One BeagleBone Black for All Kinds of Weekend Projects!

Whether you’re considering purchasing a standalone BeagleBone Black, the updated kit complete with components and a Getting Started guide, or just happen to have this single-board computer laying around looking to be put to use, listed below are a few projects to consider that show off the range and capabilities of this embedded Linux platform.


Our Weekend Projects are designed to be “beginner-friendly” and take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 days to build, depending on inherent complexity and the number of steps involved. That said, the following projects range from easy to moderate difficulty, and each will require a small amount of time to either update the OS or install specific packages to power the project. Therefore, the three sample projects listed below are ordered by the estimated time required to get them up and running.

Novice users will want to dive in to the first project not only because it is quick to build, but also because it’s immediately rewarding and fun to watch the project change depending on your network’s activity. The other two are both moderately difficult projects and require different blocks of time to make them succeed. All the software for these projects is provided, and all are fairly plug-and-play once you gather the core components of the projects together.

First let’s take a quick tour of the BeagleBone Black:

When you first handle the BeagleBone Black, you’ll likely be surprised by its build quality. The rounded corners make the board pleasant to hold, and the sizeis nearly identical to a driver’s license. The board is light but full of GPIOs and connectivity options. More recent boards have increased memory available — and therefore a slightly higher price than shown above — but the general layout is similar to this image. In short, it’s a fun board to hold, and all the more exciting to prototype with.

Internet Speedometer


The easiest project of this bunch is without a doubt the Internet Speedometer. As the name implies, it’s a visual speedometer of your network’s activity, rendered as flashing and color-changing LEDs. In addition to the BeagleBone Black, this project requires only a mini breadboard, jumper cables, various data and power cables, and a strip of tricolor LEDs.

While simple to build, the speedometer does deal with one unique aspect of the board: Its two PRUs, or Programmable Realtime Units. Not pointed out in the image above, the PRUs are two additional CPUs on the same die as the main Cortex-A8 CPU. They run at their own, lower, clock speed of 200Mhz (compared with the main CPU’s 1000Mhz), but with dedicated allocation to I/O events. As Shabaz put it on element14’s community forums, “The PRU is efficient at handing events that have tight real-time constraints.”

WP12_is_250pxBack to the project, you can see it requires executing a few dozen command lines along with readymade files, but that’s the bulk of the build. After installing and configuring some core libraries and building the basic circuit, you’ll be up and running — and monitoring your network! — in no time.

BeagleBone Audio Looper


Next up is the BeagleBone Audio Looper. Also named exactly for what it does, the BeagleBone Black here is combined with a basic breadboard and enclosure circuit, Python and Pure Data open source software files, and a USB sound card to create a three-switch effects looper. The enclosure design is quite simple and could easily be modified to something more robust. If you’ve ever watched a Dorkbot presentation on Pure Data or been interested in mixing and manipulating audio through your computer with the benefit of analog switches, the BeagleBone Audio Looper is simple and effective.

You could consolidate the project further by soldering your own cape for the board, shrinkifying the breadboard circuit & switches to plug directly into the BeagleBone Black’s expansion headers. Otherwise this project is also pretty straightforward, and fun for music makers.

Dirty Dish Detector


Last but not least is the Dirty Dish Detector. In the first two projects, the BeagleBone Black is exposed and has a supplementary breadboard circuit. With this project the board is housed in an enclosure, however it’s a bit more complicated than that. Once the physical build is complete you’ll need to do some clever installing of the project above your makerspace or office sink. And that’s when the fun begins.

We’ll walk you through initiating and configuring the Cloud9 IDE, an “online code editor” that allows you to directly execute files on the BeagleBone Black from a web browser. It even has a built-in terminal “for command-line wizardry.” With the aid of OpenCV, we’ll then train the Logitech webcam to detect the presence of dirty dishes, and also when the sink is clean, and to send respective notifications (via email, MMS, or both) to your colleagues or coworkers.

If you think they’ll loathe getting “dishes are dirty” notifications, trust me when I say they’ll loathe even more the notion of dirty dishes because of the notifications, and adjust their habits accordingly. And if the detector alone doesn’t do it, you can always upgrade the project to a “detective” to catch culprits in the act, by using a PIR sensor or other proximity detector to trigger photos, instead of only focusing on items in the sink.

