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.