Taking Another Look at BeagleBone

I like the idea behind BeagleBone boards, a series of embedded Linux devices. BeagleBone hardware are built around modules from Octavo Systems, which are designed for easy of integration into custom embedded hardware. BeagleBone are merely one of many Octavo-based devices, but (as far as I know) the only one focused on building an easy on-ramp for learning and hobbyist use. From that aspect they resemble the Raspberry Pi lineup, but sadly they have not found the same degree of success.

One advantage of a BeagleBoard are the onboard LEDs available for experimentation. A Raspberry Pi has onboard LEDs as well, but they already have jobs indicating power and microSD activity and it takes work to reallocate them for a quick experiment. But my favorite BeagleBone advantage is a power button for graceful shutdowns, something that’s always been missing from the Pi since the first version. Even though they are now on the Pi 4, the Raspberry Pi foundation seems uninterested in solving this problem. I’ve read claims that SD corruption from ungraceful shutdowns are rare, but it still makes me grumpy.

I personally own two BeagleBone devices. The first was a PocketBeagle I bought with the intention of taking the E-ALE (Embedded Apprentice Linux Engineer) course that premiered at SCaLE 16X. Unfortunately, between my lack of foundational knowledge and the rough nature of their first run, I didn’t absorb very much information from the course. But I still have the PocketBeagle and Bacon Bits cape that went with the course.

The second was a BeagleBone Blue that I bought after a conversation at SCaLE with Jason Krider, one of the people behind BeagleBone. He saw my Sawppy rover and told me about BeagleBone Blue which was designed with a focus on robotics. He asserted a Blue should be much more suitable for Sawppy than the Raspberry Pi I had been using. I ordered a board and, as soon as I took it out of the box, I knew I had a problem. The physical size of BeagleBone boards is designed to fit in an Altoids mint tin. In order to follow that precedence and cram onboard all the robotics-related output, the Blue used many fine-pitched connectors that aren’t in my usual toolkit of connectors. I looked into either paying for pre-made wiring bundles with the connectors already crimped, or tools to crimp my own, and balked at the cost. I decided to think it over, which stopped my momentum, and it’s been sitting ever since.

Which is a shame, because on paper these are nifty little devices! Now motivated by a local study session meetup, I decided to buy an eBook to help me get a better understanding of BeagleBone. I’m still not comfortable with public gatherings, but I can follow along at home as the study group went through chapters of Exploring BeagleBone, Second Edition by Derek Molloy.

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