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$25 MIPS SBC extends Arduino with WiFi and OpenWRT

Jul 18, 2014  |  Eric Brown

The Arbor Linux Shield combines a V-Solution COM running Linux on an Atheros AR9331 with a baseboard that can act as a Linux SBC or as an Arduino shield.

What is it about OpenWRT Linux that brings families together? Only a few days after we reported on the DPT Board Indiegogo project from DPTechnics — a father-and-son startup in Belgium — we find there’s another OpenWRT-based Indiegogo single board computer project from a father-and-son startup, this time from Lakefield, Minnesota. Arbor-IO’s Arbor Linux Shield (ALS) similarly integrates a MIPS-based Qualcomm Atheros AR9331 system-on-chip.



Arbor Linux Shield mounted on Arduino sBC and topped with ALS Atheros Module
(click image to enlarge)

Whereas the $35, education focused DPT Board aims to create a sort of Raspberry Pi for the Atheros, the $25 to $45 Arbor Linux Shield provides the Linux functionality of an Arduino Yun board, turning an attached Arduino board into a full-fledged SBC. The Arduino compatible Yun was Arduino’s first Linux-ready board, similarly running OpenWRT, and was followed by the more powerful, ARM-based Arduino Tre. The ALS board uses the same OpenWRT build as the Yun.


ALS port detail
(click image to enlarge)

The Arduino Linux Shield is available through Aug. 23 on Indiegogo for a $25 “steal” version. After those are gone, there’s a $35 “deal” package and a package for $45, which appears to be the final price. There’s no relationship between Arbor-IO and the embedded tech firm Arbor.


ALS baseboard top and bottom
(click image to enlarge)

The ALS uses the sandwich-style approach, combining its baseboard with a V-Solutions WSoCLM113 computer-on-module equipped with Qualcomm’s 400MHz Atheros AR9331 SoC. The 40 x 40mm COM also features 64MB of DDR2 RAM, 16MB of SPI flash, and a 38-pin connector. It supports temperatures ranging from -5 to 45°C.


V-Solutions WSoCLM113, used here as the ALS Atheros Module
(click image to enlarge)

To an Arduino user, the ALS is a shield that extends their boards with Yun-like features including OpenWRT, WiFi, Ethernet, and USB. Yet, the ALS can also be used without being plugged into an Arduino SBC, in which case it acts like a standalone Linux SBC for router- or sensor-driven applications. The board can also hook up to other similar non-Arduino SBCs, although that appears to require that the non-Arduino SBC have Arduino-compatible expansion headers.


ALS paired with three different SBCs
(click image to enlarge)

According to an email from Ben Griffin, who recently launched Arbor-IO with his father Bud, the ALS board is open source, and will ship with schematics and an Eagle file. However, the Atheros Module is not open source, as it is a third-party product.

Ben was formerly a network and systems engineer while semi-retired Bud is an electronics engineer with extensive experience in computers. “We thought it was a natural fit with his electronics skills and my systems and programming skills to start building embedded systems together,” writes Ben.

In addition to the module’s processor and memory, the ALS provides a 10/100 Ethernet port, a USB 2.0 port, a micro-USB port, and a microSD slot. There are also two extra pins apiece for Ethernet and USB expansion, as well as 11 GPIO pins, three of which are dedicated to Arduino communications.

There are three ways to power the ALS, according to Arbor-IO’s Ben Griffin:

  1. If you are using the ALS as a shield on an Arduino SBC, power is provided by the 5V pin on the Arduino header.
  2. You can power the ALS and an alternative SBC through the onboard micro USB connector that serves as the Linux terminal port.
  3. The ALS and an alternative SBC can be powered by a standard 5V USB hub power adapter. These are typically supplied with a 2.8mm plug connector.



Sample weather reporting application with LCD display (left) and breakdown of development process
(click images to enlarge)

Users can control the Arduino by writing programs or scripts in Python, NodeJS, Lua, Shell, and other programming languages, says the company. They can interface to a web server hosted on the shield or control projects via a smartphone or tablet.

Specifications listed for the Arbor Linux Shield include:

  • Processor(via ALS Atheros Module) — Qualcomm Atheros AR9331 (1x MIPS core @400MHz)
  • Memory (via ALS Atheros Module) — 64MB DDR2 RAM; 16MB SPI flash
  • Storage — MicroSD slot for up to 32GB
  • Wireless (via ALS Atheros Module) – 802.11b/g/n
  • Networking — 10/100 Ethernet port with 2x Ethernet expansion headers
  • Other I/O:
    • USB 2.0 host port
    • Micro-USB port (supports power)
    • 2x USB 2.0 expansion headers
    • 11x GPIO pins (3x for Arduino)
  • Other features — configurable jumpstart button
  • Operating system — OpenWRT 12.09 (Arduino Yun build)

 
Further information

The Arduino Linux Shield is available through Aug. 23 on Indiegogo, with early bird pricing starting at $25. Shipments are expected in October. More information may be found at the ALS Indiegogo page and the Arbor-IO website.
 

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