BBB – Biggest Bang for the Buck!

C.P. Ravikumar, Texas Instruments

Beaglebone Black.  What a mouthful! Some people call it BBB, its abbreviated version. The abbreviation BBB reminds many South Indians of the famed Bisi Bele Bhath – a culinary delight conjured by the ancient cooks of southern India.  I will refer to Bisi Bele Bhath as BBB-food and Beaglebone Black as BBB-tool to keep things simple.

What similarities exist between the two BBB? Let me count the ways.

BBB-food  is served piping hot with potato chips. BBB-tool  is piping hot in what it offers and is served with chips of a different kind. Si, Signor.

About a hundred ingredients go into BBB-food.  BBB-tool has no fewer – its main ingredient is a Sitara Microprocessor from Texas Instruments.  See for yourself what this microprocessor contains – the list of IPs runs into several pages.

I would like to argue that BBB-food is open-source, just as BBB-tool is. The recipe for BBB-food is out in the open and numerous cooks have their own variations which they openly share with the community!

BBB-food is highly affordable while being wholesome. BBB-tool has an unbroken price record for what it offers. Priced at $45, the BBB-tool is the lowest-cost embedded development platform that supports Android and Embedded Linux operating systems. The price point of BBB-tool will permit individual students or small teams of students to own their own tool.  

A hands-on workshop

BBB-food  is most user-friendly – easy to serve and easy to eat!  BBB-tool is no different.  Nageswari Srinivasan of Texas Instruments, who  spoke at the three-day workshop on Beaglebone Black held recently in Bangalore compared the BBB-tool with others and brought out the unique features of BBB-tool. Listening to her, BBB-tool seemed like the “Biggest Bang for the Buck.” 

The workshop was held in cooperation with IEEE Circuits and Systems Bangalore Chapter and was  attended by about 40 participants, including 30 teachers from different engineering colleges.  On the first two days of the workshop, Satish Kumar, Asif, and Akshay of Cranes Software gave a hands-on introduction to the BBB-tool. Their lab exercises gave the participants a firm grounding on BoneScript and Cloud9 IDE. They also demonstrated a number of applications of the Beaglebone, including the “Moustache” demo which involves real-time image processing.  Vishwakiran of Pushkala Technologies held a hands-on session on Embedded Linux on BBB-tool. On Day 3, Aditya, Pankaj, and Arun conducted a full-day session on developing Android applications on BBB-tool.

User-Friendly Tool

The teachers who attended the workshop confirmed the notion of “user-friendly” nature of BBB-tool .  They used the BoneScript to do their exercises and feel it is easy to learn.  “Is it easy enough for you to consider teaching first-year undergraduate students with it?” I prodded. After thinking for a few seconds, they gave me an affirmative answer.

Exposing students early to an easy-to-use embedded computing platform can give them an edge when they come to the final year for a project.

Before this discussion, I had asked the teachers where they think they can put the Beaglebone Black to use in their college curriculum. Their first reactions were “Embedded System Projects.” 

“Why?” I persisted.

One Tool and Many Applications

“Since Beaglebone Black is very compact and portable, I am thinking of guiding some projects on medical electronics using the BBB,” volunteered one of the teachers.

“I wish to use the BBB for image processing projects,” said another teacher. “The workshop gave a good exposure the image processing library.”

“Our students are very interested in Robotics,” explained a teacher. “With its high-performance processor, Beaglebone Black is well suited for a robotics application.”  I told them about Sitara processor being used in LEGO Mindstorm EV3 robots. Sitara is also being used in the latest Arduino board.

“I wish to use Beaglebone Black in a course on Real-time systems,” said a teacher from the Department of Computer Science.  “I believe it can be used to teach concepts of real-time operating systems.” To me, this was the most interesting suggestion, since most courses on real-time systems and real-time operating systems tend to be theoretical.

You can guess what we served for lunch during the faculty development program! BBB-food  is a most popular dish. Mouths begin to water at its mere mention.  Beaglebone  Black is no different.  The community is ga-ga.  We are excited by the prospects of BBB-tool serving the purpose of educating young engineers.