Funded! This project was successfully funded on August 4, 2013.

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Powerful robotics control for your computer such as a Raspberry Pi or PC. Connect with USB and start with Scratch or Python.

Introducing Laika

The Laika platform allows control of motors, switches, lamps, robots and more using Scratch, Python or C on your computer, such as a Raspberry Pi.

The system is simple, and anyone can start by using the Scratch programming language to control hardware in a matter of minutes: download the drivers, plug in the USB cable and Scratch away!

All this whilst being powerful and flexible enough to meet the needs of advanced users - a high-speed, reliable design with a variety of programming interfaces.

Use Laika to help you realise your design dreams

Laika with Raspberry Pi and other parts
Laika with Raspberry Pi and other parts

Laika is unique

Laika provides you with an expandable, easy to use platform on which to build your skills in both hardware and software. Use Laika in your next robotics project and benefit from these features:

  • USB connectivity.
  • Modular and expandable.
  • Multiple programming interfaces.
  • Simplicity for beginners.
  • Sophistication for advanced users. 
  • Flexible and universal hardware mounting.
  • Robust industrial grade design.

Be a Laika Explorer

The Laika Explorer board is well suited to people who want to learn how to control hardware like motors, LEDs and sounders, by developing software graphically in Scratch on the Raspberry Pi. This will be supported by the online Laika tutorials and forums to guide novices. 

For advanced programmers, the Laika Explorer provides a quick way to prototype and develop technical projects by calling functions from the Laika library to manage the hardware fast and efficiently.

Explorer Features
Explorer Features

The Laika Explorer board gives you:

  • 2x analogue and 4x digital inputs - to connect sensors, switches and other input devices.
  • 7x digital outputs  - to control LEDs, motors, sounders and other output devices.
  • 2x H-Bridge motor driver circuit -  to allow two motors to be driven in forward, reverse or brake, ideal for creating robots and buggies.
  • 4x built-in switches - to allow convenient interaction between hardware and software.
  • 7x indicator LEDs - present on each digital output for easy diagnostics.

Prototyping with the Laika Explorer board
Prototyping with the Laika Explorer board

Once you've mastered the basics you could use Laika to create a robot like this:

A mini 'Laika Lander' buggy
A mini 'Laika Lander' buggy

Or you could make a bigger robot by using a commercially available robot chassis such as the Dagu Rover 5 ...

Dagu Rover 5 Chassis
Dagu Rover 5 Chassis
Laika Robot
Laika Robot

Using the Laika Explorer board

This simple system consists of one PCB which you connect to your Raspberry Pi using a USB lead and then control using Scratch. You can get to work quickly by using the on-board LEDs and switches. 

Laika Explorer - Simple System Overview
Laika Explorer - Simple System Overview

Pledge for a Laika Explorer Inventor's Kit

You can pledge for your own Explorer board and use it in your application, or you can pledge for the Inventor's kit. This includes a custom designed laser cut Perspex base to mount your Explorer board and Pi (not included), together with motors, LED's, potentiometers, wiring and more:

Laika Explorer Inventor's Kit
Laika Explorer Inventor's Kit

Getting started

You simply connect the Explorer board to your Raspberry Pi with a USB cable. This will give you access to a range of analogue and digital inputs and outputs, with switches and LED's, together with a dual motor driver. 

You can use Scratch, Python, C or any programming language that can call functions in the Laika library to communicate with the Explorer board.

The Scratch way

A Scratch Broadcast can be used to send data to the Explorer board. There are seven digital outputs and each one can deliver 500mA, though not all at the same time. Each output is also protected with a back-emf diode, that means that relays and small motors can be driven without worrying about frying the output transistors.

To turn on digital output pin 3 in Scratch:

The Explorer board includes a very useful dual h-bridge motor driver, which means two motors can be driven at the same time either forwards, backwards or braked. The output will handle 1.5A continuous across both channels, or 3A if the outputs are connected together to drive one motor.

To drive motor A forward:

The Explorer board includes two analogue inputs which give 10-bit resolution. This means that variable resistors can be read to give you a volume control for example.

To read in an analogue input into a Scratch Sensor:

Variables in Scratch are also supported, as is the Remote Connections feature. In fact, you do not even need Scratch running on the RPi to which Laika is connected. A special Python script has been written allowing you to use Scratch to communicate with Laika over a network connection. Fancy controlling your RPi robot through your WiFi connection? It's easy with Laika. 

The Python Way

By using ctypes, a Python script can call the C functions in the Laika library. Here is a quick example to turn on motor A:

The Laika library source code and example programs are to be made available for download from GitHub to help you get started with programming in Python or C.


Kickstarting Laika

This Kickstarter will be used to raise funds to produce and distribute the Laika Explorer board. Subsequent Kickstarter Stretch Goals will be added to help with the remaining designs listed below.

