Beagle Bone Black cape and firmware for driving a large number of WS281x LED strips.
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LEDscape is a library for controlling 48 channels of WS2811-based LEDs from a single Beagle Bone Black. It makes use of the two Programmable Realtime Units (PRUs), each controlling 24 outputs. It can drive strings of 256 LEDs at around 60fps and 512 LEDs at 30 LEDs, enabling a single BBB to control 24,576 LEDs at once.

The libary can be used directly from C or C++ or data can be sent using the Open Pixel Control protocol ( from a variety of sources (e.g. Processing, Java, Python, etc...)

This version of the library has evolved significantly from it's original source and has been tailored for driving large quantities of WS2812 LEDs, as opposed to other types of LED panel.


This code works with the PRU units on the Beagle Bone and can easily cause hard crashes. It is still being debugged and developed. Be careful hot-plugging things into the headers -- it is possible to damage the pin drivers and cause problems in the ARM, especially if there are +5V signals involved.

Installation and Usage

To use LEDscape, download it to your BeagleBone Black.

First, make sure that LEDscape compiles:


Before LEDscape will function, you will need to replace the device tree file and reboot.

# Some distros (e.g. Arch) keep these files in /boot/dtbs instead.
cp /boot/am335x-boneblack.dtb{,.preledscape_bk}
cp am335x-boneblack.dtb /boot/

You will also need to have the uio_pruss module loaded.

modprobe uio_pruss

You can now test LEDscape, run the following to display a map of how the LEDscape strip ordering coreesponds to the GPIO pins on the BBB:

node pinmap.js

Connect a WS2811-based LED chain to the Beagle Bone. The strip must be running at the same voltage as the data signal. If you are using an external 5v supply for the LEDs, you'll need to use a level shifter or other technique to bring the BBB's 3.3v signals up to 5v.

Once everything is connected, run the rgb-test program:

sudo ./rgb-test

The LEDs should now be fading prettily. If not, go back and make sure everything is setup correctly.

Open Pixel Control Server


Once you have LEDscape sending data to your pixels, you will probably want to use the opc-rx server which accepts Open Pixel Control data and passes it on to LEDscape. There is an angstrom-compatible service checked in, which can be installed like so:

sudo systemctl enable /path/to/LEDscape/ledscape.service
sudo systemctl start ledscape

Note that you must specify an absolute path. Relative paths will not work with systemctl to enable services.

If you would prefer to run the receiver without adding it as a service:

sudo run-ledscape

By default LEDscape is configured for strings of 256 pixels, accepting OPC data on port 7890. You can adjust this by editing the run script and editing the parameters to opc-rx.

Data Format

The opc-rx server accepts data on OPC channel 0. It expects the data for each LED strip concatonated together. This is done because LEDscape requires that data for all strips be present at once before flushing data data out to the LEDs.

Processing Example

The easiest way to see that LEDscape can receive arbitrary data is to run the included Processing sketch, based on the examples from FadeCandy ( There is a 16x16 panel example in processing/grid16x16_clouds. Edit the example to point at your beaglebone's hostname or IP and run

Hardware Tips

Connecting the LEDs to the correct pins and level-shifting the voltages to 5v can be quite complex when using many output ports of the BBB. While there may be others, RGB123 makes an execellent 24-pin cape designed specifically for this version of LEDscape:

If you do not use a cape, refer to the pin mapping section below and remember that the BBB outputs data at 3.3v. If you run your LEDs at 5v (which most are), you will need to use a level-shifter of some sort. Adafruit has a decent one which works well:

Disabling HDMI

If you need to use all 48 pins made available by LEDscape, you'll have to disable the HDMI "cape" on the BeagleBone Black.

Mount the FAT32 partition, either through linux on the BeagleBone or by plugging the USB into a computer, and add the following to the first line of `uEnv.txt'


It should read something like

optargs=quiet drm.debug=7 capemgr.disable_partno=BB-BONELT-HDMI,BB-BONELT-HDMIN

Then reboot the BeagleBone Black.

