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2017

To take advantage of the freedom wireless networking offers I wanted to integrate the BeagleBone Black WirelessBeagleBone Black Wireless and the 4.3" LCD touch screen cape4.3" LCD touch screen cape into a fully portable development kit.

You can get an overview of how to get started with the BeagleBone Black Wireless and the display cape on a separate blog post here.

 

 

Rather than trying to print or build an enclosure from scratch, I shopped around to find a small plastic lunchbox of the right size and proportions. I secured the BeagleBone Black Wireless to the bottom of the Lunchbox with 25mm long M3 standard bolts – just the right size to fit the mounting points on the board and long enough to secure the LCD display cape in place. This will help with keeping it in place when additional capes are inserted as the pins have quite a tight fit.

 

I really wanted all the potential of the BeagleBone to be available in the Lunchbox kit. As part of this the two rows of headers need to be accessible to allow for adding of more capes or even other things like LEDs, GPIO switches or for interfacing small motors and sensors. As the board is mounted to the bottom and the lunchbox is deep enough, most capes can be attached and integrated while still allowing the lid of the Lunchbox to be attached.

Parts

Wireless is great for networking, but still being tethered to a power outlet negates that advantage. Fortunately, the BeagleBone Black Wireless can be powered over USB, so some smartphone power banks are able to provide a battery solution. Some smaller or cheaper units may not provide enough power to run the BeagleBone Black Wireless and the LCD display simultaneously, so I made sure to use a battery bank that could provide at least 1 amp of current. I took the battery and circuitry out of the plastic case of the power bank and used mounting tape to attach it to the side of the Lunchbox. I cut a slot to give access to the charging port for the battery and twisted a small micro USB cable around to the port on the BeagleBone Black Wireless. A good tip when assembling this is to have the battery completely discharged so you can test out various fitting positions for the cable without worrying about the BeagleBone Black Wireless turning on.

 

Fortunately the BeagleBone Black Wireless has integrated power and reset buttons, meaning the battery could be connected directly to the micro USB port without having to put a switch in line. The first time it is connected the board will power on, but after shutting it down it can be turned back on with the power button located near the wireless antenna on the board.

 

Connecting a range of things like a keyboard, mouse and a USB thumb drive quickly makes one USB port inadequate, so I integrated a 4 port USB hub into the build. I couldn’t use an actively powered hub as the small battery wouldn’t supply enough power to run it. This unfortunately means high power devices like a hard drive will not work, but low power peripherals like keyboards will function perfectly. I cut a hole and mounted the hub to the right side of the box and secured it in place with some thin nuts and bolts.

USBHub.jpg

I didn’t want the LCD display to be irremovably fixed to the Lunchbox, so rather than a permanent adhesive I used double sided mounting tape to fix the panel to the bottom. Over time it may become a little loose, but this way it can be easily removed with a thin craft knife. I cut a thin slit on the edge of the Lunchbox to fit the LCD ribbon cable through to the BeagleBone Black Wireless underneath. I was careful that the cut slit didn’t have a very sharp edge, as this would wear away at the fragile ribbon cable. To help keep it in place I fixed it in place with a strip of electrical insulation tape.

 

To have some redundancy if the BeagleBone Black Wireless is used without the display cape I needed the HDMI port to be accessible. I used an adapter to convert the micro HDMI into a more common full sized HDMI port. The adapter slotted into a small hole in the side of the Lunchbox. To stop it wiggling loose I stuck it in place with a glob of hot glue.

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I sprayed the completed Lunchbox with a metallic silver paint to give it a more sophisticated finish. To give it a little bit of iconography I taped an image of the BeagleBoard.org mascot inside the box and used painters tape to keep that area unpainted on the outside.

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List of Materials
BeagleBone Black Wireless with WiFi and BluetoothBeagleBone Black Wireless with WiFi and Bluetooth
Element14 4.3 inch TFT LCD Display Cape with capacitive touchElement14 4.3 inch TFT LCD Display Cape with capacitive touch
5x M3 x 25mm Nuts and Bolts
micro HDMI to HDMI adapter
4 port Bus Powered USB Hub
USB Lithium battery Powerbank with 5v minimum 1000mA outputUSB Lithium battery Powerbank with 5v minimum 1000mA output
8GB class 4 micro SD card8GB class 4 micro SD card

 

If you have any questions or suggestions for improvement about this BeagleBone Black Wireless in a Lunchbox project, comment below and I’ll do my best to answer. I’d also be very interested to read about any other development platforms or single board computers that have been put together in a case with some peripherals to make a custom portable unit.

