Illuminate Your Imagination with Your Own Projects - BeagleBone Media Center (2015)

BeagleBone Media Center (2015)

Chapter 6. Illuminate Your Imagination with Your Own Projects

The previous chapter showed that the BeagleBone Black board is designed to accept hardware add-ons called capes and how they ease the setup of projects. We can apply the same philosophy to the software part, thanks to the different tools that help developers. Now, in this chapter, we will go further with our hands-on approach by creating our applications.

You'll then have an overall view of how you can realize your own ideas without many difficulties. Thus the main purpose of this chapter could be resumed as:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime

I hope that you'll be more eager to develop projects by yourself afterwards.

In this chapter, we will cover the following topics:

· Presenting the "matrix revolution"

· Diving into the software parts

· Example 1 – our first client server application

· Example 2 – improving the first example by adding functionalities

· Example 3 – creating animated graphical patterns

· Final words

Presenting the "matrix revolution"

This project aims to connect a matrix to the BeagleBone board so that it can be remotely accessed through a network connection. For this purpose, you will program the following parts:

· The client that will establish a connection to the server

· The server on the BeagleBone where you'll be able to interact with all the connected devices

Presenting the "matrix revolution"

This project allows you to approach the following technologies:

· BeagleBone/I2C: This board communicates with the matrix using the I2C protocol (introduced later).

· Adafruit matrix: The matrix itself in the bicolor version. The good part is that when you buy two colors, you can have three (the combination of green with red will give you the orange color too).

· Client: Even though the hardware part will be the same among the different examples, you are going to implement different ways to control the matrix. These examples will then be different versions of a client program, which can run on a single PC, for example.

· Server: From the other side of the network, the BeagleBone board will have a dedicated program that will wait for commands to be executed. Similar to the client, this part will also evolve along with the project.

· Python: This is a well-known and widely-used language that lets you focus on the project quickly.

· Code repository: Writing code is an activity that lives, which moves as programs are not written in stone. This is why a companion repository for this book has been created on GitHub. With this online code base, you only need to retrieve the Matrix Revolution repository with the local git command. As you have already used Git in the previous chapters, you know that with a simple command you are sure to work with the last changes (corrections, improvements, fixes, and so on) from the author. The dedicated site can be found at, as shown in the following screenshot:

Presenting the "matrix revolution"

· This is the entry point, in the form of a website where you can grab the latest version of the projects as a compressed file and get basic details.

· Accustomed coders will prefer a more detailed view with commit dates, information about which files have been pulled in the repository, and so on. Indeed, this other view of the site will let you walk through, read, or retrieve the code in many different ways.

Presenting the "matrix revolution"

· This being said, the best (and the only) way to get the code is to use git from the command line of your board:

· git clone

Now that you know what you are going to play with, we'll mix these technologies in three flavors, elaborating in a progressive manner. Obviously, this implies that you need some additional knowledge but rest assured that it will be explained sufficiently. Having said that, you need to be at ease with the example and its concepts before you go to the next step.

The LED matrix

The graphical representation of this project will be a matrix of LEDs that Adafruit has arranged in a very handy product, and there is no need to for additional components such as resistors, power circuits, and so on: the box contains all that is required to start quickly.

You can get more details from their website at

When you receive it, you just need to solder some pins as indicated in the Adafruit documentation and it's ready to be used. As shown in the presentation, the messages between the matrix and the BeagleBone Black board use a form of the I2C protocol. Let's look how it works.

Introducing I2C

Whichever board you use in your projects—Arduino, Raspberry, Mini2440—most of the time, you need to deal with sensors, components, or devices that "talk" I2C or SPI. These data buses simplify our coder's life. Indeed, our matrix just need to be managed with only two signals, SCL and DAT, to execute all the operations.

Instead of a wire for each function, a communication is specified by Philips on the two wires with the protocol part of the I2C. Fortunately, this happens behind the scenes, thanks to the I2C Linux driver.


Are you interested in getting more details about the I2C bus? Check out for an interesting explanation.

Using the driver means that, even though you use the I2C protocol, you never have to deal with the bus message frames, CRC, and all the detail of the protocol, so you can focus on the data to be sent from BeagleBone to the matrix.

Wiring the matrix to the board

After this short introduction to the I2C protocol, we can now set up the connection between the two devices, as shown here:

Wiring the matrix to the board


This image is not a drawing. You can obtain the source file from the GitHub website as a design file in order to use it with Fritzing (, an open source electronic design software.

