BeagleBone ARM development kit announced

The creators of the BeagleBoard low-cost ARM-based computer have come up with a new device which drives down both the size and the cost, while providing an interesting stop-gap solution to those waiting for the Raspberry Pi: the BeagleBone.

Built around a Texas Instruments AM335x ARM Cortex-A8 microprocessor running at up to 720MHz, the BeagleBone promises over 1,400 Dhrystone MIPS and the ability to run a fully-featured GNU/Linux distribution.

The tiny package also includes an OpenGL ES 2.0 compatible 3D graphics accelerator, a USB 2.0 host port, microSD connector for storage, gigabit Ethernet, a multipurpose USB device connection featuring on-board hub, USB-to-serial and JTAG conversion with software reset, and a reprogrammable high-speed USB device interface, along with two 46-pin two-row 0.1-inch spaced female expansion headers using 3.3V IO.

Despite all these impressive features, the BeagleBone fits in the palm of your hand – and in doing so takes up little more room than an Arduino microcontroller at an impressively compact 3.4″ x 2.1″. In addition, the BeagleBone will support ‘capes’ – equivalent to Arduino ‘shields,’ minus the awkward pin spacing – to easily add more hardware to the platform.

As standard, the BeagleBone will come with a pre-installed copy of the Maemo-based Angstrom Distribution, node.js and the Cloud9 IDE on a 2GB microSD card, which will combine to allow developers to quickly and easily upload new code to the board using a single USB connection for data and power.

“We’re big fans of embedded systems at our office and think Cloud9 IDE for BeagleBone is an amazing use case. It makes writing code for your device as easy as plugging in and connecting to a port with a browser,” claims Rik Arends, chief technology officer at Cloud9 IDE. “We’re looking towards supporting embedded development from the cloud in the future. This way, our users will have all the benefits of keeping code safely online, with the ability to easily distribute to multiple devices.”

The BeagleBone is due to hit the usual suspects in the US before the end of the month, priced at $89, with UK stockists yet to be confirmed. To whet your appetite, there’s an introductory video below, and more information is available on the BeagleBoard site.

The open source Scanning Tunnelling Microscope

Sacha De’Angeli of ChemHacker has posted an update on his open source Scanning Tunnelling Microscope project, which aims to create an Arduino-controlled high-resolution non-optical microscope licensed entirely under the GPLv3.

“I’m nearly done with a complete redesign of the digital and analog electronics, now at version 0.3,” De’Angeli writes on the ChemHacker site. “The new electronics incorporates nearly complete digital control of the STM. I’m working on ways to further increase the control the microchip has over the STM to include gain control of the many op-amps.”

The aim of the project is to design a scanning tunnelling microscope: a high-resolution non-optical device which uses electric current to produce images as detailed as those of individual atoms.

A commercial STM is well out of the reach of your average hacker, costing many thousands of pounds, but De’Angeli hopes to eventually sell his open source creation in kit form as well as providing full details for hackers to build their own implementations via the GNU General Public Licence.

A video of the ChemHackerSTM v0.1 is reproduced below, but De’Angeli warns that it’s not representative of where the project is today and is a “a poor implementation of a good analogue design with a microcontroller slapped to the inputs.

“I’ve since learned that analogue is weird compared to digital,” De’Angeli admits, “and getting those two worlds to talk properly involves a lot more finesse and art than science and equations.”

If you want to be alerted when kits are available, there’s a sign-up sheet here.

IR launches 600V LED control IC

International Rectifier has announced a new buck regulator control IC for driving LEDs at 600V, with full PWM dimming control.

The IRS2980 – the first entry in International Rectifier’s new series of LEDrivIR ICs – uses hysteretic average current control to precisely regulate the current across the full range.

The LED buck driver features low-side MOSFET drive with high-voltage internal regulator and high-side current sensing. The converter is compatible with electronic PWM dimming allowing for 0%-100% current control.

“In the rapidly growing solid state lighting sector, there is a need for low cost driver electronics to supply constant current output to high brightness, high power LEDs,” claimed International Rectifier’s Peter Green, the man in charge of the company’s LED group.

“The new IRS2980 offers improved performance at a lower system cost than alternative solutions for non-isolated LED driver applications,” Green concluded.

Pricing is set at $0.60 per IC in SO-8 packaging based on the purchase of 10,000-unit trays, with IR’s customers yet to announce retail pricing for makers who don’t need quite so many units.

A datasheet for the part is available as a PDF.

Raspberry Pi founder releases prototype schematic

Raspberry Pi 2006 Prototypes, built in Veroboard and PCB

Raspberry Pi 2006 Prototypes, built in Veroboard and PCBEben Upton, co-founder of Raspberry Pi and creator of the eponymous $25 ARM-based microcomputer, has released schematics for the creation of an early prototype from 2006.

While the ‘Raspberry Pi – 2006 Edition’ lacks some of the power of its more modern counterpart – thanks largely to the use of an Atmel ATmega644 microcontroller running at 22.1MHz and a mere 512KB of SRAM, compared to the 700MHz ARM process used in the modern edition – it’s a lot easier to build at home.

“These boards use an Atmel ATMega644 microcontroller clocked at 22.1MHz, and a 512K SRAM for data and framebuffer storage,” Upton explains. “19 of the Atmel’s 32 GPIO lines are used to drive the SRAM address bus. To generate a 320×240 component video signal, the Atmel rapidly increments the address, and the data lines are fed via 74HC-series buffers to a trio of simple summing-point DACs; during horizontal and vertical blanking, it is free to perform other operations.”

The upshot: a microcomputer you can build from off-the-shelf components on Veroboard, capable of producing simple 3D graphics at a 320×240 resolution.

The below video, released by Upton, shows off the device’s capabilities, while the schematics and a PCB layout can be downloaded directly from Raspberry Pi.