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ECE497 Notes on Creating a Beaglebone Cape

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So you are thinking about building a Beaglebone cape? Awesome! There are a lot of reasons to make a cape other than the fact that you will be able to implement almost every functionality you can think of all on one PCB. In 2012, beagleboard.org and circuitco held a Beagle Cape competition and gave the top three design entries $1000 dollars plus lifetime royalties on sales of the cape on circuitco. You could also try to get your cape licensed and sold by Adafruit, Sparkfun, or other DIY websites separately. Good Luck!

Design Decisions

The first issue that must be tackled is what exactly you want on your cape. There is a Google Spreadsheet that lists most Beaglebone capes that have been completed or are in the process of being completed. If the cape you are building does not have components on it that are in the repository, it is probably time to ask yourself whether the beaglebone supports the hardware you have selected.

Also, if your cape idea is really similar to one in the repository, I wouldn't get too down about it. Paypal is really similar to Google Checkout, Wirecard, and Moneybookers, but continues to be the standout internet money handling service for various reasons. Basically, I would suggest continuing to work on your idea. Especially if it offers something unique that the other solutions in the repository do not include.

When choosing parts that you want on your cape, realize that some parts are easier to put on PCBs than others. Try looking up libraries for the parts you want to use by googling "msp430 allegro library" or "msp430 Eagle library." If there is not library, you will likely have to create a pad and footprint for the part.

Tools Needed

EagleCadSymbol.png

Eagle CAD is an open source schematic layout and PCB editor environment that is used by most of the PCB open source community. You can find the latest version of Eagle here.

Cadence logo3.gif

Cadence Allegro is licensed to the Rose-Hulman, so it is free to Rose students. Allegro is a little bit harder overall to make PCB's in, but it is supported by the ECE department. Ask Dr. Simoni for help on the PCB. He has a website with video tutorials and other walk-throughs to help you with the process. Rose-Hulman licenses it free for use for any current students. It can be downloaded from the DFS folder. The folder also has instructions on how to install it.

First Step: Prototyping

No Beaglebone cape is known to work until all of the suggested components are prototyped together with various development boards and a Beaglebone. Texas Instruments has many development kits listed on their website product pages. For example, if you navigate to the page for a common MSP430 Processor you will find on the right side of the page links to evaluation modules, development tools, and other information.


The other place to look for prototyping information is on the product page itself at vendors like Digikey, Mouser, and Allied Electronics. The MSP430 that we just looked at on the TI website can also be found on the Mouser website where you can buy it for $2.00. See also that the Mouser website has information such as a datasheet and schematic footprints for the specific product.

After the evaluation modules are ordered, grab your breadboard such as: Breadboard.jpg and begin placing components and wiring everything together.

Building a Schematic

Eagle CAD is a fully featured CAD program that can be had for the low price of $0 as long as you are okay with these limitations:

  • The useable board area is limited to 100 x 80 mm (4 x 3.2 inches).
  • Only two signal layers can be used (Top and Bottom).
  • The schematic editor can only create one sheet.

Allegro PCB is licensed by the school and used by many professional organizations throughout the world. See Dr. Simoni for advanced help.

Pads and footprints are the metal conductors that the components going on the PCB are soldered. An example footprint is shown below for an MSP430 processor.