EBC Embedded Beagle Class Topics

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When I first started planning for this course I was told "The hardest things about designing such a course is deciding what to leave out". That is very true. There is a huge range of topics that could be covered. They seem to fall in three broad categories:

  1. Traditional embedded topics such as reading switches and flashing LEDs (general purpose I/O), UARTS, I2C, SPI, and A to D's.
  2. Embedded Linux topics such as tools for code development and what happens when the kernel boots up, how to write device drivers, etc.
  3. Advanced applications. This includes open source projects such as processing streaming media with GStreamer and computer vision with OpenCV

Here's what I have so far. Everything before the Kernel topics are run completely on the BeagleBoard. No need to set up a host computer.

Traditional Embedded Topics

Here is how to do some of traditional gpio on a Beagle. These materials assume you already know how to teach the topic on another embedded processor and want to know how it works on the Beagle.

Setting up the Beagle's SD card
The first exercise is to get Linux installed on the SD card for the Beagle and boot it up. All these exercises are designed to be run completely on the Beagle, so there is no need to install anything on the host computer. Follow the instructions to download and install the SD image.
General Purpose I/O, Flashing an LED
This exercise shows how to flash an LED and read the User button from the command line of the Beagle. It's a nice way to explore the gpio since it's all command driven and no need to compile anything.
gpio Polling and Interrupts
The command is a rather easy ways to work with gpio; however it tends to be slow and require a lot of the CPU. In this exercise we explore using sysfs via C. We also see how using interrupts can greatly reduce the CPU usage and increase our max output speed.
Pulse Width Modulation
Toggling a gpio pin takes a lot of CPU time. Many embedded processors have hardware that can toggle a pin continuously without CPU interaction. This exercise shows how to use the Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) hardware to do this. Another topics that is introduced is Pin Muxing. The Beagle's processor has more internal I/O lines than it has output pins. A given pin can be attached to one out of eight internal lines. This exercise shows how to set the Pin Muxes to the PWM lines.
There are a number of serial standards for processors to talk to peripherals. I²C is a "two-wire interface" standard that is used to attach low-speed peripherals to an embedded system. In this exercise we wire up a couple of I²C temperature sensors (TC74) and learn how to read their values.

Embedded Linux - Development Topics

The following exercises start the transition to Linux based approaches. They introduce Linux-based tools, but we're not working with the kernel yet.

git - Revision Control
As the exercises get more involved it become important to use some revision control software. git is a distributed revision control system with an emphasis on being fast. It was initially designed and developed by Linus Torvalds for Linux kernel development. This exercise shows how to setup git on both the host computer and the Beagle and takes you through some of the basic commands.
gdb - Debugging Tools
As the code becomes more complex, more powerful debugging tools are needed. The GNU Project debugger (gdb) is the granddaddy of all debuggers. In this exercise you will learn how to install and use it on the Beagle.
As your programs become more complex they will spread over multiple files. make is a utility that tells which files depend on which and how to compile them all together into an executable. This exercise walks you through how to create a Makefile.
make with variables
In this part, we will add some user-defined variables and built-in variables to simplify and help the makefile more readable. You will also have a chance to build a “test’ rule to help debug your makefile.

Embedded Linux - Processing Audio and Video

At this point in a traditional embedded class one starts working with more complex interfaces such at A2D's and D2a'a. We do the same here, but differently. In a traditional class you learn which registers to use to setup and run the A2D. Here we learn to use ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture) a standard sound interface for Linux. What is learned will also work on a Linux host computer.

Using ALSA for Audio Processing
This is a three part lab. Part a shows how to use ALSA to input sounds and save them to a file. Part b reads that file and plays the sound. Both parts are inspection labs, i.e., you just look at them. In part c you combine parts a and b to create a program that inputs a sound from the line in and outputs to the line out.
Using the DSP for Audio Processing
In the previous exercise you saw how to bring audio into the Beagle and send it out again. You also did some processing on the audio. All this was done on the ARM processor. The DM3730 on the BeagleBoard has both an ARM processor and a C64x fixed-point DSP. This exercise shows you how to use the DSP via C6Run. C6Run is a set of tools which will take in C files and generate either an ARM executable, or an ARM library which will leverage the DSP to execute the C code.

Embedded Linux - Kernel Topics

It's time to start looking into what the kernel does and how it does it. Here we move from completely Beagle-based development to setting up the host for cross-development. Soon you'll be compiling your own kernel!

The text I use is the Embedded Linux Primer by Christopher Hallinan, published by Prentice Hall. You can see a chapter here. The text does a good job of describing what happens from the moment power is applied to the processor until you have a full blown Linux running. It is not BeagleBoard specific, so there is sometimes a little foot work needed to see how things apply to the Beagle. This isn't a bug, it's a feature. The text has several listings from various processor reproduced throughout the book. I have my students reproduce the listing for the Beagle. It's a good way to see if they really understand what they are reading.

Additional Topics

Here are a few additional topics I have covered in the past, or plan to cover next time.

  • Audio I/O. I give an example of how to capture audio from the line in and send it to line out.
  • Display Sub System (DSS). The DSS on the OMAP supports 3 frame buffers, one for graphics and 2 for video. I give them the c code needed to pull a frame of video from a web cam via Video 4 Linux (v4l2) and store it in a file. I also give the code to take the frame from the file and put it in a video frame buffer. Their task is to combine the two programs to pull live video from the camera and display it on the monitor.
  • DSP. Next time I plan to have my students use the DSP via c6run (ECE497 Lab13 Using the DSP via c6run). c6run is a slick system that runs code on the DSP via the ARM without having to know all the details of how the two interact. I plan to give details of how memory is shared between the two processors (ARM with virtual memory and the DSP without) and show how cmem manages it.
  • OpenCV. There is a port of the Open Computer Vision Library openCV. I plan a one day overview of it with some demos.
  • GStreamer. There is also a port of GStreamer, the open Multimedia Framework. It even has a plugin that uses the DSP.
  • Speech Recognition. TI has an embedded speech recognizer that has been ported to the Beagle. I'll present it and suggest projects that might use it.

I'll present other topics based on what the class is interested in.

Course Projects

A major part of the course grade is based on a major project. Here are some of the projects that have been done, or that I'm proposing: ECE497 Project Ideas