Matt Richardson

Creative Technologist


Getting Started with BeagleBone

My second book, Getting Started with BeagleBone, walks readers through the basics of creating Linux-powered electronics projects with Python and JavaScript using the BeagleBone.

Many people think of Linux as a computer operating system, running on users' desktops and powering servers. But Linux can also be found inside many consumer electronics devices. Whether they're the brains of a cell phone, cable box, or exercise bike, embedded Linux systems blur the distinction between computer and device.

Many makers love microcontroller platforms such as Arduino, but as the complexity increases in their projects, they need more power for applications, such as computer vision. The BeagleBone is an embedded Linux board for makers. It's got built-in networking, many inputs and outputs, and a fast processor to handle demanding tasks. This book introduces you to both the original BeagleBone and the new BeagleBone Black and gets you started with projects that take advantage of the board's processing power and its ability to interface with the outside world.

Written for makers who know their way around a Mac or PC, this book also gets you started with Python and JavaScript.

With Getting Started with BeagleBone, you’ll learn to:

Nothing beats the feeling of mastering a new tool. This book encourages you to jump right in and mess around without the fear of failure.

Why Use BeagleBone?

My first big project with the BeagleBone was called the Descriptive Camera. It worked a lot like a regular camera: point it at a scene that you want to capture and then hit the shutter button. But that’s where the similarities with a camera end. Instead of saving a photograph, this prototype camera outputs a text description of the scene that you’ve captured. And it even spits it out of the front of the camera like a Polaroid print.

The Descriptive Camera didn’t use any fancy computer vision algorithms to convert the image into text. It actually used crowd sourcing. After hitting the shutter button, the photo would be uploaded to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service, where you can pay people online to do small tasks like transcribing audio, identifying terms in a contract, or in this case, describe a photo. After the person submitted the text, it would be outputted by the camera’s printer.

The BeagleBone was the perfect platform for this endeavor. Making a project that brings together a USB webcam, an Internet connection, buttons, LEDs, and the receipt printer, all while enclosing it in a small box would have beenvery difficult with many of the other platforms out there. As a tool, the Bea- gleBone is so capable and flexible that I could have created this same exact project in so many different ways.

But I know from experience that having a tool that’s so versatile can make things hard when you’re just starting out. There’s no right way to do any single thing, so you can feel paralyzed before you’ve even begun.

My hope is that Getting Started with BeagleBone will get you through that initial phase. It will give you just enough of the basics in a few different realms so that you can start digging deeper on your own. Having a few different ways to do the same thing means you can settle on the way that you’re most comfortable with and focus on making your vision a reality.

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