No matter which project you plan to build (or better yet, modify and hack into your own Weekend Project), leave a note here or on the respective project page with pictures and a story of your build. We love to see what you come up with.

Further BeagleBone Black Reading and Viewing:

How-To: Get Started with the BeagleBone Boost Your BeagleBone Black with Breakout Board Programming BeagleBone Black PRUs BeagleBone Black – Working with the PRU-ICSS/PRUSSv2 Embedded Linux Meets FPGA Capes

From The Gift Guide: The Best Tool To Get For A Beginner


gg-prettyOk, it isn’t a single tool. It is the best though! If you know someone who has been wanting to get into electronics, you’ve absolutely got to get them the entire kit. This thing comes with everything you need to get started. There are tools for disassembling your items, like screwdrivers, pliers, and a desoldering wick. There is a set of “helping hands” for holding your project while you fix it or assemble it. A soldering iron, some wire, and some solder for putting components in place, and last, but not least, a multimeter for testing everything out.

This thing is like a workshop in a box and it is available in the Maker Shed right now!

Punch Card Interface Now on Twitter


Ever want to go back to the “good old” days of computing, when men were men, and all coding was done on punch-cards? OK, maybe you don’t, but it’s always fun to combine old technology with new concepts, like this interface that let’s you tweet via punch cards.

The first step in making this clever retro-computing experiment was how to actually read the cards and transmit this information into a modern computer. The reader was made, after a brief attempt using mechanical contacts, with a series of infrared LEDs and photo-transistors salvaged from an HP print station. These LED/transistor pairs were attached to two plastic cards so that when a punch card is passed between the two, it can tell whether a hole is punched or not.

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This data is decoded by a Teensy 3.1 per IBM model 029 keypunch codes found here. This Teensy microcontroller then acts as a USB keyboard to the “mother” computer, transmitting whatever text equivalent is contained on the card. If you’d like to try this kind of experiement yourself, you can find the code on TimJay’s GitHub page, or you can just follow “it” on Twitter.

So far the reader hasn’t said much, but I’m hopeful there are some interesting quips on the horizon!

Robot Feet vs. Wheels: The Conundrum

Note: This excerpt was adapted from the introduction to Wolf Donat’s new book, Make a Raspberry Pi-Controlled Robot, a step-by-step tutorial on indeed, building your own robot rover, fresh from Make: Books.

I like to call this robot a rover, as I tried to pattern it after NASA’s designs. Figure 1-1 shows the general outline of the finished rover. It’s not nearly as robust as NASA’s versions, of course, and you’ll notice that its four (not six) wheels don’t sit on their own independent shock absorbers, but the design is a proven one.

figure 1And speaking of wheels: while I would very much like to program my own anthropomorphic android, such as C-3PO, it’s a sad fact that the Raspberry Pi’s computing power is most likely not up to the task of controlling a bipedal droid. You may think it’s nothing special, but as it happens, getting a robot to not only balance on two legs, but also walk on them, is quite a challenge. The well-known ASIMO robot by Honda (Figure 1-2) required many years and many millions of dollars to finally be able to walk on its own.

figure 2

To balance on two feet, a robot’s internal sensors must constantly measure where the robot’s center of gravity (COG) is, and then determine where the robot’s feet are, and then check to see that the COG is over at least one of the robot’s feet, preferably over a line between the robot’s feet, or at most, very slightly offset from that line (but not too far). If the robot’s COG is too far to one side, the robot’s brain must send the command to flex the leg on that side to tilt the robot ever so slightly in the other direction, bringing the COG to a more stable location, without going too far in the other direction. And if the robot is carrying something, all those values need to be recomputed on the fly.

So there are several advantages to using wheels. First, not having to balance means that the Pi’s computing power (and servo power) can be spared for other tasks, such as taking temperature samples or moving the robot arm. Second, depending on the type of wheels you use, a wheeled vehicle can go all sorts of places that a bipedal robot can’t. And third, wheels can also be cool—I refer you to R2-D2, the Mars Curiosity rover, and the Mars Exploration rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) for examples of pretty cool wheeled robots.

figure 3To increase the coolness factor to monster truck levels, I decided to go with oversized wheels; it’s common knowledge that almost any wheeled vehicle looks seven and a half times better with bigger tires. Figures 1-4 and 1-5 prove my point.

figure 4-5This brings up more design challenges, however. Larger wheels tend to be heavier, and it’s always—always—a good idea to keep your robot or rover as light as possible. A heavy robot is a power-hungry robot, and batteries and engines are heavy enough to begin with. Large wheels also have greater rolling resistance, though rolling resistance comes more into play at higher speeds and higher efficiencies than this rover is likely to experience.

