Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Make Your Own 96Boards CE Mezzanine Board
96Boards is really gaining some traction in the embedded world. Its open specification, software support, and community make it an appealing platform for hardware developers, programmers and makers alike.  Part of the specification for the Consumer Edition boards is a mezzanine connector.  This allows users to expand the hardware capabilities of their 96Boards-compiant SBC.  So where do these mezzanine boards come from?

Commercial Mezzanine Boards

Several expansion boards already exist and are available for purchase from online vendors such as ARROW.  These boards are meticulously crafted by hand by a team of engineers and can take a considerable amount of time from conception to market and may not be ideal for your needs.  It would be good to be able to design your own board to meet your project specifications.  For example Gumstix has released the AeroCore 2 for Dragonboard 410C.  But what if you need additional sensors or another UART port or two?  Soldering in wires and adding breadboards is one way of doing this, but it's messy and cumbersome... Especially for drone applications.

Enter Geppetto D2O

What if I told you that you could just take the board, stretch it out and drop in some new hardware?  That would be nice, wouldn't it?  Well, when you import a design into your workspace from our existing ones, that's exactly what you can do.  And, of course, you can always start a design from scratch.

Geppetto D2O (Design to Order) allows you to design or customise an expansion board with a familiar-feeling drag-and-drop interface.  A long list of modules can be placed wherever you need them on your design and
connecting them to the other modules on your board is easy with Geppetto's context menu system.

The Geppetto workspace
Gumstix will even build and test your board for you, ensuring that your design is mechanically sound and ready to go.  A $1999 set-up fee and a few weeks later and your design is in your hands.

Aside from Gumstix's own Overo and DuoVero COMs, connectors for many 3rd party COMs and some on-board SOCs and microcontrollers are available as well.  Alongside the release of the new AeroCore 2 board, which, by the way, was itself designed in Geppetto, we have added a 96Boards-compliant mezzanine connector to the Geppetto module library.

It has never been easier to create your own expansion boards.  If you're looking for the shortest path to market or just want to design your "ultimate IoT development board," make sure you check this out.

Making the AeroCore 2 for 96Boards

Like I said earlier, the Aerocore 2 for Dragonboard 410C was designed in Geppetto by our engineers. All of the hardware on the board comes from the modules in Geppetto's library and the process is easily reproduced.  In fact, I think I'll just walk you through it right now.  How about I make my own version of the design from scratch?  It won't take long.

Step 1: Go to Geppetto

Geppetto is entirely online.  There is no need to install any software, configure settings, or hassle with any of the plethora of problems that CAD software can cause.  If your browser works, Geppetto works.

When Geppetto finishes loading, which only takes a few seconds, your workspace comes up.  This is where you design your board.  There are a few tutorial videos if you want a detailed look at the Geppetto interface.  For now I'm going to focus on building my own AeroCore 2 for 96Boards.

Step 2: Add the Connector

Grab the mezzanine connector for 96Boards from the "COM Connectors" tab in the column to the right.  It snaps to the bottom edge of the board.  This makes sure that the USB and HDMI ports on the host board are accessible.  The default board size is a little small for the module and can be resized as you would a window on your desktop.  Once the connector fits on the board you will notice that the board outline and the connector module are  both red.  That is because there are unmet reqirements.

Step 3: Satisfy Requirements

Almost every module that you place on the board will either require or provide certain signals and
buses.  The only exceptions to this rule are mechanical elements, such as mounting holes.
When you hover over a module, its requirements are displayed in a menu that pops up beside the module.  If you click on it, a list of modules that will satisfy that reqirement will appear in the library. Once you've placed a compatible module on the board, you can connect the modules by clicking on them in turn.  As soon as the requires are satisfied, the board and modules turn green.

Yes, it's a big game of "red light, green light." My kids love that one.  Make everything green and the board will work.  So far, all we can do is boot the board with a 16V battery for power.  Time to add some features.

Step 4: A Microcontroller

Some boards require a microcontroller to, say, manage sensor output or control some servos.  In the case of the AeroCore 2,  an ARM Cortex-M4 MC does more than that.  It actually runs a PX4 compatible autopilot software suite for drone control.

The COM connections for 96Boards are mounted on the underside of the board so modules can be placed within its shadow, as long as they don't overlap with the green footprint.  So in order to save space, I'm going to squeeze the M4 in there.  I can rotate the module by right-clicking it and selecting "rotate" from the context menu.  Double-clicking modules also rotates them.

The M4 requres 3.3V so we need to add a regulator in order to power it from the battery.  The regulator could also take 5V from the host board, but we'll be multiplexing that source with the battery later.

Step 5: The Meat

Now that the compute devices are placed, it's time to add the sensors, headers and connectors that make up the AeroCore 2.  If you watch the animation to the left, you can see the board come to life.  With each module added, all of the requires are provided and all of the modules turn green.  This only took me about 30 minutes to do, and with a little extra time and patience, I could re-arrange the board to match the design for the AeroCore 2 for Dragonboard exactly.  The only thing my design lacks is the LTE modem.  That one we added in after the Geppetto design was completed, squeezing it in over other module footprints.
You can see from the pictures below that my design (below) is pretty good, compared to the original design (above).
The Gumstix Aerocore 2 for Dragonboard 410C

My Aerocore 2 for 96Boards

But don't take my word for it, get started now! Go to and start designing your own board for free.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Big News From the Intel Developer Forum

The Big News

Intel just announced a new compute module for IoT, pro makers, hardware startups.  It's a big deal and Gumstix brought Geppetto to the party.
The Intel Developers Forum is in full swing in San Fransisco and during the keynote demonstration, the Intel® Joule™ module was introduced to the world.  This thing is a powerhouse!  It boasts a quad-core x86-64 processor at 1.7GHz, 4GB RAM, and up to 16GB on-board storage.  this, plus UEFI-capable bios, 1080p HDMI, two-lane PCI Express 2.0, and USB 3.0 and 2.0 give this tiny 20x40mm compute module the power of your massive desktop workstation.  In fact, you can see the Gumstix Workstation for Intel® Joule™ in action at our booth at the IDF!

Gumstix and Geppetto there for Intel® Joule™

That's right! We are there!  A connector module for Intel®'s new compute module is already available for your Geppetto board design and we are demonstrating it for you right at ground zero.  We have already designed six boards for the Intel® Joule™ and have brought some of them with us to show you.  Now, I won't be there but I and my partners in crime will be introducing Geppetto and the Intel® Joule™ module connector to booth visitors via telepresence.

All six of our boards are available in our store.  Take a look at the current selection:
The Gumstix boards for the Intel® Joule™ module 

If You're There, Come Visit Us.  If You're Not There, Come Visit Us

We want to show you what Geppetto can do.  The boards we brought with us were Designed by Gumstix in Geppetto and you can design your own right there in a few minutes.  The whole team is there to help you out and answer your questions.  If you don't happen to be there, go check out and give it a shot yourself.

Intel, the Intel logo and Intel Joule are trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries in the U.S. and/or other countries.