What's a BrickPi?
BrickPi is a system that converts Raspberry Pi into a robot. The project is a board and case that connects LEGO® Mindstorms Sensors, motors, and parts to turn your credit card size computer into a robot. The BrickPi allows you to connect up to 3 NXT Motors and 4 Sensors. It has a 9V battery power source that powers the motors, sensors, and Raspberry Pi, un-tethering the Pi from the wall. Finally, it has a sturdy case with holes that snap with LEGO parts.The brains of a Raspberry Pi joined with the LEGO building system.
We’ve come a lot further than we thought we would! As the backer support swelled, we wanted to make sure that we offered a lot of improvement for those that are already backing.
- $60,000 - Already Unlocked! Serious hardware improvements, including extra motor and sensor port position, full support of ultrasonic sensors on 4 ports. Fast I2C Port position. Layout for DC-DC converter. And more . . .
- $65,000 - Develop for C Language. If we reach $65K in backing, we will develop a second library in C/C++ for use in G++, plus examples. All open-source and all up on GitHub.
- $75,000 - Win the Space Race. We will launch a BrickPi contraption into near-space via high altitude balloon method. We will produce an entertaining video and provide bill of materials and instructions for how to do it yourself. The BrickPi Project becomes the SpaceX of the Raspberry Pi world.
- $100,000 - 4 Ports in a Storm: We will add the 5th sensor port and 4th motor port to everyone's BrickPi. Right now we have the layout for them in the board. If we reach $100k of funding, we will ship every board with all sensor ports filled.
- $125,000 - Seafarer: We will develop a custom project to put the BrickPi into a solar powered boat and attempt to sail it around the world. Like the Space Race, we’ll produce a highly entertaining video and we’ll publish full plans for building the boat. We will equip the boat with satellite messaging and setup a website where you can track the boat in real-time.
- $150,000 - Destroy the 9V. All BrickPi-level backers gets a 6XAA battery pack. No more 9V's in the world.
So what is it, exactly?
- BrickPi - The board. This slides over your Raspberry Pi and connects, controls, and powers Mindstorms motors and sensors, and provides power to the Raspberry Pi. The motors and sensors are all controlled by the Raspberry Pi. Firmware for the boards own microcontroller is written in Arduino so it's open and hackable. The hardware designs and software source code are all available online.
- Case - The case. This is a case for the Raspberry Pi that allows you to connect LEGO® pieces to your Raspberry Pi. It protects the Pi from impacts and falls that robots tend to have, and it secures all of the motors, sensors, and mechanical bits and pieces you want to attach to the Pi.
How Does it Work?
The BrickPi slides onto the Raspberry Pi. The BrickPi has a 9V power adapter that powers the motors and sensors, as well as the Raspberry Pi, freeing the Raspberry Pi from the wall socket. There are two LED's on the BrickPi for troubleshooting and to add style to your robot. There are three motor ports that also read encoder values, as well as four sensor ports that can read many of the MINDSTORMS sensors.
Then you program your robot. We have programming examples in Python (on Github) for controlling the motors and sensors and will develop a polished library for the system.
With the assembled version, you can slip the board onto your Raspberry Pi, plug in your motors and sensors, and get started with no soldering or splicing.
Who are you?
A corollary to your question might be: why are we capable of delivering the hardware? We've been working with contract manufacturers for the past few years. That's not to say that we know everything about manufacturing, but it is to say that we know who we're going to use on this project, we've worked with them on projects far more complex than this, and we have faith they can deliver only because they do it for us on a monthly basis already.
Where can I see more photos?
BrickPi has a website here. But in case you don't want to open a bunch of windows, here are the four photos of models we made so far.
What else do I need to make my robot?
Depends on what you want to do. The bare minimum is you'll need a Raspberry Pi (unless you buy the Philanthropist package), a 9V battery, and some LEGO peices. But you can (and should) get fancy: add some USB stuff, add some MINDSTORMS motors, and add some sensors (Full Disclosure: Dexter Industries makes sensors for the LEGO MINDSTORMS system).
