Author Archives: Helen Lynn

Designing distinctive Raspberry Pi products

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If you have one of our official cases, keyboards or mice, or if you’ve visited the Raspberry Pi Store in Cambridge, UK, then you know the work of Kinneir Dufort. Their design has become a part of our brand that’s recognised the world over. Here’s an account from the team there of their work with us.

Over the last six years, our team at Kinneir Dufort have been privileged to support Raspberry Pi in the design and development of many of their products and accessories. 2019 has been another landmark year in the incredible Raspberry Pi story, with the opening of the Raspberry Pi store in February, the launch of the official keyboard and mouse in April, followed by the launch of Raspberry Pi 4 in June.

We first met Eben, Gordon and James in 2013 when we were invited to propose design concepts for an official case for Raspberry Pi Model B. For the KD team, this represented a tremendously exciting opportunity: here was an organisation with a clear purpose, who had already started making waves in the computing and education market, and who saw how design could be a potent ingredient in the presentation and communication of the Raspberry Pi proposition.

Alongside specific design requirements for the Model B case, the early design work also considered the more holistic view of what the 3D design language of Raspberry Pi should be. Working closely with the team, we started to define some key design principles which have remained as foundations for all the products since:

  • Visibility of the board as the “hero” of the product
  • Accessibility to the board, quickly and simply, without tools
  • Adaptability for different uses, including encouragement to “hack” the case
  • Value expressed through low cost and high quality
  • Simplicity of form and detailing
  • Boldness to be unique and distinctively “Raspberry Pi”

Whilst maintaining a core of consistency in the product look and feel, these principles have been applied with different emphases to suit each product’s needs and functions. The Zero case, which started as a provocative “shall we do this?” sketch visual sent to the team by our Senior Designer John Cowan-Hughes after the original case had started to deliver a return on investment, was all about maximum simplicity combined with adaptability via its interchangeable lids.

Photo of three Raspberry Pi Zero cases from three different angles, showing the lid of a closed case, the base of a closed case, and an open case with an apparently floating lid and a Raspberry Pi Zero visible inside.

The ‘levitating lid’ version of the Zero case is not yet publically available

Later, with the 3A+ case, we started with the two-part case simplicity of the Zero case and applied careful detailing to ensure that we could accommodate access to all the connectors without overcomplicating the injection mould tooling. On Raspberry Pi 4, we retained the two-part simplicity in the case, but introduced new details, such as the gloss chamfer around the edge of the case, and additional material thickness and weight to enhance the quality and value for use with Raspberry Pi’s flagship product.

After the success of the KD design work on Raspberry Pi cases, the KD team were asked to develop the official keyboard and mouse. Working closely with the Raspberry Pi team, we explored the potential for adding unique features but, rightly, chose to do the simple things well and to use design to help deliver the quality, value and distinctiveness now integrally associated with Raspberry Pi products. This consistency of visual language, when combined with the Raspberry Pi 4 and its case, has seen the creation of a Raspberry Pi as a new type of deconstructed desktop computer which, in line with Raspberry Pi’s mission, changes the way we think about, and engage with, computers.

The launch of the Cambridge store in February – another bold Raspberry Pi move which we were also delighted to support in the early planning and design stages – provides a comprehensive view of how all the design elements work together to support the communication of the Raspberry Pi message. Great credit should go to the in-house Raspberry Pi design team for their work in the development and implementation of the visual language of the brand, so beautifully evident in the store.

Small tabletop model of the side walls, rear walls, front windows, and floor of the Raspberry Pi Store. The model is annotated with handwritten Post-It notes in a variety of colours.

An early sketch model of the Raspberry Pi Store

In terms of process, at KD we start with a brief – typically discussed verbally with the Raspberry Pi team – which we translate into key objectives and required features. From there, we generally start to explore ideas with sketches and basic mock-ups, progressively reviewing, testing and iterating the concepts.

Top-down photo of a desk covered with white paper on which are a couple of Raspberry Pis and several cases. The hands of someone sketching red and white cases on the paper are visible. Also visible are the hands of someone measuring something with digital calipers, beside a laptop on the screen of which is a CAD model of a Raspberry Pi case.

Sketching and modelling and reviewing

For evaluating designs for products such as the cases, keyboard and mouse, we make considerable use of our in-house 3D printing resources and prototyping team. These often provide a great opportunity for the Raspberry Pi team to get hands on with the design – most notably when Eben took a hacksaw to one of our lovingly prepared 3D-printed prototypes!

Phone photo of Eben sitting at a desk and hacksawing a white 3D-printed prototype Raspberry Pi case

EBEN YOUR FINGERS

Sometimes, despite hours of reviewing sketches and drawings, and decades of experience, it’s not until you get hands-on with the design that you can see further improvements, or you suddenly spot a new approach – what if we do this? And that’s the great thing about how our two teams work together: always seeking to share and exchange ideas, ultimately to produce better products.

