Showing posts with label design-to-order. Show all posts
Showing posts with label design-to-order. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Updates: Intel Joule, LoRa, Arduino and Protocase

Blog Break

It has been a while since I posted a blog entry.  I have been knee-deep in a challenging internal project and haven't had much time to come up for air.  Today, I've got a chance to reflect on some of the things that have been happening here at Gumstix and share my perspective with you.

First, there's the EOL announcement from Intel that blindsided the x86-focused IoT community:
 the Joule, Edison, and Curie modules are soon to be no more than a footnote in the history of embedded computing.

Also, Just recently, hardware support for LoRaWAN was added to the Geppetto module library and 3 LoRa boards were released.  I got to play with that quite a bit.  It also brought with it an ATmega32U4 Geppetto module, supplanting the Curie module as our primary Arduino-compatible MCU.

Finally, I've been talking a lot with Protocase.  These guys are cool.  They provide design and production services for custom small-run enclosures, rackmounts, brackets, and consolets. I'm very excited to see what they're making for me.

Intel EOL Announcements and Me

I'll admit it, I took the Intel Joule news harder than maybe I should have.  I spent a lot of time working with it and it's carrier boards.  I was looking forward to putting the GadgetDrone in the air with the AeroCore 2 for Joule, the Caspa HD and one of the RealSense point cloud cameras we have at the office.  I liked the idea of setting up my Workstation board in a 3D-printed enclosure as a Yocto build slave.  Oh and I still hope to test the Caspa 4K's "tone-mapping (Er, I mean HDR) Video" mode.

I was also sad to see the Curie go.  Working with our Radium 96Boards IE board is a lot of fun.  It had been a while since I'd worked at the MCU level.  Bare-wire programming on an 8051 and using a dual-Arduino Uno plus ZigBee robot controller were highlights of my academic career, but I haven't done anything of the sort since.  The Radium's nice and small, IE compliant and has all the cool features of the Curie, like Bluetooth, 6-axis IMU and Neuron pattern recognition nodes.

For whatever reason, Intel decided to terminate their IoT-targeted endeavors.  Maybe it was the slow - and sometimes negative - response from the community.  It's also possible that the challenges in providing software support for their hardware were more monolithic than anticipated.  Either way, the Joule, Curie and Edison are gone.

For all of you who jumped on board with Intel's IoT hardware just over a year ago, I empathize with your plight.


If you're into IoT, you may have heard of LoRa, LoRaWAN and the LoRa Alliance.  It's a communication protocol for sub-GHz long range LPWANs, and it's sweeping Europe and North America's IIoT industry.  It works like this:  

You set up a Gateway. This is the equivalent of a WiFi router in your home, but the difference is these things can have a range of up to 15 km, depending on the quality of your antenna.

You deploy nodes.  These are your data acquisition points - temperature, presence detection, air quality, etc.  Whatever you need to know.  Put them where they need to be and hook them up to a battery, solar panel or hamster wheel (No hamsters were harmed in the writing of this blog post).  The idea is that they require very little power to run and can last anywhere from a week to several months on a single charge, or indefinitely with solar.  These tend to have a range of 2-5 km.

You monitor the data and use it as you see fit.

Gumstix released a gateway/concentrator and a transciever module in Geppetto, as well as a gateway dev board for both the Overo and the Raspberry Pi Compute Modules (Overo Conduit and Gumstix Pi Conduit boards), and a weather station sensor board (Strata Node).  They're in the store and available in both North American and European frequency bands.

Once I had my Gumstix Overo Conduit gateway and an RHF0M301 gateway/concentrator module in hand, I was impressed with how quick and easy it was to set up on  The Strata node I recieved was pre-release and hadn't had the bootloader flashed yet (they come pre-flashed now), so it took a little longer, but writing a sketch and setting up a project on TTN and went super-smoothly.  It just so happens that I made a bit of a quick-start video:

Arduino Stuff

Arduino is a great thing.  For artists, makers, inventors, amateur developers, and teachers, it's a great way to avoid the challenges of bare-wire programming and get physical objects doing what you want them to do.  For professionals, it's a good prototyping tool, delivering your proof of concept to the project manager in hours or days instead of weeks (or worse).