Why Are You Doing a Kickstarter?
A few reasons. First and foremost, we want to build a community around this product. We think Kickstarter is a great way to find interested people, to build community, and to get feedback.
We also want help from the community in bringing the price for the product down to the cost of the Raspberry Pi (it's absurd to pay more for the add-on than the main course, right?).
By launching this project through Kickstarter, we hope we can get a headstart on all of these things.
Why is the design open? Aren't you afraid someone's going to steal it?
The design is open because we genuinely want to contribute to learning, and the best way to do that is to show your work. We may be foolish, but we hope that people copy this, and make it better: it raises our game. Even more importantly, we hope the BrickPi, regardless of who's making and selling it, makes kids smarter and opens up the world of robotics and computers to them.
What's the status of your prototype?
We have a few working prototypes and we've sent out some prototypes to collaborators. We've already received some feedback on these beta-boards. We're hoping we get more feedback from backers and potential backers. While the prototype works, we've gotten a few pointers from folks who checked out our design (which you can check out here as well).
So what changes are you going to make to the hardware we saw in the video?
The small tweaks to the hardware design:
- We will remove the USB-power jack and the Raspberry Pi will be powered through the 5V pins on the pin header (no more USB mini cable needed!)
- We will utilize serial to talk between the RPI and the Arduino. The version you see in the video talks to sensors and to the Arduino over I2C. Serial is bi-directional and has less overhead.
- We will have a better footprint for the voltage regulator. The keen observer will notice our voltage regulator, which stepped the 9V power from the battery down to the 5V used for the Raspberry Pi, is kind of funky in the picture. We found we needed a bigger regulator when we stuck a bunch of USB stuff on the RPI. So in the pictures and videos, you'll see it and it will look odd. In the finished version, the regulator will have a proper footprint and some heat dissipation.
- We have added a few open spots for FTDI programming. If you want to hack away at the firmware (you don't have to but if you're interested) this will make it easier to access the Arduino on the BrickPi.
I am a nerd or engineer and I want to know more.
That's awesome, our type of person. We've got a whole section of the Dexter Industries website devoted to people like you. We've got pointers on how to make the BrickPi and a few of the potholes we ran into. Our hardware and software is open and hackable. We've got all the plans (Eagle Files, BOM) on our Github page here. The firmware is here.On our Github site we have not only the plans, but the Bill of Materials with links, so if you really can't wait or you want to change the design and show us up, be our guests and make it yourself.
I just want to SEE more of the BrickPi.
Here are some pictures and videos of the BrickPi in various stages of development.
Risks and challenges
So what are the risks, and how will we manage them?
There are real risks. Our goal is to bring the BrickPi to life and have it manufactured. As far as manufacturing goes, there are no "open issues" to solve; our hardware design is in place and has been tested succesfully. As with all manufacturing, there's the chance that a hiccup occurs during the process. That could be anything from a miscommunication with the manufacturer to a lost parts shipment. We have worked with the manufacturers we have planned for over two years, we have a fantastic track record with them, and we think we have minimized the risks associated with commissioning a project.
There are risks to fulfillment: once we have the parts manufactured and tested, we have to somehow ship them to you. Fortunately, we've been shipping products to people for a few years, and we've got a lot of experience with this. We have priced all of our products for standard parcel delivery via USPS. If you're nervous about the package getting lost in the mail, eaten by customs, or want something done special, contact us and we'll try to make it happen.
Finally, one of the goals of the project is to bring the BrickPi to the Scratch programming language. There's a danger that this part of the project could run later than August 2013; as with anything new, we don't know it until we've done it. Programming projects can be perilous, but we have a plan. Being an educational robotics company, we've got a few relationships with people that know Scratch and Python well.
It should be noted that we already have functional Python examples up on our website and Github. While one of our goals is to polish and improve them, they work already. If you'd like to contribute to the software of this project, PLEASE CONTACT US through our website or Github.
Shipping and fulfillment will NOT be delayed by the programming projects.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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