Photo of three people sitting at a table in an office handling and discussing 3D-printed Raspberry Pi case prototypes

There’s no substitute for getting hands-on

Back to the prototype! Once the prototype design is agreed, we work with 3D CAD tools and progress the design towards a manufacturable solution, collaborating closely with injection moulding manufacturing partners T-Zero to optimise the design for production efficiency and quality of detailing.

One important aspect that underpins all our design work is that we always start with consideration for the people we are designing for – whether that’s a home user setting up a media centre, an IT professional using Raspberry Pi as a web server, a group of schoolchildren building a weather station, or a parent looking to encourage their kid to code.

Engagement with the informed, proactive and enthusiastic online Raspberry Pi community is a tremendous asset. The instant feedback, comments, ideas and scrutiny posted on Raspberry Pi forums is powerful and healthy; we listen and learn from this, taking the insight we gain into each new product that we develop. Of course, with such a wide and diverse community, it’s not easy to please everyone all of the time, but that won’t stop us trying – keep your thoughts and feedback coming to PRifeedback@kinneirdufort.com!

If you’d like to know more about KD, or the projects we work on, check out our blog posts and podcasts at www.kinneirdufort.com.

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Estefannie’s Jurassic Park goggles

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When we invited Estefannie Explains It All to present at Coolest Projects International, she decided to make something cool with a Raspberry Pi to bring along. But being Estefannie, she didn’t just make something a little bit cool. She went ahead and made Raspberry Pi Zero-powered Jurassic Park goggles, or, as she calls them, the world’s first globally triggered, mass broadcasting, photon-emitting and -collecting head unit.

Make your own Jurassic Park goggles using a Raspberry Pi // MAKE SOMETHING

Is it heavy? Yes. But these goggles are not expensive. Follow along as I make the classic Jurassic Park Goggles from scratch!! The 3D Models: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:3732889 My code: https://github.com/estefanniegg/estefannieExplainsItAll/blob/master/makes/JurassicGoggles/jurassic_park.py Thank you Coolest Projects for bringing me over to speak in Ireland!! https://coolestprojects.org/ Thank you Polymaker for sending me the Polysher and the PolySmooth filament!!!!

3D-printing, sanding, and sanding

Estefannie’s starting point was the set of excellent 3D models of the iconic goggles that Jurassicpaul has kindly made available on Thingiverse. There followed several 3D printing attempts and lots of sanding, sanding, sanding, spray painting, and sanding, then some more printing with special Polymaker filament that can be ethanol polished.

Adding the electronics and assembling the goggles

Estefannie soldered rings of addressable LEDs and created custom models for 3D-printable pieces to fit both them and the goggles. She added a Raspberry Pi Zero, some more LEDs and buttons, an adjustable headgear part from a welding mask, and – importantly – four circles of green acetate. After quite a lot of gluing, soldering, and wiring, she ended up with an entirely magnificent set of goggles.

Here, they’re modelled magnificently by Raspberry Pi videographer Brian. I think you’ll agree he cuts quite a dash.

Coding and LED user interface

Estefannie wrote a Python script to interact with Twitter, take photos, and provide information about the goggles’ current status via the LED rings. When Estefannie powers up the Raspberry Pi, it runs a script on startup and connects to her phone’s wireless hotspot. A red LED on the front of the goggles indicates that the script is up and running.

Once it’s running, pressing a button at the back of the head unit makes the Raspberry Pi search Twitter for mentions of @JurassicPi. The LEDs light up green while it searches, just like you remember from the film. If Estefannie’s script finds a mention, the LEDs flash white and the Raspberry Pi camera module takes a photo. Then they light up blue while the script tweets the photo.

All the code is available on Estefannie’s GitHub. I love this project – I love the super clear, simple user experience provided by the LED rings, and there’s something I really appealing about the asynchronous Twitter interaction, where you mention @JurassicPi and then get an image later, the next time googles are next turned on.

Extra bonus Coolest Projects

If you read the beginning of this post and thought, “wait, what’s Coolest Projects?” then be sure to watch to the end of Estefannie’s video to catch her excellentCoolest Projects mini vlog. And then sign up for updates about Coolest Projects events near you, so you can join in next year, or help a team of young people to join in.

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Growth Monitor pi: an open monitoring system for plant science

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Plant scientists and agronomists use growth chambers to provide consistent growing conditions for the plants they study. This reduces confounding variables – inconsistent temperature or light levels, for example – that could render the results of their experiments less meaningful. To make sure that conditions really are consistent both within and between growth chambers, which minimises experimental bias and ensures that experiments are reproducible, it’s helpful to monitor and record environmental variables in the chambers.