Adding the ATmega32U4 to the Geppetto library means I'll get a lot more time to play with Arduino hardware, projects, board support, and the IDE.  It also means that there will likely be more Arduino boards coming to the store and hardware modules coming to the Geppetto library.

I'm also going to have to find a quick and easy way to set up my 'arduino_pins.h' file.

Discovering Protocase

If you've seen my previous posts, chances are you've seen my low-tech enclosures, mounting brackets and test environments.  My indoor quadcopter test flight had a paracord tether tied to the rafters so that I didn't give my co-workers a hair cut.  I like to think of it as ISRU (In Situ Resource Utilization).  However, in some cases, a solid, well-made case is more than just a good idea.  When I went shopping for enclosures for my Overo Conduit board so that I could deploy it outside, my boss pointed me to  I think he just wanted me to stop asking for a 3D printer for the office.

These guys are awesome.  They're working on something for me and I can't wait to show it off.  They have a huge variety of custom products: L-shape, U-shape 5-sided, milled aluminum, and more!  They'll build from your CAD drawings and have free templates to help get started.  They even have their own design software for you to use.  If all else fails, they will work with you and design a fully customized enclosure for your device.

If you've got a prototype, an invention or a first-run for a kickstarter campaign, Protocase might be for you.  Just check out their page and see for yourself.

To Summarize:

I've been busy.  From grinding away at that internal project to working on LoRa and Arduino board support to designing enclosures to recovering from the Intel IoT fallout, I've hardly had enough time to catch my breath.  Now that things are settling down a bit, I am looking forward to spending more time telling you all about the cool stuff I'm working on.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

There is Nodana...


For those of you who don't know about the 96Boards open-specification hardware platform, it's a design spec for single-board computers (SBCs) that enables SoC vendors to provide their hardware in a standard form factor for increased compatibility.  It's also an engaged community working together to develop applications, software, and mezzanine cards for this ecosystem.

96Boards now has 3 different specifications for 3 classes of application.  There's Consumer Edition (CE), with standardized breakouts for both high-speed and low-speed signals, USB ports, HDMI, and so on.  There's also the Enterprise Edition (EE), which is more for server and networking applications.  It's a larger and more free-form design, with a low-speed header, USB and Ethernet, minimum 1 GB DRAM or expandable SODIMM slots, and optional 1 - 16 x PICe.  Finally there's the brand new IoT Edition (IE) spec.  It's designed to be tiny in order to fit anywhere.

All of these specifications have variants that allow hardware developers to add extra bits to their boards, making this a very flexible way of standardizing the important parts of SBCs.

The big benefit is that you can unite developer communities accross platforms.  The mezzanine card or maker project developed for board A will be compatible with board B, and vice versa.  With support from Linaro, providing a common Linux ecosystem for these boards, not even software compatibility should get in your way.

My honest opinion is that this open specification is very cool.

Gumstix is a 96Boards Partner

Yep, we're in cahoots with the folks at 96Boards and Linaro to bring you compliant hardware.  The release of the AeroCore 2 for Dragonboard 410C was only the start.  At the same time, we added the 96Boards Mezzanine Connector module to Geppetto D2O's library so that users can design their own mezzos for other applications.  If you don't know what Geppetto is, you can learn more by going to the Meet Geppetto page, read my earlier posts, or go straight to and give it a try.

I did a demo for 96Boards OpenHours, hosted by Mr. Robert Wolff (@sdrobertw) and actually flew my MAV, using a Dragonboard and the AeroCore 2 live in my office -- complete with a visit from the "demo demon".  The whole thing's on YouTube.

