This Stackable Pi Portable Is Ready To Rumble

The proliferation of desktop 3D printing and powerful single-board computers like the Raspberry Pi has given rise to an absolute explosion of small bespoke computing devices. Whether or not you think these cobbled together devices are close enough to Gibson’s original vision to call them cyberdecks, it’s a remarkable shift from the norm that brings us closer to the “High Tech, Low Life”  philosophy so prevalent in cyberpunk literature and films.

[Jay Doscher] has been on the front lines of this movement for some time now, producing several very popular designs. His latest creation leans hard into the more utilitarian aspects of the cyberpunk ethos, inspired more by the grit of The Expanse than the lusciously upholstered interiors of Star Trek’s Enterprise-D. The culmination of lessons learned over the last several years, the new Kuiper Deck is cheaper and easier to build than his previous designs, thanks at least in part to the fact that you no longer need to go out and get an expensive Pelican case.

Like his previous designs, the Kuiper Deck makes extensive use of 3D printed components. But this time around, [Jay] is using an array of smaller pieces that are bolted together on an acrylic front panel. This not only means the project is compatible with a wider array of machines, such as the Prusa Mini, but it’s also easier to print as larger parts have an annoying tendency to warp. The downside is that you’ll need some way to get the acrylic panel cut to shape, though you can buy one through him if you don’t have any way to get it made locally.

In place of the Pelican case his previous designs used as an enclosure, [Jay] has found a heavy-duty stackable plastic tote available from McMaster Carr for $12 USD. It’s not particularly nice looking, nor is it waterproof. But that’s also sort of the point. If you’re just trying to put together a small computer that you can toss around the shop and not have to worry about breaking, the Pelican case was always a bit overkill.

The electronics bill of materials is similarly sparse, comprising mainly of the Raspberry Pi 4, a cooling fan, and a 10 inch LCD from Pimoroni. Everything gets screwed to the rear of the panel and connected with pre-made cables, making assembly very simple. That said, there’s still plenty of room inside the case for custom hardware should you want to put something custom together such as a mobile software defined radio rig.

[Jay] created the original Raspberry Pi Field Unit in 2015, but it wasn’t until he unveiled the revised Raspberry Pi Recovery Kit in 2019 that the idea of sticking a Raspberry Pi into a Pelican case became something of hacker meme. It sounds like the Kuiper Deck is going to be his final word on the subject for now, but it’s a safe bet we’ll be seeing folks putting together similar builds for years to come.

Simplifying The Ruggedized Raspberry Pi Portable

Over the last year we’ve seen a wave of portable computer builds that center around the Raspberry Pi taking up residence inside a commercial heavy-duty storage case. It’s not hard to see why; whether you spring for the Pelican case or get a cheaper alternative, these water-tight cases are far stronger than anything you’re going to 3D print or otherwise cobble together in the home shop. Especially if you can avoid popping any holes in the side.

Inspired by these builds but looking to make it even easier and cheaper to roll your own version, [Dmitry] recently took the wraps off of what he calls the Militarish Pi. You don’t need a CNC to cut out any face plates or a 3D printer to create an internal framework for all your components. You could even do it without soldering anything, if you really wanted to. Short of just buying one of these rigs pre-built from somebody, it’s hard to imagine it could get much easier than this.

Most of the effort involves cutting the PVC foam sheet that holds the Raspberry Pi, battery pack, and the driver board for the LCD in the bottom of the $15 USD case [Dmitry] managed to track down on AliExpress. The “carbon fiber” sticker he put on the PVC sheet won’t do much for the structural integrity of the build, but it sure looks nice. Of course if you have access to the appropriate tools, you could certainly cut the plate out of something stouter. As for the display, the nine inch LCD is perfectly sized to press fit into the lid.

Rounding out the build, [Dmitry] found a cheap Android phone case that included a tiny USB keyboard which plugs right into the Pi and he’s looking to add a BlackBerry trackball to the setup down the line. We especially like the large open area that he’s kept around the Raspberry Pi’s ports that allow you to easily hook up to the network or plug in a flash drive. It could also be a nice compartment to keep your RTL-SDR for some mobile radio work.

For those that don’t mind spending name-brand money and have access to a 3D printer, the Raspberry Pi Quick Kit by [Jay Doscher] is another great way to get yourself a rough and tumble Pi without reinventing the wheel.

YARH.IO Is The Hackable Pi Portable Of Our Dreams

Less than a decade ago, building a completely custom portable computer was more or less out of the question. Sure you could have cobbled something together with a Gumstix board and the dinky NTSC/PAL screen pulled from a portable DVD player, but it wouldn’t exactly have been a daily driver. But now we have cheap high definition LCD panels, desktop 3D printers, and of course, the Raspberry Pi.

We’ve seen these elements combined into bespoke personal computing devices too many times to count now, but very few of them can compare to the incredible YARH.IO. It’s been designed from the ground up for easy assembly and customization; you don’t have to worry about getting custom PCBs made or tracking down some piece of unobtanium hardware. