What is Bela?

Bela is an open-source platform for creating interaction with sensors and sound. It’s a combination of hardware and software.

This article provides the details of the Bela system, and describes how it works.

Table of contents

  1. Bela in a nutshell
  2. Why Bela was created
  3. Who’s using Bela
  4. Bela: A combination of hardware and software

Bela in a nutshell

Bela is an open-source embedded computing platform for creating responsive, real-time interactive systems with audio and sensors. It features ultra-low latency, high-resolution seneor sampling, a convenient and powerful browser-based IDE, and a fully open-source toolchain that includes support for both low-level languages like C/C++ and popular computer music programming languages like Pure Data, SuperCollider and Csound.

There are two types of Bela system: the original Bela, and Bela Mini. Both are open-source hardware systems, and are based on the Beagle single-board computers (Bela uses the BeagleBone Black, and Bela Mini uses the Pocketbeagle). The Bela software extends the functionality of the Beagle systems by integrating audio processing and sensor connectivity in a single, high-performamce package.

As well as the Bela systems, the Bela product family includes accessories, modular products, Trill touch sensors and the CTAG multi-channel system. Read more on our product pages.

Why Bela was created

Bela was born out of music research that took place in the Augmented Instruments Lab at Queen Mary University of London, directed by Andrew McPherson. Through the process of creating digital musical instruments that feel as responsibe and natural as their acoustic equivalents, McPherson and colleagues failed to find a self-contained system that was not only small enough to embed, able to connect to analog sensors and digital devices, and powerful enough to process audio, but also fast enough to process audio and sensor input with the ultra-low latency that musical interaction demands.

In response, Bela was born. After being used in research and for teaching, Bela was launched as a commercial product on Kickstarter in 2016, and has been developed commercially ever since. The Bela product line has been expanding ever since.

Who’s using Bela

As well as musicians and digital audio enthusiasts, Bela has centered on supporting digital creators of all kinds. High-performance computing makes natural, beautiful interaction for artworks and innovative products possible, and Bela has focused on making this kind of physical computing accessible by removing major barriers. Bela supports multiple coding languages, so creators can code in the way that makes sense to them; Bela offers a browser-based IDE, replacing complicated toolchains with an interface that loads in a browser and is loaded with tools to help creators make beautiful interaction.

The Bela Blog features dozens of projects from the worldwide Bela community, and represents the diversity of approaches and applications that Bela supports - from synth modules to drum machines, kinetic art to interactive textiles, innovative musical instruments to controlling light. Check out the Bela Blog to get inspired.

Bela: A combination of hardware and software

The Bela platform is a combination of hardware and software.

The hardware is composed of a custom cape for a Beagle computer. Bela is a Bela cape + a BeagleBone Black, and Bela Mini is a Bela Mini cape soldered to a Pocketbeagle. Read all our hardware details on our hardware page.

The Bela software is an operating system that runs only on Bela software. Based on the open-source Debian Stretch Linux distribution, the Bela software includes the Bela core for compiling and running projects in a low-latency system, as well as the Bela IDE. The Bela IDE is a browser-based programming environment for developing Bela projects in C++, Pure Data, SuperCollider and Csound, and is loaded with tools for creating interaction. Read all the details of Bela’s low-latency capabilities on the Bela software page.