These two controller boards are home-grown alternatives to Arduino for South African makers


It’s a lot easier to get hold of hobbiest and prototyping boards in South Africa than it used to be, but while Raspberry Pis and Arduinos are easy to get hold of, there’s still a premium on imported electronics that can make alternatives tricky to source.

So hurrah for two companies from our little sub-Saharan country who have taken it upon themselves to create new options for makers, with the added benefit of knowing it is proudly South African.

Keystone Electronic Solutions brings us the cutely named Penguin Board, while Arrow Altech has created The Cherry Blossom.

The Blue Penguin CPU module that can then be slotted into a Penguin Board

As the name suggests, Keystone’s Penguin Board is designed to run a lightweight Linux OS, and it just so happens that the firm rolls its own very basic distro for testing and embedding called “Guinnux” too.

The Blue Penguin CPU module is based on SAMA5D36 ARM Cortex-A5 processor running at 532MHz with  with either 256 or 512 Megabytes of DDR2 RAM. While not the heaviest of hitters, the module is only 68×48 mm, so it could it could easily slip into wearable devices, and only requires 3.3V at a typical 300mA to operate.

It has a micrSD card slot onboard, and some basic I/O connectors, while extra connectivity in the form of two ethernet ports, USB and UART connectors is via the larger Penguin Board itself. Together, CPU and board retail for R890.

You can also get the Blue Penguin in what Keystone calls the “Guinnux Starter Kit“, which comes with a USB Host, USB Device port, LAN port, RS232 Debug Terminal, 5V DC Power Supply and a Blue Penguin CPU module.

Keystone founder John Eigelaar, says that Penguin was developed for Keystone’s own needs in creating bespoke applications for customers, but he wants people to use it to turn a hobby into a product.

“What we offer is complete control of development and [the] development environment of your product,” he says, “Not only for the hardware but also the software . This is a very important factor when it comes to future sustainable maintenance and further development of the product.”
The Cherry Blossom

The underside of the Cherry Blossom.

One of the powerhouse of maker boards, Beagleboard’s open source BeagleBone Black is favoured for its extra features over an Arduino but low price of $45 overseas. Sadly, import taxes and shipping costs means that it can’t be found in South Africa for much less then R1 000, limiting its appeal here.

So hurrah for Altech’s Cherry Blossom, which is a clone of the BeagleBone Black made locally and available for the much more afforable R499 (and up).

“The locally designed, produced and supported Cherry Blossom eliminates most supply and support issues that currently exist on BBB today,” one of the engineers told us, “It also enables the developer to quickly and effectively use the processing power of a high end processor without the hardware complexity normally associated with this type of design.”

This means that you have access to the existing resources that have been created to work with the BeagleBone. You’ll find full integration with the software, which will allow access to other compatible software such as Android and Ubuntu. Cherry Blossom is a little harder to work with, though, as it does not have on-board HDMI, USB or ethernet ports – you’ll need to add your own.

In return you have a choice of three processors:

    AM3352 – 600MHz
    AM3358 – 800MHz
    AM3358 – 1GHz

Full specs are here.
Source: HTX 8 September 2015