How-To: Get Started with the BeagleBone

Other Boards Technology
How-To: Get Started with the BeagleBone
YouTube player

I’ve had my eye on embedded Linux platforms for quite a while now, but wasn’t sure how to get started. When I saw that our own Maker Shed started carrying the BeagleBone I put in a call to get a trial unit. The system reference manual that comes with the board is a bit daunting, and isn’t meant as a getting started guide (despite the fact that there’s plenty of useful reference information in there). After a bit of researching online, I started to get the grasp of using Linux’s virtual file system, sysfs, to read and control the GPIO pins on the BeagleBone. In parallel, I taught myself just enough Python to script these operations. With a basic digitalRead and digitalWrite functions, I had many of the tools I needed to do some cool projects with the board.

However, I spent a lot of time going back and forth between my board, the system reference manual, and my script as I worked towards getting blinking LEDs and buttons. Translating between the physical pin on the header to the pin I’d be referencing in the script meant going through two steps of translation, which quickly became frustrating. I updated my Python functions to do this translation for me and packaged it up into its own module. I didn’t have the intention to make this module available publicly, but I figured it could be a lot of help to anyone who’s getting started. This module, mrBBIO, is available at Github and I welcome anyone to make any improvements to it. If you’re looking for something more advanced, check out PyBBIO, which uses memory registers to do the same thing.

Now that I’ve got a good grasp on this, I’m eager to start using it in a “real” project. I managed to get the lighttpd web server with PHP running and I even wrote a PHP script that could set pins high and low. This will make it so much easier to put my electronics projects online, something that can be quite a challenge to do on less capable microntrollers.


I couldn’t cover every possible detail involved in working with the BeagleBone’s GPIO pins, but I hope this list of resources will fill in any gaps:

Subscribe to How-Tos with Matt Richardson in iTunes, download the m4v video directly, or watch it on YouTube and Vimeo.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Matt Richardson is a San Francisco-based creative technologist and Contributing Editor at MAKE. He’s the co-author of Getting Started with Raspberry Pi and the author of Getting Started with BeagleBone.

View more articles by Matt Richardson


Ready to dive into the realm of hands-on innovation? This collection serves as your passport to an exhilarating journey of cutting-edge tinkering and technological marvels, encompassing 15 indispensable books tailored for budding creators.