Assuming that the matrix is now built, we can wire the matrix according to the following schema:

· SCL: Pin 20

· DAT: Pin 19

· +5V: Pin 6

· GND: Pin 2


Instead of 5V, you can use the 3.3V power as well, but this will result in less brightness.

The synoptic is easy to understand: just wire the four pins to the board. However after this, if you want to access the complete header's reference, check the header documentation provided by the BeagleBone Wiki at

Wiring the matrix to the board

For our experiments, we use the I2C-2 because the device's tree file defines that the I2C-1 is already used.

Usually, you should ensure that the function pin you intend to use is free.


This subject is outside the scope of this book and requires you to understand the device tree mechanism. A complete explanation can be found in the Free Electron presentation at

As BeagleBone Black was the first to follow the recommended guidelines, our board is used as an example along with the explanation, which is handy.

Diving into the software

We have set up the hardware that will be used along this chapter. Now, let's develop our application to give it some life.

Example 1 – our first client server application

Assuming that you retrieved the whole project in your local directory, simply go to the server_1 directory and open

Installing the requirements

Looking at the code parts, some prerequisites must be followed for both the server and client sides.

For the server, you can use the following command:

sudo pip install twisted

Alternatively, you can use the following line:

Install python-twisted

For the client part, you'll need to install the Python environment according to your operating system from

The code that we'll use here is compatible with both the 2.7 and 3 versions.

Additionally, you'll need a twisted matrix, which you can retrieve with this command:

pip install twisted

Alternatively, you can obtain the one for your operating system from

The hardware is set up and the requirements are in place; you are ready to run the example.

Running the example

Server_3/ Client/client3/

Running the example

Connect to the BeagleBone Black board with PuTTY or any SSH client and enter in the directory, as indicated:

debian@arm:~/BeagleboneBlack-Server-Book/Server/Server_1$ ./

Running the example

The message shown in the preceding screenshot indicates that the server is running correctly and is now waiting to accept a client connection. However, if you don't run the server before the client, you'll end up with the following message:


Connection failed - goodbye!

As soon as you start the client after the server, the client immediately loops over the data and you can see that the matrix gets its LEDs in green, according to that loop:

Running the example

On the server display (the SSH connection), you can also check the coordinates for the LED that is currently set.

Jumping into the code

When it is running on BeagleBone, the unique purpose of a server is to wait for the incoming data. If you intend to modify the server's code—and I hope you will—be warned that in order to keep the example simple, the code doesn't check the viability of the data sent from the client.

Description of the data packet

Each time the server receives data, it will look for the following three values:

· The X position

· The Y position

· Color

If you want to expand this format, you'll need to apply modifications on both the server and client sides.

Describing the server code

As soon as the server receives a data packet, it will transcode it into I2C, then be able to address each LED individually.

So, functionally speaking, the server can be seen as a "remote and translator" between the client application and each LED.

Now, let's dive into the main parts of the source:

Describing the server code

The preceding lines of code state that the required libraries (that is, Adafruit) are not in the standard path, but they can be found in the directory upwards. That way, if a new version is available, you just have to retrieve it (git pull), and you won't have to copy/paste into directories, as it's made transparent to you.


The code uses a modified version of the Adafruit library, which has some fixes. So, as long as you are using the bicolor version of the matrix, you should use this library only.

grid = ColorEightByEight(address=0x70)

The grid-based object needs to be instantiated in the program with an identified address, 0x70.


Here's a tip about I2C-tools: If you want to know where this address comes from, watch the video at

The remaining code is taken from the twisted matrix examples, which are handy to manage network applications. Finally, the following screenshot shows the main part of the server code:

Describing the server code

The client part is also based on the Twisted Matrix example with a modification in the EchoClient class. The client will do the following:

· Establish a connection to the server.

· Check whether the server is alive.

· With a successful connection, some frames are generated to fill the matrix line by line. This is the purpose of the two for loops.

When the client has finished, the matrix appears with all its LEDs lit, as shown here:

Describing the server code

What we have done so far is connecting our client application to a specific server in order to provide a service—remember the translation we talked about before—dedicated to a device, which is our LED matrix.

From a larger point of view, we have seen a project that aims to implement some customized hardware.

You can easily adapt this project to use any hardware of your choice or any off-the-shelf modules available, as described in the cape paragraph from Chapter 5, Building Your Media Player.

Questions and suggestions related to this example

The following are the questions and suggestions related to this example:

· Have you noticed that with the provided library the loop evolves in a particular sense?

· I've left a clear_matrix function that is yet to be used: what needs to be implemented on the client side in order to request the matrix to be cleared?

· You can imagine action words to create your own protocol, such as executing a predefined pattern, animation, and so on.

