On the software side of things the Bean+ has four firmware options that make it speak MIDI, ANCS, HID, or Peer-to-Peer, only not all at the same time. The good news is that these are ecosystem upgrades and will work for existing Bean hardware too. The entire thing comes with online-platform integration and easy to use Smartphone tools to guide you through connecting and making something useful.
The board includes a battery tending circuit that allows it to be charged via the USB port but can run over a year between recharges if you use it judiciously. There is a slider switch near the pin sockets marked “A3, A4, A5” which toggles between 3.3v and 5v so that no level shifters are needed for sensors and other hardware you might use with it. The white connectors seen near the bottom of this image are Grove connectors. These provide I2C and Analog support to that ecosystem of add-on boards.
All in all this is a pretty sweet upgrade. The MSRP will be $45 but early backers can get in around 10-25% less than that. The price doesn’t mean it’s a no-brainer to pick one up, but the header options make this much more versatile and reusable than the original Bean and we like the idea of a rechargeable battery of the coin cells used by Bean+’s predecessor. It is an each choice for drop-in no hassle connectivity when bottom line isn’t your top concern.
Original LightBlue Bean is available in the Hackaday Store.
Everyone’s heard of the “World’s Smallest Violin,” but we think it’s time for something more upbeat. [Simone Giertz] of Punch Through Design has created a mini electric ukulele using a LightBlue Bean. The Bean is an Arduino-compatible microcontroller that you can wirelessly program using Bluetooth low energy (BLE).
The ukulele’s frame is made of laser-cut plywood. Four 1M ohm resistors are soldered to individual wire strings. A different set of wire strings in the ukulele’s neck are connected to the same ground as the Bean. In order to play this tiny instrument, a finger must be kept on the “ground” strings while the other “tone” strings are touched by a different finger. [Simone] uses Arduino’s Capacitive Sensing Library to determine which string is being touched and what the tone will be (indicated in Hz). A piezo buzzer provides the sound. There is no need to fret when the battery is depleted from using this at an all-night luau: the frame can be unscrewed with easy access to the battery. [Simone] has uploaded the Bean’s code to GitHub.
There’s no shame going solo, but we’d enjoy a show of dueling mini-ukuleles. A duet with the 3D-printed ukulele is always a possibility. Or, play this little guy while running up and down some piano stairs while the kettle fife blows off some steam. It’ll be a musical way to brighten anyone’s day. Check out the video of the mini ukelele after the break. You can also see more of [Simone’s] work at her website.
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