...Only Joule

So for those of you who don't know, a little compute module was released last year with quite a lot of juice hidden under its heat dissipator. The Intel® Joule™ module delivers unprecedented compute power in a tiny package.  From its two 100-pin Hirose connectors pour USB 3.0, MIPI LVDS,  PCI Express, HDMI, and a lot of what you already expect from COMs and SoCs.  It also houses its own WiFi and Bluetooth hardware.  All with the power of a quad-core processor akin to the Core-I7s you find in your desktop PCs.

Surprise, surprise, Geppetto's got that too!  You can go in and build your own host board using the Intel module and harness most of what it has to offer.

So a Square Peg and a Round Hole Walk Into a Bar...

On one hand you have this fantastic open spec hardware platform [round hole].  In the other, this epic compute module [square peg].  "those will never fit together," you might say (in fact, one 96Boards community member did).  Well, we gumstixians are very resourceful.  And the spec doesn't restrict the SoC's architecture to ARM, that's just the expectation.  So what did we do?  We took all of the components that make the 96Boards Consumer Edition spec great, we wired it up to the Joule connectors, (tested it), gave it a name, and unleashed it on the unsuspecting masses.

And that is how the Nodana 96Boards Consumer Edition (96BCE) for the Intel Joule module came to be.  Here it is:

Gumstix Nodana Features

The Black Sheep

That's right, all you doubters.  Now you can test your 96Boards projects on a powerful 64-bit multi-core Intel chip.  It's the first of its kind -- the first non-ARM 96Boards device.  Take it for a spin and tell me about what you do with it.  You can order it at

x86 IoT Fun

Psst!  We are also taking the IE spec to this dimension.  Our Radium 96BIE board complies with the 96Boards IoT Edition specification and runs the Intel® Curie™ module.  A 32-bit Quark processor  in bed with an ARCv2 MCU, a 6-axis internal measurement unit (IMU) and an independently programmable Bluetooth controller. Check it out at

Monday, September 19, 2016

A New Board and New COM Connector in Geppetto: TechNexion PICO-IMX6

Some of you may be wondering why I haven't posted any updates with respect to my RTK project.  Well, truth be told, it's been pretty busy here at Gumstix.  The release of Intel's new 64-bit IoT compute module at IDF, and our recent induction as manufacturing partner with 96Boards, gave me a steady flow of work.  And now we've released a new development board for the TechNexion PICO-IMX6 COM.

NXP's i.MX6 SoC has a fantastic selection of features - from 1080p HDMI to Gigabit ethernet, PCI express to image processing - and TechNexion has done a fantastic job of breaking out these features in a compact, low-profile compute module, complete with on-board WiFi and Bluetooth, an Edison-compatible low-speed header and two high-speed expansion headers.

Gumstix has put together a board with a long list of features to help you get going with TechNexion's PICO-IMX6 COMs.  Here's a list of its key features:

  • HDMI connector
  • Dual USB 2.0
  • microSD
  • Gigabyte Ethernet
  • MIPI DSI and CSI2 connectors
  • Audio in/out
  • NewHaven 4.3" cap-touch LCD connector

These and several more features, packed onto an 11x8cm PCB, make this board developer-ready for all kinds of projects such as handhelds, home automation control, tiny workstations or home theatre applications.  It's available now in the Gumstix Store

If you like the Gumstix PICO-IMX6 expansion board but it's missing something, or you just don't need this header or that display for your application, Its Geppetto design is available on the "Designed by Gumstix" tab in GeppettoD2O.  You can re-position, remove and add board modules to match up with your needs.

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.

Friday, July 22, 2016

More on the Areocore 2 for Dragonboard 410C

 As you could probably tell from my earlier post, I'm pretty excited for  the new Aerocore 2 board.  I just posted a short video showing off the board's features and performance that you really should watch if you have any interest in MAVs, drones or swarms.  This board's got some awesome capabilities.