The BeagleBone Black WirelessBeagleBone Black Wireless is the newest board in the BeagleBoard.org family, replacing the wired Ethernet from its predecessor with full WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. It’s a development kit loaded with connectivity options that can also be used as a very capable single board computer. It can be powered from a microUSB port or a round 5 volt barrel socket, either way works equally well.

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The latest operating system for the BeagleBone Black Wireless can be found on the BeagleBoard.org page. Debian Jessie is currently the standard system of choice and the one most widely used, but there are other official options available like a text only terminal version. There are also a range of community developed operating systems including some designed for use as a media center, an IOT device and even a Super Nintendo Entertainment System game emulator.

 

The BeagleBone Black can run an operating system from a microSD card or on a fast 4GB eMMC flash chip that is installed directly on the board. Running from a SD card is a good way to sample an operating system, but for longer term use it’d be beneficial to install it to the onboard flash.

 

Note that some operating system images are protected from being written to the eMMC flash chip and can only be run from the SD card without modification to allow for a full installation.

 

Installing an operating system is done by writing an image to a microSD card then using that to update the onboard chip. There are various programs that can write an image to a microSD card. Win32 Disk Imager is a lightweight option for Windows users and Etcher is a multiplatform option compatible with Windows, Linux and Mac. For official Debian releases the microSD card needs to be a minimum of 4GB in size. Depending on the format the image file is in you may need to decompress it using 7zip.

 

To start the flashing process, just insert the microSD card into the BeagleBone Black Wireless and power it on. If the image on the card is setup to do so, it will take the operating system from the microSD card and install it to the onboard chip. Depending on the speed of memory card used this can take over 30 minutes – you can tell when the installation is complete when all four LEDs stop blinking rapidly and stay solid blue. Power down the board and remove the microSD card to complete the process. You can get more information on the flashing process at the eLinux Wiki.

 

For optimal WiFi and Bluetooth reception the BeagleBone Black Wireless has thin wire antennas pre installed. By default they are oriented to face over the board to keep the unit compact, but they can be rotated around to point away from the board to potentially increase the reception. Be sure to rotate the antenna carefully as the connections are small and fragile.

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The easiest way to get started with the BeagleBone Black Wireless is to just connect it to a PC using the included microUSB cable. On first installation it will be recognized as a standard USB mass storage device just like a normal memory stick, making it universally compatible with most computers. When the drive shows up, open the START.htm file inside a web browser to get access to the digital manual.

 

Before playing around with the BeagleBone Black Wireless it is useful to get the Virtual Ethernet to USB drivers installed and running. This makes it function as a mini web server, letting you access and code various features just by connecting it over USB.

 

Scroll down on the START.htm page to Step #2 – Install drivers and choose the driver that matches the operating system you’re using. If you encounter errors when installing the drivers in Windows it might be due to them not being digitally signed – if that is the case, download the alternative signed drivers here.

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The two long rows of headers on the BeagleBone Black Wireless are for stacking on various expansion modules called capes. Recently a new cape released by element14 was a 4.3” LCD display with full capacitive touch.

 

The LCD display cape comes in two parts – the circuit board cape and the capacitive touch LCD panel. There are two orange ribbon cables attached to the LCD panel that slot into the similar sized zero insertion force sockets on the circuit board. The larger one is for video and the smaller is for the touch screen signal.

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Pull the grey part of the connector out slightly then lift it to hinge it up. Gently slot the ribbon cable into the connector then hinge it back down to secure it in place. Be sure to orient it correctly with the LCD screen and the circuit board both facing upwards, with the pins pointing down and the sockets facing up. The ribbon cable is fairly durable, but be careful not to tear or bend it out of shape.

 

Upon first boot the touch screen can be somewhat inaccurate and require calibration. Under Preferences there is a Calibrate Touchscreen option that can fix any issues. Connecting a USB mouse can help if accessing the menu can’t be done with the touch screen uncalibrated.

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I put together a project to assemble these two devices together into a portable development kit unit. Read about it here.