Dude, where’s my BeagleBone Black?

I hear that question a LOT. No, we
weren’t sleeping, but sometimes it takes a minute for a plan to come
together. And don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

Your BeagleBone Black is on the way and below are the whys and hows.

Buying a BeagleBone Black back around October last year was easy—and
then suddenly they were gone. Having a big launch and then slowing
down to a more steady pace of production is what is normally expected.
Demand was strong, but distributors were showing a small amount of
stock and people were getting their boards on demand. Based on the
status, distributors had requested CircuitCo (the Richardson, Texas
based manufacturer of all official BeagleBoard.org boards) to provide
boards at a certain pace, and production dropped from about 6,000 a
week at launch to around 3,000 a week.

BeagleBone Black, however, isn’t your typical development board and word started to spread about cool projects that could be made. Then came Radio Shack, filling their stores with Make’s Getting Started with BeagleBone kit. Then the Christmas rush. Then the Georgia Tech massively open online course on control of mobile robots hosted on Coursera. We had a couple of small production boosts, but haven’t been able to make any dent in the demand. Everyone is starting to find out what BeagleBone Black can do, using it in their classes, hobbies, prototypes—and products.

The BeagleBoard.org terms and conditions clearly say we
aren’t responsible for the quality in end products. Nevertheless, the
quality speaks for itself and many people are choosing to simply drop
them into things beyond just a few prototype units. In practice, we’ll
never know unless you try to return a bunch of boards at once for
repairs. Our desire is that people using the boards in products work
directly with a contract manufacturer or distributor to enable boards
builds to be planned out in time and with terms and conditions that
won’t hurt BeagleBoard.org’s ability to supply classrooms, hobbyists
and professionals building prototypes.

People building products aren’t the only source of the high demand.
Some of our distribution partners, most notably Adafruit and Special
Computing
, put quantity limits of one board per customer
to help improve availability for individual makers. Even with the quantity
limit in place, I observed boards being sold off Adafruit’s website
at a rate of about 2-3 PER MINUTE.

This all leads to the obvious conclusion: we need more capacity. To
accomplish this, we are taking a multiple prong approach of increasing
capacity at CircuitCo as well as bringing on an additional
manufacturer. These two prongs are summarized below.

Prong #1 – Ramping up production at CircuitCo

Ramping up production costs money. More test equipment is needed.
Orders on various parts must be accelerated. Additional staff must be
hired to run additional shifts. CircuitCo has been fantastic at taking
the risk for us, but the margins for BeagleBone Black aren’t the
friendliest for them to take on these additional costs. At initial
launch, it is a benefit for them to get exposed to more customers for
their core business, complex circuit assembly and engineering
services, but shipping more of the exact same board isn’t going to
give them a lot more exposure.

We’re really close to shifting the distribution shipped on our boards
from Angstrom Distribution to Debian. Feedback from different people,
especially Adafruit, tells us this will improve usability in the
largest segments of our community. Angstrom Distribution is much more
customizable and is very friendly to professional developers looking
to tweak the most out of the system, but for many novices it
introduces a barrier to learning. Debian is the basis for Ubuntu,
includes ARM Cortex-A8 support in their mainline and is very familiar
to a huge population of developers. It also takes a bit more space on
the flash storage to provide the best user experience.

To provide the best experience of using Debian on BeagleBone Black, we
are connecting the switch-over to an increase in the on-board eMMC
flash storage from 2GB to 4GB, leaving more free room in which you can
work. The eMMC is faster and more reliable than micro-SD cards, so
this is adding a lot of value—and a little bit of cost.

These BeagleBone Blacks with Debian and 4GB eMMC will be called Rev C
and they will likely cost a bit more at most distributors. This extra
money is helping CircuitCo pay for the additional expense of the eMMC,
but also to cover costs for ramping production to higher-than-ever
rates.

With the additional capacity CircuitCo is bringing on, we expect to be
able to fill all end-user back-orders for the Rev B boards by early
May and shift all production to Rev C. With around 150,000 boards on
*distributor* back-orders, we’ll be working with distributors to
quickly accept board shipments such that CircuitCo isn’t sitting on
any units.

Come mid-May, you should be able to easily get your hands on a Rev C
board. Some distributors are already taking back-orders for them now.
We’ll continue to try to push as many boards as we can through
distributors *not* taking back-orders as well to make sure there is a
continuity of supply.

Prong #2 – Enabling production of the BeagleBoard Compliant Element14
BeagleBone Black

We’ve launched a BeagleBoard Compliant logo
program
. Element14 is currently the exclusive
licensee of this logo program and has agreed to pay a small royalty to
the BeagleBoard.org Foundation as part of this license. It means that
we’ve verified they can produce quality clones of BeagleBone Black. It
will be up to them to maintain the quality. As with everything going
on around BeagleBoard.org, we’ll be closely monitoring the public
BeagleBoard mailing list
for any and
all feedback.

Element14 is the parent company for Embest, who has been making
BeagleBone Black replicas for the China market since the initial
launch back in April of last year, so they have some experience
already. This move takes them beyond just China and will keep them in
more lock-step with software and hardware revisions coming from
BeagleBoard.org. To satisfy demand, they initially offered some of the
Embest-branded boards in the US market, but you’ll see the future
BealgeBoard Compliant boards will be branded as “element14 BeagleBone
Black”.

Element14 has a world-wide reach and a notable production capacity.
With all of the growing demand for BeagleBone Black, they will need
it. This is a huge win for open hardware! Continue the discussion on
the
BeagleBoard mailing list
.

–Jason

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