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Use a Raspberry Pi to control your 3D printer’s motors and UI! Our SDK makes it easy to add features and incorporate feedback.
Use a Raspberry Pi to control your 3D printer’s motors and UI! Our SDK makes it easy to add features and incorporate feedback.
248 backers pledged $21,502 to help bring this project to life.

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Photon Elephant: A real OS for your 3D Printer. project video thumbnail
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Photon Elephant turns your 3D printer into a smartprinter! It’s easy to use the browser-based control panel to start, pause, and resume prints, stream from a webcam and slice your STL files. The Photon Elephant is the simplest electronics solution for getting a 3D printer up and running without needing to coordinate a bunch of independent software and firmware tools. 

Unlike existing solutions, we use the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins to directly drive the motor controllers for your printer. We even went a step further and built a convenient SDK that makes Photon Elephant a tinkerer’s dream! Do you want to try incorporating sensor feedback to close the loop and get perfect prints every time? Maybe you want to build an SLS printer, but the standard five motor controllers just aren’t enough? We provide a simple specification so the Makers and Hackers of the world can spend more time innovating and less time figuring out the inner workings of firmware code.

Photon Elephant is a bundle of hardware and software built around the Raspberry Pi that controls your 3D printer. Many printers today use a Raspberry Pi to send commands to an Arduino, which actually manages the motors and sensors, but has no operating system. Photon Elephant eliminates the Arduino entirely, putting the power of linux directly on your printer!

We think that creating new and exciting 3D printers should be easier, so we set out to make a simple and powerful platform that anyone can build on. We found the process of working with the available open source solutions to be tedious and out of date. The next generation of 3D printers deserve better. That's why we built Photon Elephant.

Photon Elephant is built for Hackers, Makers, Students and Entrepreneurs! It can handle the whole stack, controlling everything from the User Interface to the motors and sensors! If you just want to get a printer up and running, Photon Elephant does the work of a slew of other products, making it the simplest solution available. If you are looking to do something new, the SDK makes Photon Elephant the easiest platform to build on.

Never flash firmware again! We’ll send you an SD card (or an image if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous) and you just plug it into the Raspberry Pi. Wire any compatible* printer up to the Photon Elephant companion board, and you’re ready to go! No more worrying about making a bunch of different programs like slicers, firmware and printer managers talk to one another. Just open a browser on any device on your WiFi and start printing!

*We currently officially support only Cartesian RepRap-style printers (Prusa, Printrbot, etc.). We are actively working on support for Delta printers and SLS printers, while our SDK can be used to easily support almost any printing methodology.

With the Photon Elephant SDK, we empower both hobbyists and startups like never before!  We expose an additional header coming off our companion board with 40 pins for you to run custom motors and sensors to your heart’s content! Using our SDK, you can create powerful plugins to control your own electronics and unleash totally new tools on your 3D printer.

Simple additions like extra motors or extruders only require tweaking some XML. If you want to do something more complicated, you can use the SDK to easily add support for anything you can imagine! Maybe you want to start incorporating new sensor feedback data into your print process to improve reliability, or you want to add an extruder that uses a bunch of motors for full color? The Photon Elephant SDK is built for this kind of thing! Understanding a few of our system calls is all you need in order to get up to speed and start hacking. You worry about the high-level logic of what you want to do, and we’ll worry about the rest!

For More Information Check Out Our Developer Blog!

The 3D printing industry is shifting so quickly that today’s high performance printer is tomorrow’s paperweight. Given how hard it is to predict the direction the industry will shift, flexibility is the name of the game. It doesn’t make sense to spend your time modifying firmware directly on a chipset that might not be used at all tomorrow.

Photon Elephant’s SDK helps you keep up with the rest of the industry by making it easy to add new features to your design. We’ll worry about offering support for the latest and greatest electronics, so you can make sure your printer always keeps pace.

Avtar Khalsa 

Robotics has always been Avtar’s true passion. In high school he made a trashcan that automatically took itself out and hasn’t stopped tinkering since. In college he moved on to helping write the code behind the Cornell Ranger robot that briefly held the record for longest distance walked by a robot on a single charge. Since then he’s mostly focused on mobile development, but never lost his love for robotics.  

Brant Merryman

Brant Merryman has been passionate about technology since his first computer, an Atari 400. He has spent the last 20 years writing commercial software for Macintosh, Windows, Linux, and several other platforms. Brant has been excitedly working with 3D printers for several years with his high school sweetheart and now wife, Christina. Brant knows C++ so that you don't have to.

 Ben McCloskey

As a lifelong breaker of things, Ben is excited about helping people be makers of things! He does a little bit of everything and prides himself on filling in the cracks, whether that means writing Java, Python, C, shell scripts, wiring up bread boards, creating marketing materials or anything else! When he’s not tinkering with software and electronics, he’s probably out hiking with his dog or playing a new board, card or video game with his amazing fiancée.

Thanks To unfilterd on Thingiverse for the great Elephant Model!

Risks and challenges

We are still in the process of finalizing our SDK. We have achieved great prints doing our high level printer management in Java. We are planning to create our SDK so that the APIs support several different programming languages. We use Google protocol buffers for most of our internal communication and intend to use them for our SDK as well. If this approach works, plugins can be written in any language that supports protocol buffers; however, if we run into any major setbacks in the area, we will revert to a Java-only SDK for the first version.

The design of the circuit board is done. We have been testing with the prototype system on the Raspberry Pi for about 6 months and have consistently had great prints. We have already received our first 10 pcb boards designed fully to spec and are beginning testing with them. We will be sending out boards for people to try as soon as we have them available, with the SDK being released shortly thereafter.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 1 or more About $1.00

    THE SUPPORTER: Thank you so much. Just knowing you support us at this stage is so much more meaningful than just a dollar. We’ll mention you as a backer on our website and you’ll receive updates on our progress.

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    THE ENTHUSIAST: Support the idea that our printers should be smarter. You will receive a Photon Elephant t-Shirt.

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    Pledge $75 or more About $75

    THE DIY: Get a copy of our software. We’ll also send you a kit to build your own shield board to attach to your Raspberry Pi A+ or B+. Then you can download our software package and start printing.

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    THE EARLY BIRD: Only 50 available. We’ll send you a fully assembled shield board to connect to a Raspberry Pi A+ or B+. Just download the software image onto your SD and you’ll be printing in minutes.

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    Pledge $115 or more About $115

    THE CLASSIC: We’ll send you a fully assembled shield board to connect to a Raspberry Pi A+ or B+. Just download the software image onto your SD and you’ll be printing in minutes.

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    Pledge $200 or more About $200

    THE PREVIEW: We'll send you one of the first ten Off the Tool boards to play around with as soon as it is through QA. We’ll also give you early access to our SDK to test out.

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    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    THE PREVIEW 2: We'll send you the next 10 boards to get you started right after the folks who ordered The Preview! You'll also receive early access to our SDK at the same time as The Previewers do!

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  8. Select this reward

    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    THE PREVIEW BETA: We'll send you one of the next 10 boards to get you started right after the folks who ordered The Preview! You'll also receive early access to our SDK at the same time as The Previewers do!

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Funding period

- (30 days)