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Quick-turn baseboard dev tool adds third-party COMs, SBCs

Nov 4, 2015 — by Eric Brown 1,247 views

Gumstix has opened up its quick-turn expansion board design service to third-party COMs and SBCs like the BeagleBone Black, with Raspberry Pi coming soon.

Gumstix launched its web-based Geppetto custom design-to-order (D2O) platform for embedded boards back in 2013. Later that year, the company added new crowd-funding features to the drag-and-drop embedded board design service, and released version 2.0 last December. Previously, the service has been limited to a few Gumstix computer-on-modules such as the company’s TI Sitara AM3354-based Overo modules, as well as its dual-core, Cortex-A9 OMAP4430-based DuoVero modules. Today, however, Gumstix is extending Geppetto’s support to expansion board designs for use with other companies’ TI Sitara AM335x-based COMs and single-board computers (SBCs). The company also plans to soon add support for COMs and SBCs that use SoCs beyond TI’s, notably including the Broadcom BCM2835-based Raspberry Pi and Raspberry Pi Compute Module.

Geppetto’s evolving library of support for non-Gumstix SBCs and COMs
(click image to enlarge)

The first third-party SBCs and COMs to be supported by Geppetto will run on the Cortex-A8-based TI Sitara AM335x system-on-chips. These include the BeagleBone Black SBC, as well as Critical Link’s MitySOM-335x, and DAVE’s Diva AM335x COMs. All of these are now available for custom expansion board development in Geppetto.

Geppetto-designed baseboard for the Raspberry Pi Compute Module (left) and a cape for the BeagleBone Black
(click images to enlarge)

The second phase, which appears to be slated for 2016, will expand Geppetto’s third-party COM and SBC support to the Raspberry Pi SBC, as well Toradex’s Colibri family of SODIMM-style COMs and various 96Boards-compatible designs. The latter currently include two 64-bit ARM SBCs: the HiKey, a collaboration among, CircuitCo, Avnet, and Arrow, and Qualcomm’s DragonBoard 410c SBC.

Geppetto-designed baseboards for the MitySOM-335x (left) and Diva
(click images to enlarge)

This Gumstix Geppetto announcement comes only a week after Element14 and Raspberry Pi Trading Ltd., the commercial subsidiary of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, announced a CustomPi partnership for creating customized versions of the Raspberry Pi, in quantities of 3,000 to 5,000 units. Raspberry Pi design tweaks are likely to include revised board layouts, additional or alternative functions, interfaces, connectors, and memory configurations.

In an interview with LinuxGizmos, Gumstix CEO Gordon Kruberg noted a number of key differences between Geppetto and CustomPi. While CustomPi is limited to the Raspberry Pi, Geppetto now supports multiple vendors and ARM processor architectures. Ready-to-run boards designed with Geppetto are offered by Gumstix at a set price of $1,999 plus board cost, which can be reduced with quantity discounts. Additionally, Geppetto has no minimum order, and features a manufacturing turnaround of 15 business days. Geppetto users can try out the online design service for free before committing to a manufacturing run.


By comparison, the CustomPi program promises only to review custom design proposals and respond with a quote in 21+ days (about the same as 15 business days), before any development and manufacturing processes can begin, says Kruberg. Element14’s CustomPi pricing and manufacturing turnaround have yet to be announced. It’s also unclear what kind of tools will be provided, if any, for CustomPi board designers.

The joy of Geppetto

Geppetto provides a web-based board design and modification process with drag-and-drop functionality. Customers can not only choose from a variety of foundational COMs and SBCs, but also choose the size of the finished baseboard, and decide which I/O functions, connectors, and other components to include, such as TI’s WiLink 8 wireless modules. When possible, users can also choose where to place the various ports and components.

Example Geppetto functions
(click images to enlarge)

Gumstix does the rest, using the same PCB design automation tools, standardized BOMs (bills of materials), manufacturing supply chain, and test tools with which its own products are designed and built. The company even uses Geppetto for its own board designs.

As noted, Geppetto 2.0 offers crowd-funding features that let a community of developers collaborate on a board’s design or modification, and then share in funding its prototype builds. Consequently, Geppetto’s extension to hacker SBC expansion board designs has the potential to become very popular.

According to Kruberg, the “magic” of Geppetto, is the ability to supply finished, debugged, working baseboard/module combos, including a customized Linux or Nuttx stack. The service is also notable for its reliance on the Linux Device Tree, which allows an abstraction of hardware to be read during boot from a Device Tree blob. In fact, “Geppetto generates the device tree blob indirectly for the kernel,” says Kruberg.

Geppetto’s library of functions supports I/O including USB, SDIO, GPIO, SPI, and I2C, and LVDS — but not PCI Express, which is still fairly rare on ARM-based SBC and COM designs. Kruberg also touts the service for its “object oriented hardware” technology, which enables the rapid development of working prototypes with a tested and pre-booted OS.

“Having BeagleBone Black included in this powerful design tool supports our mission to promote the design and use of open-source software and hardware in embedded computing,” stated Jason Kridner, Co-Founder, BeagleBone.Org Foundation. “We are glad the BeagleBone community can utilize this new tool in their BeagleBone Black development projects.”

“We are excited to customize Geppetto for developers across multiple platforms, It’s a game changing path to market for communities we admire as hotbeds of innovative applications,” added Kruberg. “At Gumstix, our goal is to make electronic product design so simple and the ramp to production so rapid, that thousands of designers can launch marketable products.”

Further information

The Geppetto design tool is available for free trial at Gumstix’s Geppetto page.

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