My solution: I used the wheels from a Power Wheels vehicle. They’re large and impressive, but because they’re made of plastic, they hardly weigh anything. Of course, that led to further challenges, such as mounting those wheels to a non–Power Wheels axle, but as you’ll see, those issues were solved as well, often with a combination of screws, nuts, bolts, and generous applications of epoxy and cold-weld.

The final design, assuming you follow my step-by-step instructions, can be seen here:

figure 6Wolfram Donat is a graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage, with a B.S. degree in Computer Engineering. Along with an interest in robotics, computer vision, and embedded systems, his general technological interests and Internet expertise serve to make him an extremely eclectic programmer. He specializes in C and C++, with additional skills in Java, Python, and C#/.NET. He is the author of several books and has received funding from NASA for his work in autonomous submersibles. Get started building your own robot rover today!

Wolf Cover

Cypress Announces PSoC 4 BLE

You may not immediately recognize the name Cypress, however the chances are very good that you’re familiar with their products in one form or another. The items that their PSoC has been used in is simply too long to list — from Sonicare toothbrushes, to Adidas shoes, and even the touch screen in the Tesla Model S. Cypress_125x125_bur1 Anyone looking to create wearables or low energy devices should find their latest announcement quite exciting: The PSoC 4 BLE is a PSoC that integrates an onboard Bluetooth low energy radio.

The specs of the PSoC 4 BLE are:

  • 48-MHz ARM® Cortex™-M0 CPU
  • Up to 128 KB Flash and 16 KB SRAM
  • Bluetooth LE (Smart) connectivity with Bluetooth 4.1:
    • 2.4-GHz Bluetooth LE radio with integrated Balun
    • -92-dBm Rx sensitivity, up to +3-dBm Tx power
  • Programmable analog
    • 4 x Op-amps
    • 1 x 12-bit, 1-Msps SAR ADC
    • 2 x Low-Power Comparators
    • 1 x Cypress CapSense™ touch controller with SmartSense™ Auto-Tuning
  • Programmable digital
    • 4 x universal digital blocks
    • 4 x 16-bit configurable Timer/Counter/PWM blocks
    • 2 x configurable serial communication blocks
  • 56-QFN (7 x 7 x 0.6 mm), 68-ball WLCSP (3.9 x 3.5 x 0.55 mm)
  • Flexible Low Power Modes
    • 1.3-μA Deep-Sleep Current
    • 150-nA Hibernate Current
    • 60-nA Stop Current
  • Wide Operating Range 1.7 – 5.5 V (Radio operational 1.9 V onwards)

If you’ve been messing around with combining stacks of different boards to get your work done, your mouth is probably watering at this point. The fact that the MCU + BLE Radio — with analog components like op-amps and comparators and a digital CPLD-like fabric — are all present in one single chip really sets this apart, and will greatly decrease the prototype time of any project.

On the software side the IDE has some unique features as well. The ability to visually create your custom circuit within the fabric, even extending out the BLE sections, will drastically change and simplify the workflow.

Another option they are offering is their PRoC, which is a bit more function-specific. They may not have the same flexibility as the PSoC, but they should be considerably cheaper.

The specs of the PRoC are

  • 48-MHz ARM® Cortex™-M0 CPU
  • 128-KB flash and 16-KB SRAM
  • Bluetooth Smart connectivity with Bluetooth 4.1:
    • 2.4-GHz Bluetooth LE radio with integrated Balun
    • -92-dBm Rx sensitivity, upto +3-dBm Tx output power
  • Modes: 1.3-μA Deep-Sleep, 150-nA Hibernate, 60-nA Stop
  • Analog and digital peripherals:
    • One 12-bit, 1-Msps SAR ADC
    • Four 16-bit TCPWM blocks
    • Two SCBs, configurable as I2C, SPI or UART
    • I2S for audio input
    • Flexible mapping onto GPIOs
  • Integrated library support for one- and two-finger gestures
  • 56-QFN (7 x 7 x 0.6 mm), 68-ball WLCSP (3.9 x 3.5 x 0.55 mm)

To get started developing with the PSoC 4 BLE, you can buy the Pioneer Kit at Arrow Electronics for $49 and download their free, drag-and-drop development software.