Check out the video and see for yourself:

Friday, July 8, 2016

Remote Data Collection Board Chapter 2: Geppetto Design Process

So let's go through the steps it took to design my board.  Geppetto D2O is a web application so there is no download or software configuration steps, just straight to the design process.

First, click on that link or the one at the top of the page.  The app will load and you will see your workspace:

Geppetto Workspace
That column on the right hand side has all the modules that are available to add to your board.

Making the RDC Board

First, here are the main modules I'm going to use:

Processor: TI Sitara AM4378

  • bootable uSD card reader
  • 8GB eMMC
Power: 5V barrel connector

  • USB type-A host 
  • USB micro-B console port
Network: NimbeLink Skywire LTE modem connector

  • 9-axis IMU (gyro, mag, accel)
  • humidity
  • barometer
  • camera (on-board tiny caspa)
  • 5-pin Pre-GO GPS connector 
  • 4-pin ADC
  • I2C
  • UART
  • SPI
  • 20-pin GPIO
There will definitely be other bits and pieces to add.  A reset button and power light, to name a couple.  Anyway let's get started.

Placing and Connecting Modules

A sensible place to start is the processor.  You can find the TI Sitara AM4378 module under the "Processors" tab in the right-hand column.  That section also has a couple other ARM microcontrollers and processors on there.  Just drag
Drag-n-drop your modules
and drop it onto your board the way you would an icon on your desktop.  This module is taller than the default board size but you can resize it just like any desktop window.

What I like to do next is to satisfy all of the module's dependencies before moving on to the next main module on my list.

With the connections option selected in Geppetto's toolbar, when I hover over a placed module, a list of required signals appears.  If I click on a red signal, that right-hand column is filtered to only display those modules that provide that signal.

AM4378 module's required signals
In order to supply a 5V signal to the processor module, I am going to use a 5V power multiplexer for reasons I'll explain later.

Once I place the power muxer on the board, the 5V signal on the CPU module turns yellow.  Yellow means that this signal can be provided by a module on the board.  Now when I click on it, a matching signal appears next to the power muxer, which I can click on to complete the connection.

I'll add the uSD reader, a 1.7mm 5V barrel connector and a USB micro-B connector.  I needed to add a 3.3V regulator to correctly power the uSD reader and a USB-UART interface adapter to connect to the proccessor's console.  You'll notice, connecting the USB-UART module to the processor, a little penguin head appears next to UART0.  This is the "Tux Approved" icon.  That means that if you connect to UART0, the console connection will work out of the box.  Otherwise, you might need to edit your boot sequence accordingly. 

Also I connected the muxer to the barrel connector AND the USB micro-B, again, for reasons I'll explain in a second.  As I connect the required signals between my modules, the modules turn green.  When all modules are green the board's border turns green too.
All my modules are green

Now it's time to add our LTE modem.
This one's under the "Network" tab.  Adding this module to our board is tricky in the case of our board.

I've been promising to tell you why we need a power muxer and this is it.  Nimbelink's specifications for current on their  modems is high to account for increases in power usage when signal quality is poor.  I'm sure you've noticed that when your smartphone's signal drops below two bars, your battery drains much faster.

Now this is supposed to be a REMOTE data collection device so we want it to be able to run off of solar panels and backup batteries.  So if the weather conditions are not condusive to providing enough power to the board, we want to continue collecting data. So once the reserve battery is depeleted, let's just run the processor and sensors off of the trickle of power the photovoltaic cells are providing.

To do this I'll hook the 5V signal directly to the barrel connector while everything else uses the power muxer.  The muxer will automatically switch to whichever source is providing the most power.

Another new task required for connecting the modem is choosing between multiple options.  It can communicate with the CPU either by USB or UART, so the signals pop-up has a "choose  >" item.  Hover over that and you see these two options.  In this case I want to use USB.  Overall, I need two USB host devices because I want to use a USB WiFi dongle for testing later.  That and some external sensors may require a USB connection.
Not enough USB host connections

But what's this?  The AM4378 module only provides ONE USB host?  No problem.  We'll just add an on-board 3-port USB hub. 

