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Woof Woof – BeagleBone

BeagleBone

BeagleBone

Last week my brother got me looking at microprocessor controllers and that led me to TI’s BeagleBoard. Launched three years ago the BeagleBoard and the smaller BeagleBone are simple boards featuring TI’s Sitara ARM Cortex A8 processor. BeagleBoard is intended for inventors, hobbyists, and do it yourself’ers. TI’s has licensed the board’s design under the Create Commons license. All of the hardware design documents are freely available for reuse.

Sitara™ AM335x ARM® Cortex™-A8 Microprocessor

Sitara™ AM335x ARM® Cortex™-A8 Microprocessor

The ARM Cortex falls under the category of Open Media Applications Platform (OMAP) processors. OMAP processors provide a system on a chip (SoC). What I found most interesting was that you have the option of running the boards using Linux, Andriod, or bare metal via the BIOS. As a start I decided to try out the BeagleBone. It’s less expensive but still provides all the low level capabilities I’m interested in experimenting with.

Several vendors sell the BeagleBoard products. I went with adafruit. They sell a starter pack that includes the latest version of the BeagleBone. This should provide me all I need to get going. Adafruit has a nice site. Lots of good information for someone who’s experimenting for the first time. The transaction went smoothly and they shipped my package the next day.

While I wait for the BeagleBone to arrive I started to research how I can develop software with it. There’s an active community and plenty of information. As typical for open source development, piecing all the information together can be a bit of a challenge.

The BeagleBone’s Linux capability was its biggest draw for me. I’m very comfortable with developing software in that environment. I could also go with Android 2.3.4 but USB host support isn’t available until version 3. There’s also a bare metal, no OS, option but that approach seems to be an underwhelming way to use it. The challenge then is understanding how to best develop with an ARM based version of Linux.

BeagleBone ships with Ångström’s Linux distribution. Other distribution such as Unbuntu and Debian can also be used. My plan is to stick with what works until that proves to be unsuitable. Trying to get into the details of Ångström was slowed because the site was down. Not very comforting but typical for open source.

Picking a development platform and environment is another consideration. BeagleBone ships with JavaScript support. You can use that to write programs and execute them on the board. If you want to use another language such as C/C++ or Java then you’ll have to setup those environments. TI has a development environment called Code Composer Studio (CCS). CCS is a full IDE based on Eclipse and includes C/C++ compilers for the ARM chip. It’s has a free limited licenses that can be used to evaluation TI tools and devices. You’ll have to get a my.TI account to download it.

As a development platform I’ve generated a Ubuntu 11.10 server on a spare PC. Most of the BeagleBone documentation is oriented to use Linux as the development platform. I’ve install CCS on the system and started to write some sample programs in anticipation of the BeagleBone’s arrival. Pretty straight forward stuff so far.

I also came across Linaro. Linaro is an open source project targeting ARM processors. Linaro has Linux builds and a Toolchain for the BeagleBoard. I’ve got a feeling that I’ll be trying that out.

All that’s left is the arrival of the BeagleBone. It should be here tomorrow.

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