The kit comes with the following:

  • BLE Pioneer baseboard preloaded with CY8CKIT-142 PSoC 4 BLE module
  • CY5671 PRoC™ BLE module
  • BLE dongle (CySmart USB dongle)
  • Quick start guide
  • USB standard A to mini-B cable
  • Four jumper wires (4 inch) and two proximity sensor wires (5 inch)
  • Coin cell

Of course, after you’re done prototyping, you may want to move on to something a little more professional. Cypress is offering these units as pre-certified by the FCC for under $10.

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We got ours and have only had time to pull it out of the box and take pictures. We’ll dig in soon and see what we can do with this thing! Watch for updates as we explore the possibilities. What would you make with one?

High Schoolers Electrify a Volkswagen Cabriolet


What’s a great way to teach kids about automobiles and electricity at the same time? If you go to school in West New York, New Jersey, the answer is Ron Grosinger’s after school activity where a Volkswagon Cabriolet is being converted into an electric vehicle.

According to the video below, it will go up to 70 miles per hour, with a 40 mile range. It will run on 12 lead acid batteries, which produce 144 volts. I’d have to assume the current draw is pretty high as well! This should work for most people, since if you’re able to plug in every night, you don’t really need a car with a 300 mile or more range.

The price tag for one of these cars seems pretty cheap at around $14,000. However, once the “hundreds of hours of work” claimed in the video’s description are taken into account, it might not look like such a bargain! On the other hand, you do get to learn a lot about how it works, and hopefully pick up some useful shop skills in the process.

According to the video, you can plug a car like this anywhere, such as at a friend’s house or even at a coffee shop. If the latter becomes a trend, I can only imagine how much money they will have to start charging for a cup of coffee!

PieceMaker Factory: A Glimpse Into The Future of Toys?


Late Friday night I saw what may be the future of toys, or at least something completely unique at my local Toys’R’Us. Additive manufacturing, often referred as 3D printing, has become common place in the maker movement. However, there is hardly a day that goes by where I don’t meet someone who has no idea what it is, or what it does. Well that’s about to change thanks to PieceMaker and Toys’R’Us.

Our mission at PieceMaker is to empower all people to personalize the world around them. To do this, we have created the PieceMaker Factory, the first and only system to deliver custom 3D printed inventory on-demand to retail stores. The PieceMaker Factory leverages cutting-edge, open-source 3D printing technology, custom robotics automation and proprietary software created specifically for retail to offer shoppers an unlimited range of personalized products, made on-demand and at the point of sale.


Even my daughter was impressed to see a 3D printer in a toy store, and she built her own from a kit at the age of nine. However, once she saw the interactive kiosk where you can select a model, customize it’s color, and add a name, she was totally hooked. Now she wants that kiosk at home, hooked up to her own printer.


All the items are designed by PieceMaker so they are guaranteed to print well, and in under 30 minutes. They all cost about $10, which seems to be a fair price for a customized toy that’s printed on demand. The overall process from design to print was really easy and went without any hiccups. While we were waiting for our first print, I was able to ask a few questions about the machine. First and foremost, “Who makes the printer, and what’s inside?” The short answer is, they make the machines themselves in-house, and it’s powered by Arduino.


We ended up with the ever-popular whistle, and a slight migraine from the concert played on the car ride home. But more importantly we left with a renewed enthusiasm for designing and making our own stuff. What will we make next? I don’t think it really matters too much. I’m just happy that the notion of making has once again become more important than TV, texting, or just surfing the Internet.


If you happen to live near Totowa New Jersey, or Cranberry Township Pennsylvania, stop on by the local Toys’R’Us and check out what may be the future of toys. I’m really looking forward to the day we can pick up an affordable printer at the local toy store, not just the prints. Any thoughts on how long until that happens? What does everyone think of toys-on-demand?