Pin Mapping

The mapping from LEDscape channel to BeagleBone GPIO pin can be generated by running the pinmap script:

node pinmap.js

As of this writing, it generates the following:

	                       LEDscape Channel Index
 Row  Pin#       P9        Pin#  |  Pin#       P8        Pin# Row
  1    1                    2    |   1                    2    1
  2    3                    4    |   3                    4    2
  3    5                    6    |   5                    6    3
  4    7                    8    |   7     25      26     8    4
  5    9                    10   |   9     28      27     10   5
  6    11    13      23     12   |   11    16      15     12   6
  7    13    14      21     14   |   13    10      11     14   7
  8    15    19      22     16   |   15    18      17     16   8
  9    17                   18   |   17    12      24     18   9
  10   19                   20   |   19     9             20   10
  11   21     1       0     22   |   21                   22   11
  12   23    20             24   |   23                   24   12
  13   25             7     26   |   25                   26   13
  14   27            47     28   |   27    41             28   14
  15   29    45      46     30   |   29    42      43     30   15
  16   31    44             32   |   31     5       6     32   16
  17   33                   34   |   33     4      40     34   17
  18   35                   36   |   35     3      39     36   18
  19   37                   38   |   37    37      38     38   19
  20   39                   40   |   39    35      36     40   20
  21   41     8       2     42   |   41    33      34     42   21
  22   43                   44   |   43    31      32     44   22
  23   45                   46   |   45    29      30     46   23
              ^       ^                    ^       ^
                     LEDscape Channel Indexes

Implementation Notes

The WS281x LED chips are built like shift registers and make for very easy LED strip construction. The signals are duty-cycle modulated, with a 0 measuring 250 ns long and a 1 being 600 ns long, and 1250 ns between bits. Since this doesn't map to normal SPI hardware and requires an 800 KHz bit clock, it is typically handled with a dedicated microcontroller or DMA hardware on something like the Teensy 3.

However, the TI AM335x ARM Cortex-A8 in the BeagleBone Black has two programmable "microcontrollers" built into the CPU that can handle realtime tasks and also access the ARM's memory. This allows things that might have been delegated to external devices to be handled without any additional hardware, and without the overhead of clocking data out the USB port.

The frames are stored in memory as a series of 4-byte pixels in the order GRBA, packed in strip-major order. This means that it looks like this in RAM:

S0P0 S1P0 S2P0 ... S31P0 S0P1 S1P1 ... S31P1 S0P2 S1P2 ... S31P2

This way length of the strip can be variable, although the memory used will depend on the length of the longest strip. 4 * 32 * longest strip bytes are required per frame buffer. The maximum frame rate also depends on the length of th elongest strip.


ledscape.h defines the API. The key components are:

ledscape_t * ledscape_init(unsigned num_pixels)
ledscape_frame_t * ledscape_frame(ledscape_t*, unsigned frame_num);
ledscape_draw(ledscape_t*, unsigned frame_num);
unsigned ledscape_wait(ledscape_t*)

You can double buffer like this:

const int num_pixels = 256;
ledscape_t * const leds = ledscape_init(num_pixels);

unsigned i = 0;
while (1)
	// Alternate frame buffers on each draw command
	const unsigned frame_num = i++ % 2;
	ledscape_frame_t * const frame
		= ledscape_frame(leds, frame_num);


	// wait for the previous frame to finish;
	ledscape_draw(leds, frame_num);


The 24-bit RGB data to be displayed is laid out with BRGA format, since that is how it will be translated during the clock out from the PRU. The frame buffer is stored as a "strip-major" array of pixels.

typedef struct {
	uint8_t b;
	uint8_t r;
	uint8_t g;
	uint8_t a;
} __attribute__((__packed__)) ledscape_pixel_t;

typedef struct {
	ledscape_pixel_t strip[32];
} __attribute__((__packed__)) ledscape_frame_t;

Low level API

If you want to poke at the PRU directly, there is a command structure shared in PRU DRAM that holds a pointer to the current frame buffer, the length in pixels, a command byte and a response byte. Once the PRU has cleared the command byte you are free to re-write the dma address or number of pixels.

typedef struct
	// in the DDR shared with the PRU
	const uintptr_t pixels_dma;

	// Length in pixels of the longest LED strip.
	unsigned num_pixels;

	// write 1 to start, 0xFF to abort. will be cleared when started
	volatile unsigned command;

	// will have a non-zero response written when done
	volatile unsigned response;
} __attribute__((__packed__)) ws281x_command_t;