· Instead of using a hardcoded configuration, a cool improvement will be to parse an external file. For example, you can use configparser (, or if you don't like INI files, the PyYAML syntax ( is a good alternative.

Example 2 – improving the first example by adding functionalities

As you have quickly acquired confidence with the previous example, I'm sure you want to improve your project, and different ideas might come to mind. We are going to implement some of them.

From the client side

Based on the previous client-server scenario, it will be handy to add a graphical interface to the client in order to visually control the matrix. The GUI must be able to run on most known platforms, smartphones included.

We also want to control each LED color from the client side. Obviously, using all the available LED colors is now required, so we will add a dedicated control to the interface for this purpose.

From the server side

In the previous example, our focus was on the basic concepts to validate the project; we now intend to improve it. On the other side, the main evolution of the server is to find a way to allow each LED to evolve one after the other in a "traditional" direction, that is, from the top-left to bottom-right.

Actually, this is not exactly true. If you take a look at the provided code, you can see that some more functionality has already been implemented, but we will see this at the end of this second part:

From the server side

Improving the client with Kivy

Using the Python language, Kivy is an open source library that can be used to code graphical interfaces easily. With Kivy, you can run your project's executable on many targets, such as Windows, Linux, OS X, Android, and iOS. Multitouch is something that is also possible.

You can obtain Kivy for different platforms from

Improving the client with Kivy

Please follow the installation guidelines ( for Windows users) in order to be able to use the following example.

The following screenshot shows how this second version is organized:

Improving the client with Kivy

This application aims to be seen as a laboratory where you can have different experiments; therefore, no effort is put into the presentation, in order to focus on code simplicity for better understanding. Our laboratory is composed of the controls we spoke about in the improvements. Those controls can be split into four main groups, as follows:

· 64 buttons organized in a matrix, representing each LED individually. Each time you click on any button, you will see the corresponding LED lit on the matrix.

· A list of choices to select the color before you click on the matrix button.

· A log where you can see events, such as the current connection status of the board, some values, debugging information, and so on.

· Some additional splitters, which are kept for the last part of this example.

Sharing the same code as the previous example, this client comes with additional functionality anyway. Let's take a look at the code; it is shown in the following screenshot:

Improving the client with Kivy

The build method from TwistedClientApp is called to execute setup_gui and connect_to_server.

Thus, the Setup_gui method is the main method used to set up the interface, as shown here:

Improving the client with Kivy

This is where you define which controls will be inserted and their arrangement, and more precisely their layout:

1. Label: As we want to define our GUI on three different parts of the screen, the program relies on a grid layout. The method also defines a text zone dedicated to the communications with the board, debugging details, and so on.

2. Spinner: This is a color selector when clicked on so that you can choose a color.

3. A matrix made up of 64 buttons: Instead of defining all of them individually, a for loop is in charge of instantiating all the buttons. We then associate (bind) each new button click event to a dedicated handler (callback). Let's take a look at this callback method; it is shown in the following screenshot:

Improving the client with Kivy

4. Layout management: We insert different controls in our grid layout, knowing that the order is important.

Each time a button is clicked, the related callback will be called. Then, in the callback, we can handle the event by doing some computations and eventually print out some text about which button has been pressed to the log window next to it.

Improving the client with Kivy

After playing along with the client, you can see your requests executed on the matrix and then some LEDS set with different colors, as shown in the following screenshot:

Improving the client with Kivy

Questions and thoughts related to this example

The Setup_Gui method is somewhat long; can you try to modify the implementation in order to follow the recommended object concepts?

It won't take much time to change the callback so that it can handle colors without selecting them from the list. Here's a hint: you can get inspired from the next example.

If you have taken a closer look at the client code, you might see that some elements are waiting to be used and some others are left for improvement. For example, while two sliders are present, only one slider is able to display values. Both are left for improvement, so you can use them for whatever you want.

The same applies to the server code; we didn't use the Bargraph code at all.


Sliders and Bargraphs may be functionally relied.

Example 3 – creating animated graphical patterns

The previous two examples focused on experimentation, hardware understanding, and communication above others. That having been acquired, with the third example we will keep the same client/server basis, while we will leave the laboratory concept to set up a more realistic project. By doing this, we will be coding an application that will have a better ergonomy with a finest aspect.

