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Hobbyist kit turns BeagleBoard into a tablet

Jun 15, 2010 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 14 views

Open source electronics firm Liquidware has released a kit for attaching a 4.4-inch Liquidware BeagleTouch OLED touchscreen to a BeagleBoard to construct a Linux-based, tablet device. The Beagle Embedded Starter Kit also incorporates a BeagleJuice battery module and a 4GB SD card.

Writing on the Antipasto Hardware Blog hobbyist site, which is devoted to demonstrating designs created with components from the Liquidware and Modern Device open source electronics companies, hacker Justin Huynh of Liquidware shows how to make a tablet out of the Beagle Embedded Starter Kit.

The device may be thick as a brick and look more like an industrial touch-panel than a consumer tablet, but it can be powered by a battery, play videos, and access the Internet via WiFi. Available for $393.61, the kit may be used to develop a portable tablet, a control panel, or a kiosk, says Liquidware.

Liquidware'sBeagle Embedded Starter Kit, fully constructed

The kit is built around's hobbyist and prototype-oriented BeagleBoard Rev C4, board. Like the BeagleBoard Rev E version, the $150 development board moves up to the 720MHz version of the ARM Cortex-A8-based Texas Instruments OMAP3530 system-on-chip (SoC), according to Liquidware. (Recently, and its distributor Digi-Key announced a new BeagleBoard-xM version based on a new 1GHz DM3730 SoC, a video-enhanced variant of TI's new AM3715 SoC.)

The tablet design combines the hacker-friendly BeagleBoard with the BeagleTouch, Liquidware's 4.4-inch OLED touchscreen. The BeagleTouch is designed to mount directly on the BeagleBoard, thereby avoiding the need for FTDI, null modem, and IDC cables, says the company.

However, connecting all the required components for a mobile tablet, including the flip side of the BeagleBoard tablet sandwich — a BeagleJuice battery module — is not quite so straightforward. It's more complicated, at least, than using the "shield" add-ons available with the Arduino modules that the Antipasto Hardware Blog has been working with recently. Hence, the need to develop the tablet kit and publish the hands-on blog.

Kit components (left to right): BeagleTouch, BeagleBoard, and BeegleJuice

The BeagleTouch display offers 480 × 272 resolution, as well as OLED technology for richer colors and better contrast. It further incorporates a 20mm speaker, plus a type B-mini interface to RS232 serial, says Liquidware. The BeagleTouch is connected to the BeagleBoard via this serial link, brought out via a Type B-mini USB port, says the company.

The BeagleTouch can then be connected to the BeagleJuice power module, which offers power and charging capabilities, as well as an on/off switch. The final piece of the kit is a 4GB pre-formatted SD card used to boot the BeagleBoard's Angstrom Linux distribution, says Liquidware.

Optionally, Liquidware will sell users BeagleBoards with the BeagleTouch headers pre-soldered on. But that would be cheating, wouldn't it?

Putting it all together

Key to the Antipasto Hardware Blog blog how-to process is the determination of which headers to solder, and how to do it. "The BeagleBoard has quite a few expansion headers — much like the Arduino," writes Justin Huynh in the blog. "But unlike the Arduino, the standard BeagleBoard comes with the headers unpopulated, and most people just put on the headers that they'll need or think they'll be using."

Soldering headers

To complicate matters, the BeagleTouch comes with a few extra headers that go onto the BeagleBoard. The blog explains how it's done, however, and then shows how to connect the BeagleJuice module using the plastic screws and standoffs that come with the kit. The how-to then shows how to attach the SD card and complete the construction of the working tablet.

This not the first tablet-like device based on the BeagleBoard. That would be the Touch Book from Always Innovating. This netbook device uses a modified version of TI's BeagleBoard SBC, and offers a detachable, 8.9 inch, 1024 x 600 touchscreen, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth, and accelerometers.

YouTube video from Antipasto Hardware Blog how-to on building BeagleBoard-based tablet
(Click to enlarge)


Liquidware's Beagle Embedded Starter Kit is available now for $393.61, with more information and sales available here.

The Antipasto Hardware Blog story on using the kit may be found here.

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