GPIO tutorial for the BeagleBone Black (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Sun, 11 Aug 2013

GPIO tutorial for the BeagleBone Black

Want to get started controlling hardware from your BeagleBone Black? I've found a lot of the documentation and tutorials a little sketchy, so here's what I hope is a quick start guide.

I used the Adafruit Python GPIO library for my initial hacking. It's easy to set up: once you have your network set up, run these commands:

opkg update && opkg install python-pip python-setuptools python-smbus
pip install Adafruit_BBIO

Pinout diagrams

First, where can you plug things in? The BBB has two huge header blocks, P8 and P9, but trying to find pinout diagrams for them is a problem. Don't blindly trust any diagram you find on the net; compare it against several others, and you may find there are big differences. I've found a lot of mislabeled BBB diagrams out there.

The best I've found so far are the two tables at No pictures, but the tables are fairly readable and seem to be correct.

The official BeagleBone Black hardware manual is the reference you're actually supposed to use. It's a 121-page PDF full of incomprehensible and unexplained abbreviations. Good luck! The pin tables for P8 and P9 are on pp. 80 and 82. P8 and P8 are identified on p. 78.

Blinking an LED: basic GPIO output

For basic GPIO output, you have a wide choice of pins. Use the tables to identify power and ground, then pick a GPIO pin that doesn't seem to have too many other uses.

The Adafruit library can identify pins either by their location on the P8 and P9 headers, e.g. "P9_11", or by GPIO number, e.g. "GPIO0_26". Except -- with the latter designation, what's that extra zero between GPIO and _26? Is it always 0? Adafruit doesn't explain it. So for now I'm sticking to the PN_NN format.

I plugged my LED and resistor into ground (there are lots of ground terminals -- I used pin 0 on the P9 header) and pin 11 on P9. It's one line to enable it, and then you can turn it on and off:

import Adafruit_BBIO.GPIO as GPIO

GPIO.setup("P9_11", GPIO.OUT)
GPIO.output("P9_11", GPIO.HIGH)
GPIO.output("P9_11", GPIO.LOW)
GPIO.output("P9_11", GPIO.HIGH)
Or make it blink:
import time
while True:
    GPIO.output("P9_11", GPIO.HIGH)
    GPIO.output("P9_11", GPIO.LOW)

Fading an LED: PWM output

PWM is harder. Mostly because it's not easy to find out which pins can be used for GPIO. All the promotional literature on the BBB says it has 8 GPIO outputs -- but which ones are those?

If you spend half an hour searching for "pwm" in that long PDF manual and collecting a list of pins with "pwm" in their description, you'll find 13 of them on P9 and 12 on P8. So that's no help.

After comparing a bunch of references and cross-checking pin numbers against the descriptions in the hardware manual, I think this is the list: P9_14 P9_16 P9_21 P9_22 P9_28 P9_31 P8_13 P8_19

I haven't actually verified all of them yet, though.

Once you've found a pin that works for PWM, the rest is easy. Start it and set an initial frequency with PWM.start(pin, freq), and then you can change the duty cycle with set_duty_cycle(pin, cycle) where cycle is a number between 0 and 100. The duty cycle is the reverse of what you might expect: if you have an LED plugged in, a duty cycle of 0 will be brightest, 100 will be dimmest.

You can also change the frequency with PWM.set_frequency(pin, freq). I'm guessing freq is in Hertz, but they don't actually say.

When you're done, you should call PWM.stop() and PWM.cleanup().

Here's how to fade an LED from dim to bright ten times:

import Adafruit_BBIO.PWM as PWM

PWM.start("P9_14", 50)

for j in range(10):
    for i in range(100, 0, -1):
        PWM.set_duty_cycle("P9_14", i)


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[ 13:36 Aug 11, 2013    More hardware | permalink to this entry | ]

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