Following the project's requirements

To achieve this goal, we are going to change the client programing language to use C++ with the Qt framework. Even though the example is quite simple, you'll need some C++ and object-oriented programming (OOP) knowledge. Qt is a framework that will allow you to keep the code universality, as in the previous example with Kivy, with a wider range of targets. As there are many similarities, you can then legitimately ask yourself why you need to change all the code? In this case, Qt benefits from many years of research and community efforts. Moreover and mostly, Qt provides more than GUI programming capabilities. Indeed, this vast and polyvalent framework gives access to various mechanisms for networks, threads, state machines, process communication, and so much more.

For installation purposes, you need to retrieve the proper installer from the download URL at

Along with this installer, an editor is also provided, so you can start coding/compiling right away.


After installation, to check your environment you can open QtCreator and start an empty Qt Widgets Application project. Compile it with the green triangle button on the left-hand side. As soon as you see a new empty application window popping up, this means that the compiler, the Qt Framework, and your settings are valid.

From now on, we will rely on QtCreator as the development environment. For the sake of everybody's spirit, everything is available from this environment. No external tools will be needed.

Where to find help on the Internet

If you intend to develop projects but are afraid of C++ or Qt, then the Voidrealms website ( is the solution for you.

There, the author has covered the most important subjects. From the very basic hello world to some advanced ones such as mutable, Model-View-Delegate, or QtConcurrent, you'll never waste a minute you spend there.

Indeed, behind the subjects that Voidrealms can explain, the concept is really attractive. Each topic is accompanied by a short video that allows you to get all the explanations, to finish each time with a single executable to understand and reproduce. The advantage of the video is that it has detailed explanations, and what is interesting is the mistakes that one can commit.

With most of the tutorials, you will also have a ZIP file of all the project sources of the video.


Bryan is the only guy to give life to all of these tutorials; you might consider a donation if you find the site useful.

For those who already have some C++ skills and want to jump directly to Qt without an introduction, I've provided here the main topics that you'll find in our project:

· C++ Qt 04 - Signals and Slots

· C++ Qt 09 - QGridLayout

· C++ Qt 12 - QFile

· C++ Qt 13 - Resource Files

· C++ Qt 15 - QPushButton

· C++ Qt 36 - Introducing containers and the QList

· C++ Qt 63 - Introduction to Network Programming Concepts

· C++ Qt 65 - QTcpSocket basics

Looking at the differences from the previous example

The previous example not only relies on the object programming paradigm but also on the way the information is represented. Indeed, while we will talk with the BeagleBone Black server in the same way, we'll configure the matrix on the computer with a totally different point of view by defining a more ergonomic GUI.

Looking at the differences from the previous example

As we did in the previous chapters, let's list what is done in this third example, knowing that a pattern represents the status of all the LEDs in the matrix:

· The graphical interface reuses the matrix representation as shown previously but in a way that can be adapted to different square matrices. This is handy for anyone who needs to implement a matrix with a different size and a few modifications.

· The client is completely rewritten in C++ and uses Qt.

· Each LED's status and color is set directly by a single click of the button. This allows you to define a pattern with different colors quickly.

· When you think that your pattern is complete, you have the possibility of saving it into a file or sending it directly.

· You can remove a pattern from the list.

· There is, of course, the possibility of loading some patterns from a file.

Looking at the concepts of the matrix edition

From the previous paragraph, you might want to know how these new functionalities will interact together. The following schema should represent the main idea:

Looking at the concepts of the matrix edition

· Begin by editing your new pattern and validate it by saving it

· This allows you to keep it in the list of all the patterns at the same time

· Then you can send it to the BeagleBone server with the server code running

· Alternatively, you can also save the pattern to a file

· You can start the application by directly loading some previously saved patterns as well

Browsing the code

As you have previously cloned the repository, the related Qt code is already in your hands and you simply need to change the directory from Client2 to Client/Qt. Then perform the following steps:

1. In the new directory, you should see a bunch of CPP and HPP files.

2. Now, launch QtCreator and, from the File menu, select the Open File or Project submenu.

3. From the file's dialog box, select the file from the directory you found in step 1.


If you remember, we previously stated that the code is a living thing, so checking the code base from time to time is a good habit:

Git pull

Compilation time

In the opened project, you can have a look at the code, compile it, and eventually modify it as well.

For now, we just compile it by clicking on the green triangle on the bottom-left.

Compilation time

During the compilation, the output window displays some hints about eventual errors and warnings. On a successful build, the leds_matrix executable is displayed here:

Compilation time


The source code should be flexible enough so that if you want to draw a matrix with a different size, you won't have to make much modification to the code.

Of course, you won't have a drawing like this one at the start. You need to load your Load patterns file to start sending your patterns.

Describing the GUI

You can now see how the Led_Matrix Qt application differs from the Kivy version.