A neat grid of small leafy plants on a black plastic tray. Metal housing and tubing is visible to the sides.

Arabidopsis thaliana in a growth chamber on the International Space Station. Many experimental plants are less well monitored than these ones.
(“Arabidopsis thaliana plants […]” by Rawpixel Ltd (original by NASA) / CC BY 2.0)

In a recent paper in Applications in Plant Sciences, Brandin Grindstaff and colleagues at the universities of Missouri and Arizona describe how they developed Growth Monitor pi, or GMpi: an affordable growth chamber monitor that provides wider functionality than other devices. As well as sensing growth conditions, it sends the gathered data to cloud storage, captures images, and generates alerts to inform scientists when conditions drift outside of an acceptable range.

The authors emphasise – and we heartily agree – that you don’t need expertise with software and computing to build, use, and adapt a system like this. They’ve written a detailed protocol and made available all the necessary software for any researcher to build GMpi, and they note that commercial solutions with similar functionality range in price from $10,000 to $1,000,000 – something of an incentive to give the DIY approach a go.

GMpi uses a Raspberry Pi Model 3B+, to which are connected temperature-humidity and light sensors from our friends at Adafruit, as well as a Raspberry Pi Camera Module.

The team used open-source app Rclone to upload sensor data to a cloud service, choosing Google Drive since it’s available for free. To alert users when growing conditions fall outside of a set range, they use the incoming webhooks app to generate notifications in a Slack channel. Sensor operation, data gathering, and remote monitoring are supported by a combination of software that’s available for free from the open-source community and software the authors developed themselves. Their package GMPi_Pack is available on GitHub.

With a bill of materials amounting to something in the region of $200, GMpi is another excellent example of affordable, accessible, customisable open labware that’s available to researchers and students. If you want to find out how to build GMpi for your lab, or just for your greenhouse, Affordable remote monitoring of plant growth in facilities using Raspberry Pi computers by Brandin et al. is available on PubMed Central, and it includes appendices with clear and detailed set-up instructions for the whole system.

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Tracking the Brecon Beacons ultramarathon with a Raspberry Pi Zero

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On my holidays this year I enjoyed a walk in the Brecon Beacons. We set out nice and early, walked 22km through some of the best scenery in Britain, got a cup of tea from the snack van on the A470, and caught our bus home. “I enjoyed that walk,” I thought, “and I’d like to do one like it again.” What I DIDN’T think was, “I’d like to do that walk again, only I’d like it to be nearly three times as long, and it definitely ought to have about three times more ascent, or else why bother?”

Alan Peaty is a bit more hardcore than me, so, a couple of weekends ago, he set out on the Brecon Beacons 10 Peaks Ultramarathon: “10 peaks; 58 kilometres; 3000m of ascent; 24 hours”. He went with his friend Neil and a Raspberry Pi Zero in an eyecatching 3D-printed case.

A green 3D-printed case with a Raspberry Pi sticker on it, on a black backpack leaning against a cairn. In the background are a sunny mountain top, distant peaks, and a blue sky with white clouds.

“The brick”, nestling on a backpack, with sunlit Corn Du and Pen y Fan in the background

The Raspberry Pi Zero ensemble – lovingly known as the brick or, to give it its longer name, the Rosie IoT Brick or RIoT Brick – is equipped with a u-blox Neo-6 GPS module, and it also receives GPS tracking info from some smaller trackers built using ESP32 microcontrollers. The whole lot is powered by a “rather weighty” 20,000mAh battery pack. Both the Raspberry Pi and the ESP32s were equipped with “all manner of additional sensors” to track location, temperature, humidity, pressure, altitude, and light level readings along the route.

Charts showing temperature, humidity & pressure, altitude, and light levels along the route, together with a route map

Where the route crosses over itself is the most fervently appreciated snack van in Wales

Via LoRa and occasional 3G/4G from the many, many peaks along the route, all this data ends up on Amazon Web Services. AWS, among other things, hosts an informative website where family members were able to keep track of Alan’s progress along windswept ridges and up 1:2 gradients, presumably the better to appreciate their cups of tea and central heating. Here’s a big diagram of how the kit that completed the ultramarathon fits together; it’s full of arrows, dotted lines, and acronyms.

Alan, Neil, the brick, and the rest of their gear completed the event in an impressive 18 hours and one minute, for which they got a medal.

The brick, a small plastic box full of coloured jumper leads and other electronics; the lid of the box; and a medal consisting of the number 10 in large plastic characters on a green ribbon

Well earned

You can follow the adventures of this project, its antecedents, and the further evolutions that are doubtless to come, on the Rosie the Red Robot Twitter feed. And you can find everything to do with the project in this GitHub repository, so you can complete ultramarathons while weighed down with hefty power bricks and bristling with homemade tracking devices, too, if you like. Alan is raising money for Alzheimer’s Research UK with this event, and you can find his Brecon Beacons 10 Peaks JustGiving page here.