And that's about as difficult as placing and connecting modules can get.

I'll skip over the addition of the sensors and headers and go straight to layout.

Arranging Modules

The next step in my workflow is layout.  I like to get everything on the board first and put the puzzle together later.  That's one thing that's great about Geppetto.  Doing this in, say, Eagle is not a trivial process.  Here we can just move them arround and not worry about traces, vias, etc. This is my design now:
My arranged board

Once I clean it up, drop the eMMC I forgot about and add some mounting holes, it looks like this:

Saving and Previewing

Now that I have my design the way I want it, I don't want to lose it.  In order to save you need an account, but I'm sure you can set that up after clicking the login button on the top-right corner of the page.

When you click the save button, you'll be asked to provide a title and description.  When you click next, there will be a short wait while Geppetto thinks, then, and this is really cool, you'll see a 3D render of your board.

This design image can even be exported to an STL file, which is handy for making enclosures for it.

The final step in the Geppetto workflow is ordering, but for now, we'll stop here.  My imaginary company needs to approve the design before we commit to it.

NEXT TIME: Ordering and preparing for software development

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Remote Data Collection Board Chapter 1: Starting in Geppetto

As the final stage of my RTK project quickly approaches (waiting for a clear day), My next project is taking shape.  I am designing my first expansion board in Geppetto, ordering it, and developing an RDC program for it.

What is Geppetto?

Geppetto is a unique online service with which you can lay out and connect together hardware modules, COMs and on-board processors on a virtual PCB.  The drag-and-drop "Green Means Go" interface make it easy to place and connect all of the features on your board.

Couple that with the fact that Gumstix will manufacture, test, and ship your board to you in three weeks, and you've got the ultimate design-to-order expansion board CAD tool.  It will cost you a $1999 setup fee for your first Geppetto order.

We use Geppetto in-house as well.  Gumstix's recent expansion boards and single-board computers (SBCs) have been designed in Geppetto and are available to the community to kickstart your designs.

Check out for more info.

What I Am Doing

My Imaginary Company

Here's my use case scenario.  Let's say I run a company that monitors the potential for wildfires in a given area.  In order to do so, I must acquire a multitude of environmental data: temperature, humidity, pressure, etc.  I need a compact and self-contained device that can easily be deployed in the field.  As usual, I will also need to access these data nodes from anywhere.  What I need is a PCB that incorporates as much of this functionality on-board as possible because connecting hardware with wires is messy and unreliable.

OK so how do I go about a proof of concept?  Eventually, I'll want to go to high-volume production as my business grows, but for now I want to avoid paying engineers to make me a board.  Fortunately, Joe Tech, the intern on the firmware engineering team, heard about Geppetto from one of his profs and tells me all about it.

I check it out and start playing around.  After about 45 minutes or so,  I've got a board with most of the sensors I need, on-board storage and cell modem capabilities.  I added a few communication headers in order to add the remaining sensors for my application.

After a few tweaks and the stamp of approval from my senior engineer, I order the board.  Three weeks later, it arrives and my firmware team starts testing their software.


I'm going to go through the whole design and development process.  I'll design my board in Geppetto, get the thumbs up, order it, and start developing right away.  I'll keep you posted as the design moves through the hands of the Gumstix engineers and will develop some code to poll the sensors and transmit the data over the Internet.

In the spirit of the use case above, the board will focus on ambient environmental data, like temperature, barometric pressure, etc.

We'll be taking this board to production and selling it in the Gumstix store when it's finished so if you're in the business of collecting data remotely and need a board that will get you going, keep an eye on me and I'll let you know when it's ready.

UP NEXT: The finalized Geppetto design

P.S. I recently opened a twitter account, @gstixguru.  Follow me for updates on my projects and cool new hardware in the tech industry.