If you have a Raspberry Pi and have any interest in its peripherals, you may be familiar with the grinning pirate logo of the British company, Pimoroni. The Sheffield, UK based outfit first established a niche for itself as one of the go-to places for much of the essentials of Pi ownership, and has extended its portfolio beyond the Pi into parts, boards, and components across the spectrum of electronic experimentation. Their products are notable for their distinctive and colourful design language as well as their constant exploration of new ideas, and they have rapidly become one of those companies to watch in our sphere. On our way up to Newcastle for Maker Faire UK, we passed close enough to the Pimoroni HQ to be able to ask nicely if we could drop in and have a tour.
The Pimoroni HQ can be found in a nondescript unit with a discreetly placed sign on an industrial estate after a short drive through the city from the motorway. Inside it’s the same as thousands of other units, a set of offices at the front and a cavernous warehouse behind, except this one is filled with the kinds of goodies that get our blood pumping! And we’re told this toybox warehouse is soon to be joined by another nearby unit, as the Pimoroni business is expanding.
Our guide was the company co-founder Paul Beech, whose work you will be familiar with even if this is the first time you’ve heard his name; Paul was the designer of the Raspberry Pi logo! The company is not exclusive to that platform but it’s fair to say they have a strong connection with the Pi, starting in 2012 with as their website puts it: “One laser cutter and a kettle” on which they produced the first of their iconic PiBow laser-cut sandwich Raspberry Pi cases.
Remember the days when the television was the most important appliance in the house? On at dawn for the morning news and weather, and off when Johnny Carson said goodnight, it was the indispensable portal to the larger world. Broadcast TV may have relinquished its hold on the public mind in favor of smartphones, but an information portal built into an old TV might take you back to the old days.
It seems like [MisterM] has a little bit of a thing for the retro look. Witness the wallpaper in the video after the break for proof, as well as his Google-ized Radio Shack intercom project from a few months back. His current project should fit right in, based on an 8″ black-and-white TV from the 70s as it is. TVs were bulky back then to allow for the long neck of the CRT, so he decided to lop off the majority of the case and use just the bezel for his build. An 8″ Pimoroni display sits where the old tube once lived, and replicates the original 4:3 aspect ratio. With Chromium set up in kiosk mode, the family can quickly select from a variety of news and information “channels” using the original tuning knob, while parts from a salvaged mouse turns the volume control into a scroll wheel.
The idea was to build the smallest possible computer than can run SteamOS and fit inside of a cabinet printed on a Prusa clone. At first, [Daniel] tried driving a MinnowBoard around. The frame rate was atrocious, so he switched to an ASUS mini-STX board and went from there.
The printed steering wheel and throttle are both analog inputs—each uses a 10kΩ pot connected to a Pimoroni PiCade controller. We love [Daniel]’s lo-tech way of using rubber bands to self-center them. We also love the post-processing he did on the steering wheel to give it that just-right grippy feel (it’s Plasti-Dip rubber paint), because it looks fantastic.
The lovely blue cabinet is an homage to [Daniel]’s Dirt Rally destroyer of choice, the rally blue ’95 Subaru Impreza. He had an arduous print/sand/prime/paint plan all worked out for the prototype, but ultimately printed the parts in different colors to get the look right. [Daniel] went through four different blue filaments alone before he was satisfied.
Motor around the break for a quick walk around the completed cabinet, and park it for the teaser video that scored [Daniel] a swag bag from the Dirt Rally devs through the magic of social media. Now that it’s cold and flu season in the northern hemisphere, maybe you’d prefer to play driving games without touching anything.
The original Furby product wowed consumers of the 90s. In addition to animatronic movements, it also packed simulated voice learning technology that seemed to allow the Furby to learn to speak. It wasn’t like anything else on the market, and even got the toy banned from NSA’s facilities in case it could spy on them. Elegantly, the robot uses only one motor to move all of its parts, using a variety of plastic gears, levers, and cams to control all of the robot’s body parts and to make it dance.
Over the past twenty years the Furby has earned the reputation as one of the most hackable toys ever — despite its mystery microcontroller, which was sealed in plastic to keep the manufacturer’s IP secret. [Zach] replaced the control board with a Pi Zero. He also replaced the crappy mic and pizeo speaker that came with toy with a Pimoroni Speaker pHat and a better mic.
We’ve become used to readily available single board computers of significant power in form factors that would have seemed impossibly small only a few years ago. But even with a board the size of a credit card such as a Raspberry Pi, there are still moments when the available space is just too small to fit the computer.
The solution resorted to by enterprising hardware hackers is often to remove extraneous components from the board. If there is no need for a full-size USB port or an Ethernet jack, for example, they can safely be taken away. And since sometimes these attempts result in the unintended destruction of the board, yonder pirates at Pimoroni have taken viewers of their Bilge Tank series of videos through the procedure, creating in the process what they describe as “The World’s Thinnest Raspberry Pi 3“.
The USB and Ethernet ports, as large through-hole components, were the easiest to tackle. Some snipping and snapping removed the tinware and plastic, then the remains could be hand-desoldered. The GPIO pins resisted attempts to remove their plastic for easy desoldering, so for them they had to resort to a hot air gun. Then for the remaining camera, HDMI, and display ports the only option was hot air. Some cleaning up with desoldering braid, and they had their super-thin Pi. They weren’t quite done though, they then took the reader through modifying a Raspbian Lite distribution to deactivate support those components that have been removed. This has the handy effect not only of freeing up computer resources, it also saves some power consumption.
You might point out that they could have just used a Pi Zero, which with its SD card on the top surface is even a little bit thinner. And aside from the question of extra computing power, you’d be right. But their point is valid, that people are doing this and not always achieving a good result, so their presenting it as a HOWTO is a useful contribution. We suspect that a super-thin Pi 3 will still require attention to heat management though.
Take a look at the video, we’ve put it below the break.
One of the big stories of last year was the fracture of the official Arduino supply into two competing organisations at daggers drawn, each headed by a different faction with its origins in the team that gave us the popular single board computers. Since then we’ve had Arduinos from Arduino LLC (the [Massimo] Arduino.cc, arguably the ‘original’, and Arduino trademark holder in the United States) and Arduino SRL (the [Musto] Arduino.org, and owner of the Arduino trademark everywhere except the US) , two websites, two forks of the IDE, and “real” Arduino boards available under a couple of names depending on where in the world you live due to a flurry of legal manoeuvres. Yes. it’s confusing.
Today came news of a supplier throwing its hands up in despair at the demands imposed on them as part of this debacle. Pimoroni, famous as supplier of Raspberry Pi goodies, has put up a blog post explaining why they will henceforth no longer be selling Arduinos. They took the side of Arduino LLC, and the blog post details their extensive trials and delays in making contact with the company before eventually being told they would have to agree to purchase substantial stocks both Arduino and Genuino branded versions of identical products and agree to sell them through separate supply channels for both Europe and the rest of the world before they could proceed. This is not a practical proposition for a small company, and the Pimoroni people deliver a very pithy explanation of exactly why towards the bottom of their post.
We’ve covered the Arduino versus Arduino debacle extensively in the past, this is simply the latest in a long line of stories. Pimoroni have hit the nail on the head when they make the point that the customers and suppliers really don’t care about spats between the various inheritors of the Arduino legacy, they just want an Arduino. And with so many other Arduino-compatible boards available they don’t have to look very hard to find one if the right shade of blue solder-resist or the shape of the map of Italy on the back isn’t a special concern. Can we be the only ones wishing something like this might knock a bit of sense into the various parties?