The LAIKA system is a great way to get your hardware project off the ground. To get the hardware to you as quickly as possible, we need to raise funds to see the PCB's through production and distribution.

For any of you who have been involved in electronics manufacture you will know that it's all about MOQ's - Minimum Order Quantities. It is simply not feasible to order small batches of product due to the set up costs and poor price breaks. So we need you to help us out by pledging your support so we can afford to place a sizeable order that contract manufacturers will be interested in and then see it through distribution channels.

Laika Explorer PCBs ready for population
Laika Explorer PCBs ready for population

If we can get pledges for 300 or more boards, it will allow us to bring Laika quickly to the world of makers.

Expanding Laika

We're absolutely bursting with ideas for LAIKA and have plans to develop many more modules. The Laika communications system will currently accept thirty-two different types of modules, and four instances  of each. That's one-hundred and twenty-seven, modules in total (we don't use zero). Probably enough for the most demanding installation. But we're not happy with that limitation so we plan to enable multiple systems to work on one device, after all, Laika uses USB which can support up to 127 devices as well. 127 x 127, that is a potential 16129 modules!

The other exciting concept in development is the Laika Mesh module. This will use multiple 868MHz (EU) or 915MHz (US) radio transceivers to form a mesh network extension for the Laika system. This will give you the awesome option to spread around your Laika modules forming a wireless mesh network. A typical example of this would be for home automation: control lights, music and more all through the power of Laika.

Stretch goals - Expanding Laika

Laika has been designed with the future in mind. It can be expanded to add extra functionality by connecting additional 'Expansion' modules.

If we can raise more than our initial target the following are on our development plan and will be stretch goals:

  • £10K = ROVER - a large and robust laser cut buggy design. This will be a new reward and files will also be provided under an open source license so you can cut your own if you prefer.
  • £15K = ASTERIX - a dual switch-mode power supply. This can power the LAIKA system and power your Pi too! It will offer a wide range of input voltages and will also have an ATX power down switch.
  • £20K = PIONEER - a high power dual motor driver that can drive up to 12A for driving really big motors
  • £25K = COSMOS - a high-pin count Analogue/Digital input board for an even larger range of inputs.
  • £30K = LUNA - dual driver board (5A). A powerful high-side switch with current monitoring.
  • £35K = VANGUARD - USB interface (removes the need for the Explorer board in applications where this is not required).

EXAMPLE: Expanding the system with the Dual Motor Driver and Dual Driver Board

You may choose to expand the above system with the Dual Motor Driver and Dual Driver Board (this is a dual 5A high-side switch):

Laika Explorer - Extended System
Laika Explorer - Extended System

Suppose that you come across an idea that requires a rather hefty motor to be driven, the Laika Explorer board will not handle a total motor drive of more than 1.5A continuously. Normally you'd be stuck with what you've got unless you invest in an alternative non-compatible system. With the extended Laika you can simply drop in the Pioneer to give you that extra power handling as this module will drive two motors at 12A (requires an independent high current power supply). The Pioneer will also give you (monitor) the current draw of each channel so you can tailor your software to the application perfectly.

Now suppose you want to drive some high power LED's as well as your hefty motors and all the digital and analogue I/O. No problem! Just drop in the Luna dual 5A high-side switch. This will give you control of your LED's as well as giving you a current draw.

EXAMPLE: Upgrading the power supply upgrade with Dual Switch-Mode Power Supply module

If you want to be able to use a single power source to power both your Raspberry  Pi, the Laika system and also any motors you have then you need the Laika Power Supply: Asterix.

  • The power supply is capable of providing 1.5A for both the 3.3V and 5V outputs. 
  • It will run from a wide input voltage of between 2.9V and 18V (so you can also provide a higher voltage for any motors).
  • You can use an AC mains adapter as input or a battery for a cable-free solution.
  • Vanguard, a dedicated USB interface can also be used removing the need for the Explorer board in some applications.

Laika - Power System
Laika - Power System

The power supply is limited to 800mA (for the 3.3V regulated supply) on the Laika Explorer board and you will not be able to add too many modules without overloading the 3.3V voltage regulator, especially if you are using it for driving some digital outputs. This is where you might decide that you need to upgrade the power supply. You can disable the Explorer board power supply and simply drop in the Asterix. This is an awesome piece of kit that will provide 1.5A to the Laika modules allowing you to run many more components, but also has on board a 5V 1.5A power supply to power the Raspberry Pi. That way you can get rid of that mains adapter and run the entire Laika system and Raspberry Pi from one power supply! Not only that but the Asterix also accepts an input voltage range of 2.9V to 18V meaning that you can easily run the whole kit from a battery.

