Beaglebone Black: Tools and Resources That You Need To Know

The best embedded system is small, inexpensive, with a lot of power and options, supported by a large community and easy to program. The BeagleBone Black is part of a small collection of single board computers for niche markets like hobbyist tools and rapid prototyping applications.

In robotics, the most popular embedded systems start with Raspberry Pi, and continue with Arduino, BeagleBone, and a few others in a small proportion. Like other embedded computer controllers, the BeagleBone Black come packed with a bunch of free software for development to start making things right out of the box.

The BBB has advantages as well as disadvantages compared with other single board computers. The ARM architecture that forms the basis for processor provides a huge advantage in almost anything that’s battery powered, it has 512 MB DDR3, built-in ADC, on-board storage, and many options for GPIO pins.

As disadvantages, I can include the default operating system preinstalled on BBB, and a small community for embedded systems compared with Raspberry Pi or Arduino.

Getting Started with Beaglebone Black

The low cost Beaglebone Black was initially intended for academic use where is required an easy accessibility to extensive technology. Built with powerful features for embedded systems, the Black becomes quickly a single board computer used by experienced hobbyists and hackers focused on a wide range of applications including automation, education, arts, or for industrial use.

With a price under $50, the credit-card sized computer includes a 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 processor, a pair of PRU 32-bit RISC CPUs, 512MB of RAM, 2GB of built-in storage space, and a MicroSD slot to expand the capacity of the memory.
For connectivity the SBC support USB, Ethernet, micro-HDMI connections, while for your electronics project are available 2 x 46 pin headers.

The standard version of BBB comes preinstalled with the Ångström Linux operating system, and it should be a system able to start making things right out of the box. The preinstalled operating system is only one from many features that make from Beaglebone Black a smarter embedded system compared with Raspberry Pi.

Another feature capable of increasing the speed of prototyping things is the browser-based applications that allow you to access the GUI and control the board right from the browser. Before starting browsing inside the Black, you have to link the board to the Internet, plug in a keyboard and a mouse via USB, and connect the board via the HDMI port to a monitor.

The GUI allows you to control all the functions of the computer while you can access a database with programming lessons and start to develop applications.

On the Beagleboard website is available a comprehensive guide to starting working with the Beaglebone Black.

Beaglebone Black Starter Kits

Any starter kit can be a good starting point where you can discover the essential parts and accessories to start building robots. In the following, I explore up to five Beaglebone Black kits from where you can start learning and explore the limits of the BBB single board computer.

01. BeagleBone Black Starter Kit

02. Getting Started with the BeagleBone Black Kit

03. BeagleBone Black Experimenter’s Kit

04. Adafruit Beagle Bone Black Starter Pack

05. BeagleBone Black DK

Operating Systems for Beaglebone Black

The embedded system from Texas Instruments comes preinstalled with the Ångström Linux operating system and has support for other popular distribution including Debian, Android, or Ubuntu. The Ångström Linux operating system runs from the on-board eMMC memory, and in addition to the eMMC, you can boot directly from the MicroSD card.

  • Ångström Linux – it’s the preferred operating system for Black and customized for embedded devices. It may be found in several versions, and depending on how long you purchased the BBB, you can check and install the latest version.
  • Debian – it’s one of the most popular operating system for embedded systems with support for many architectures. The Debian OS can be found on Raspberry Pi and many more single board computers with a large usage in robotics. The best solution to use Debian on Black is to run the customized image for the BeagleBone boards.
  • Android – Android is a very popular operating system for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Based on the Linux kernel, the Android is a good operating system compatible with embedded systems and able to support a wide range of applications. At this moment, you can run on Black the Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean version using a memory card with at least 4GB storage space.
  • Ubuntu – you can run on BeagleBone Black a custom version of Ubuntu, which is available in several versions with a wide range of improvements for more recent versions.

Programming

The BeagleBone Black can be programmed using one of these programming languages:

  • BoneScript (JavaScript)
  • Python
  • Perl
  • C/C++
  • Bash

You have several options to connect to the BeagleBone Black:

  • Serial port (J1)
  • ssh using USB cable
  • Keyboard and display
  • VNC (Virtual Network Connection)
  • WebBrowser (Cloud9)

Development Tools and Resources

Before starting to write your first program, you need to be sure that you have installed on BBB the proper IDE with features that fits with your development skills. If you are interested to start in minutes the development process, you have available on Angstrom Linux a command line with GCC compiler and support for C programs.

If the C is not an option, you can use for example Python together with a long list of libraries able to access the GPIO features.

In general, the Beaglebone offers a flexible programming system where you can use JavaScript, C/C++, Python, Perl, or Bash. All of these programming languages are compatible with several integrated-development environments used to build from simple to complex programs able to control sensors, electric motors, button, displays, and many more components for a smart robot.

  • Cloud9 – the Cloud9 IDE can be enabled by connecting the USB cable to the computer host, and at the same time the BBB is powered by computer via USB. Since the development environment runs in a browser, you can use it on all operating systems by navigating to this address: 192.168.7.2:3000.
    The Cloud9 IDE is preconfigured on Black to run Node.js with support for Bonescript library, which provide a wide range of Arduino-like functions for interfacing robotic components.
  • CCStudio – the CCStudio is an IDE designed to be used for Texas Instruments (TI) embedded processor families with a great support for developing and debug embedded applications. The IDE includes a set of tools for simulation, real-time operations, source code editor, project build environment and many more features.
  • Adafruit WebIDE – WebIDE is a custom IDE for BeagleBone or Raspberry Pi able to run in a browser and with support for Python, Ruby, or JavaScript. The WebIDE allows you to send various commands to your BeagleBone Black right from the browser while the code can be stored remotely and accessed from anywhere.
  • Eclipse CDT – the CDT is a project based on Eclipse development platform that provides a fully functional C and C++ integrated development environment with support for a wide range of tools for debugging and knowledge.
  • Paho – Paho is a powerful open-source Eclipse client for embedded platforms and emerging applications for Machine-to-Machine and Internet of Things.

An emulator and a simulator are two distinct tools able to replicate the usage of the original model or to analyze and study the embedded system. If you can use the CCStudio as a simulator, for emulation can be used the Omap3 free tool specially designed for BeagleBone board.

BeagleBone Black is an open source platform for students, hobbyists and engineers able to develop experience in embedded systems based on ARM architecture. With a competitive price and powerful features, the Black can do almost everything a Raspberry Pi can do, the most popular single board computer with millions of units sold worldwide.

Resources:
Beagleboard:BeagleBoneBlack , elinux;
BeagleBone Black: Installing Operating Systems, adafruit;

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