The same matrix representation is used to let you design your pattern in the same way as before. However, an improvement has been made, as you don't have to select the color each time you click on a cell.

Indeed, the click follows a color cycle, as shown here:

Off -> Green -> Orange -> Red

This circular cycle ensures that the button is in the Off state again after the color Red. As soon as you are happy with your pattern, save it.

This adds your creation to the patterns list. Let's just use this single pattern for the moment.


There is a difference between the two buttons that let you save patterns. While the Save current pattern button allows you to keep the current pattern in a list, the Save patterns list button will save all the patterns from the list into a file.

Now, click on Send pattern, which will read your pattern from the list and send it to the server. You should now see your matrix from the server cloning the pattern defined in the client, as shown in the following screenshot:

Describing the GUI

Obviously, the fun lies in defining different patterns to send to the matrix in order to end up with a cool animation. Don't hesitate to share your patterns by proposing them in the repository.

A quick tour of the code

With this third example, I'd like to introduce you to a different approach for coding. The starting point is the main where an instance is created. The project is coded along two different classes:

· MyButtonGroup: This is dedicated to the graphical representation of the matrix (as opposed to the mathematical matrix)

· Leds_Matrix_Tools: This contains all the functions related to the matrix, writing the matrix, files operations, and so on

A quick tour of the code

Adding code for 64 items individually is not viable; the object paradigm is done to avoid it. Thus, we don't have to create, instantiate, and code an event for each LED one by one in the graphical matrix. This is why MyButtonGroup was derived from the originalQButtonGroup class.

Then, each item in the matrix has a SIGNAL/SLOT connection:


this, SLOT(buttonClick(QAbstractButton*)));

This helps us to create a dedicated event, as shown in the following screenshot:

A quick tour of the code

We are now free to add anything we want in the ButtonClick event handler. Therefore, this is the place to compute a button's position according to the *button pointer that is given as a call parameter.

However, this is not enough. The graphical buttons matrix has been separated from its logical representation. This is the role of the following command:

QStringList Leds_Matrix ;

This aims to define a list of matrices. In addition, the idea is to use the functions provided with this container class—reverting, searching, removing, finding the first, last, and so on—so that you can create your own graphical algorithms in an easier way.

Some transformations within switch are done because even though we know which button has been clicked, we still ignore its position in the matrix. After this small calculation, it's easy to affect the buttons due to the color-changing cycle. By the way, we also update the logical matrix data.

Looking at the main functions

Here is an overview of the other main functions:

· Clear(): This aims to empty the current pattern in the patterns list. This is used when Leds_Matrix needs to be reset from the constructor mainly.

· Savefile_click(): This is an event handler relied to the Save_To_File method, which will parse all the patterns and save them to the local file.

· Save_To_File(QString Filename): This parses patterns_list to save all the patterns in the list into a local file.

· Loadfile_click(): This is an event handler relied to the Load_From_File method.

· Load_From_File(QString Filename): This parses the local file to retrieve all the saved patterns in order to restore the patterns list.

· Populate(QGridLayout *layout, MyButtonGroup* group ): This is called only once, at the beginning of the application in order to initiate the graphical matrix.

· Read_Matrix(unsigned short x): This a low-level function that takes a row/column and returns the color value found at these coordinates.

· Write_Matrix(unsigned short x, unsigned short y, unsigned short value): This a low-level function that takes a row/column to write the color value at these coordinates.

· Save_Pattern_click(): This will walk through all the patterns loaded in memory and send them to the server. A small conversion is needed here to transform an array-like data into our three-data protocol (x, y, and color).

Questions and thoughts related to this example

The questions and thoughts related to this example are given as follows:

· Did you notice that while the server is developed in Python, the C++ client can communicate with it. How is this possible?

· Try to find the limitations of this approach.

· What will you do if you intend to modify the time delay of the animation? Try to identify the part of the code related to this functionality.

· Will you apply this change in the client or from the server code?

· It's legitimate to question yourself when you intend to develop a new functionality in your project. Take a moment to compare both the client and server sides, as they each have their pros and cons.


This last chapter helped us develop a complete client/server project. Throughout the book, you learned about the background information needed to install, configure, and deploy a client/server.

The main objective of this book being to let you create your own project; thus, we've addressed the hardware and software aspects of various projects. The integration of both sides is what makes embedded systems unique.

Some final words

You can act on the code we saw here. These are not just words; you can be a part of this project by improving it. Here's how: when you think your modifications are good enough, send a change request to the GitHub BeagleBone Black book project and, after validation, you'll see your code included in the official repository.