For more information visit www.project-laika.com

If you need more information please visit the LAIKA website where you can find more information and resources such as:

  • Downloads
  • Demo code, Raspberry Pi firmware etc.
  • Documentation
  • Data sheets
  • Tutorials

The team behind Laika

The LAIKA project is a joint project between Kitronik and Eightdog

About Kitronik: Kitronik supply schools and hobbyists with a range of products that are focused on 'Design and Technology'. We have specialist skills in the electronics aspects of design and technology, and we have developed a number of our own products. Formed in 2005, we have a small but friendly team with over 20 years of electronics design experience.

Kitronik are used to sending out large numbers of orders on a daily basis so there should be no problems in delivering your Laika boards. Kitronik will be doing regular updates on the progress of the Laika project via their twitter feed @Kitronik

About Eightdog: Andrew Bakin lives in Nottingham, UK, and founded Eightdog in April 2012. After a successful year designing electronics for clients around the UK, and taking inspiration from the amazing Raspberry Pi, the company's focus is now firmly on the design and manufacturing of Laika.

The background

The Laika concept was born from a need to control and communicate with many types of hardware easily on the RPi. The problem with existing designs is that they are a bit of a one-size-fits-all in that you are limited by the functionality contained on usually one PCB. 

You might start off with simple requirements, driving a low power motor for example, and be quite happy with basic controls, but as you get more capable you will most certainly want more sophistication.

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

As we already have working prototypes the risks in this project are relatively low.

If the project is heavily oversubscribed there may be some risks relating to supply of components. The risk here would not be getting the parts, but getting enough quickly enough to meet demand. Given our experience in product sourcing we feel the risk here is also low.

The boards have be designed with volume production in mind, so once we have the parts making the boards (even if we need to make larger volumes) will not be a problem. We did a quick calculation and based on 12,000 placements per hour we estimate a production rate of 1,000 boards per day!

We are designing the boards so they can be made using intrusive reflow for the through hole parts. For those of you who've never seen this before we will doing a video of the process when we make our first boards.

FAQ

  • Something I think our video doesn't get across very well is that one main feature of Laika is that it is expandable. That means that many more modules can easily be dropped in (up to 32 types at any one time- we have plans for many more) to give the user a very flexible design which they can tailor to their requirements.

    Also, Kitronik who are my distribution partner, also specialise in providing teaching materials for schools. Teachers like their products because they get handed a complete teaching pack when they purchase which makes their job of planning lessons much easier.

    We are taking the same approach with Laika. I will be working hard on the development and Kitronik will be working hard on providing all the teaching resources. We really want to get to a stage where a teacher can download a video which guides them through lessons on the fly and to remove any fear of a steep learning curve. So I hope you can see that we're trying to put something together that is much more than just hardware.

    Last updated:
  • Yes, we now have options on all Rewards for international shipping. Please note that this was added on some rewards after launch so the Inventor's Kit is duplicated, the only difference being the extra shipping option.

    Last updated:
  • Yes, the Laika system does not in any way use the RPi's GPIO port- it uses only USB.

    Last updated:
  • Yes, this is exactly the reason USB was chosen. The Laika API uses libftdi which in turn uses libusb:

    "libFTDI works perfectly with Linux, Windows, MacOS X and BSD variants thanks to libusb"

    Currently I have Laika working on Debian (Raspbian) and Windows. You can use a VCP too as the chip is an FTDI device, all that's needed is a standard FTDI driver. All the files and documentation for communicating will of course be made available for people to hack around with.

    It would be great to get Laika working on a DD-WRT device and the Pogoplug. They've gone on my list.

    Last updated:
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    SPECIAL EARLY SUPPORTER DEAL, SAVE £5. A fully built and tested Laika Explorer board and a free laser cut Laika Kickstarter keyring.

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    A fully built and tested Laika Explorer board and prototyping plate. This kit includes: - A fully built and tested Laika Explorer board. - Laser cut mounting plate with breadboard complete with feet and mounting points for the Explorer board. - A laser cut Laika Kickstarter keyring.

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    Same as other £55 Pledge but with international shipping option added. The Laika Explorer inventors kit. Everything you need to learn how to control hardware with your Raspberry Pi. This kit includes: - A fully built and tested Laika Explorer board. - Laser cut mounting plate with breadboard. complete with feet and mounting points for the Laika Explorer board. - USB lead to connect the Explorer board to your RPi. - A 12V DC (UK) power supply. - All the parts (motors, resistors, LEDs, sounds, switches) you need to work through our tutorials. - A laser cut Laika Kickstarter keyring.

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    Add £6 to ship outside the UK
  • Pledge £55 or more
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    51 backers

    The Laika Explorer inventors kit. Everything you need to learn how to control hardware with your Raspberry Pi. This kit includes: - A fully built and tested Laika Explorer board. - Laser cut mounting plate with breadboard. complete with feet and mounting points for the Laika Explorer board. - USB lead to connect the Explorer board to your RPi. - A 12V DC (UK) power supply. - All the parts (motors, resistors, LEDs, sounds, switches) you need to work through our tutorials. - A laser cut Laika Kickstarter keyring.

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Funding period

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