Building a Desktop Music Streamer From A Car Stereo

While it may look like a car stereo, it is in fact an internet audio streaming machine.

While it may look like a car stereo, it is in fact an internet audio streaming machine.


Listening to audio and radio stations on the internet usually involves using a PC or mobile device to do so. That’s no longer the case as an engineer and audiophile named Chris (of niston cloud) designed a stand-alone Hi-Fi internet receiver component that can be connected to independent sound systems and stereos. Incredibly enough, the streamer was built around a Raspberry Pi and Pi-DAC audio card to bring 128Kbps of streaming goodness to our ears.

A GLK series HMI unit houses the Raspberry Pi and other components, giving it a sleek modern look.

A GLK series HMI unit houses the Raspberry Pi and other components, giving it a sleek modern look.


Chris chose Matrix Orbital’s GLK HMI series base plate in USB flavor to house the electronic components, which features a digital face (*192 X 64 pixels), 3-bicolor LEDs and a 7-key tactile keypad to navigate the menu. While the Raspberry Pi does all the math heavy lifting, the HD sound comes from the Pi-DAC add-on card from IQuadIO and features Phono connectors for easy sound system/stereo integration.

The enclosure provides plenty of room to house the RPi and Pi-DAC boards, leaving room for cables to be neatly routed.

The enclosure provides plenty of room to house the RPi and Pi-DAC boards, leaving room for cables to be neatly routed.


Open source firmware in C# was utilized to run on the Raspbian OS, which contains several subsystems for the audio, including the BASS audio library that provides a gap-less transition through station presets. All in all, the Nistron Stream One took 14 hours for the build, 200+ hours for software programming and close to $500 on the materials.


AgIC Will Make Your Conductive Ink Sketches Erasable

It’s extremely fun to draw circuits with conductive ink markers, but what happens when you accidentally draw a short circuit?

Rather than starting all over, AgIC aims to save your masterpiece with their latest product, the Erasable Circuit Marker. Their latest Kickstarter makes revising paper circuits as easy as correcting pencil sketches.

Eliminate short circuits with the AgIC marker!

Eliminate short circuits and make those cat ears glow!

Perhaps the most exciting hallmark of this eraser is that it will encourage Makers to draw their craziest circuits without fear of failure. Even the eraser’s origin began as a crazy accident– AgIC teammates were curious to see what happened when 12 Volts were applied to their conductive ink. As described on their Kickstarter:

“We tested how much high voltage we could put on a trace drawn by the Circuit Marker. However, when 12V was applied, a spark happened on conductive trace and that part of the trace was removed!”

(They suggest users NOT to do this.)

Figuring that a high voltage pen would probably be a bad idea, they eventually settled on a water-based solution.

(As a sign of their other awesome crazy ideas, AgIC created paper speakers by hooking up a conductive drawing to a power amp and some magnets; apparently, this is also available as a Kickstarter award!)

LittleBits Gives You AC Control With Its New Smart Home Kit

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 1.09.24 AM

This summer, littleBits promised a world of DIY connected devices when unveiling its access-from-anywhere CloudBit module. Today, they move closer to that promise with the release of their Smart Home Kit, which includes among its 14 components an IR-controllable AC electrical socket.

This AC accessory is the star of this kit. It interfaces with your littleBits circuit using a companion IR transmitter bit that can signal the socket to turn on or off. It has a range of about 10 meters, and works on five different channels, allowing you to have multiple IR components in the same room working independently. The socket can handle 15 amps, enough to handle coffee makers, AC units, lamps, and more. And by giving it a remote, wireless connection, it keeps the circuit maker clear from high-current electricity.


Early image of the IR-controlled AC socket, from the littleBits website.


The kit is designed around the CloudBit’s remote internet capabilities. LittleBits has created a variety of example projects that highlight this, including retrofitting a coffee maker to be powered over the internet, a smart fridge that tweets you when the temperature rises too high from an open door, and the “DIY Nest” smart AC unit that they posted with the CloudBit launch.

Also included in the kit are a few new bits that are focused on IoT connected home projects: a temperature sensor, a threshold bit, a new number bit with various counting functions, and an MP3 player.

The full Smart Home Kit will cost $249.