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A low-cost, open-source, computer-assisted microscope

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Low-cost open labware is a good thing in the world, and I was particularly pleased when micropalaeontologist Martin Tetard got in touch about the Raspberry Pi-based microscope he is developing. The project is called microscoPI (what else?), and it can capture, process, and store images and image analysis results. Martin is engaged in climate research: he uses microscopy to study tiny fossil remains, from which he gleans information about the environmental conditions that prevailed in the far-distant past.

microscoPI: a microcomputer-assisted microscope

microscoPI a project that aims to design a multipurpose, open-source and inexpensive micro-computer-assisted microscope (Raspberry PI 3). This microscope can automatically take images, process them, and save them altogether with the results of image analyses on a flash drive. It it multipurpose as it can be used on various kinds of images (e.g.

Martin repurposed an old microscope with a Z-axis adjustable stage for accurate focusing, and sourced an inexpensive X/Y movable stage to allow more accurate horizontal positioning of samples under the camera. He emptied the head of the scope to install a Raspberry Pi Camera Module, and he uses an M12 lens adapter to attach lenses suitable for single-specimen close-ups or for imaging several specimens at once. A Raspberry Pi 3B sits above the head of the microscope, and a 3.5-inch TFT touchscreen mounted on top of the Raspberry Pi allows the user to check images as they are captured and processed.

The Raspberry Pi runs our free operating system, Raspbian, and free image-processing software ImageJ. Martin and his colleagues use a number of plugins, some developed themselves and some by others, to support the specific requirements of their research. With this software, microscoPI can capture and analyse microfossil images automatically: it can count particles, including tiny specimens that are touching, analyse their shape and size, and save images and results before prompting the user for the name of the next sample.

microscoPI is compact – less than 30cm in height – and it’s powered by a battery bank secured under the base of the microscope, so it’s easily portable. The entire build comes in at under 160 Euros. You can find out more, and get in touch with Martin, on the microscoPI website.

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Argon ONE: a super case for your Raspberry Pi

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The friendly people at Argon40, one of our Approved Resellers in Hong Kong, have an already-successful Kickstarter on the go for their Argon ONE Raspberry Pi case. I’ve got one of them on my desk at the moment. It’s a very pleasing object. “That’s quite nice,” enthuses Gordon, who isn’t very good at enthusing.

The Argon ONE: look at the shiny!

The Argon ONE is a nifty little aluminium-alloy case that offers well thought-through cable, power, and temperature management. We chatted to Joseph from Argon40 about the team’s development process, and he explained:

When we started the project, we initially designed the product to suit our needs based on our experiences of playing around with the Raspberry Pi. We wanted a case that is nice to look and at the same time has all the basic features that we loved about the Raspberry Pi: small footprint, access to GPIO, low power consumption. Then we looked into the nice-to-have stuff like good heat dissipation for better performance, a proper shut-down, and a form factor that is elegant but not extravagant.

Clicky magnets

What I find particularly satisfying about the Argon ONE is its GPIO access. It has a neat recess with clear pin labels and access to an inbuilt, colour-coded header that connects to your Pi’s GPIO pins. When you’re not using the pins, you probably want to keep them away from dust, spilled coffee, and the gross candy-corn M&Ms that Alex sometimes throws at you for literally no reason. The Argon ONE helps you out here: a cover fits perfectly over the GPIO recess, held in place by magnets that are just exactly strong enough for the job. Being a fidgeter, I find that this lends itself to compulsive clicking.

*click* *click* *click*

Injection moulding

We like the build quality here, especially at this price point (it’s HK$157, US$20, or GB£15, and early-bird pledges are cheaper). The Argon40 team was keen to use alumnium for the upper part of the case, for robustness and durability along with good looks; that proved a challenge, given that they wanted to keep the case affordable. “Fortunately, we found a factory that allowed us to do aluminum-alloy injection instead of going for the CNC option,” says Joseph.

“Have you tried turning if off and on again?”

The Raspberry Pi doesn’t have a power button, and we hear a lot from people who’d like it to. Happily, our community has come up with lots of ways to add one: this case, for example. Once you install Argon40’s shutdown script in Raspbian, pressing the case’s power button will run the script to shut the Pi down cleanly, then cut the power.

Find out more on Kickstarter — this campaign is well worth a look if you’re after a decent case. Back to Joseph for the last word, with which we heartily agree:

At the end of the day, our goal is for people to have their Raspberry Pis on top of their work desks, study tables, and workstations and in their living rooms, instead of keeping their barebones Pi tucked inside a drawer. Because as the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind,” which means that if they don’t see their Raspberry Pi, they won’t be able to tinker around with it or play with it to create projects.

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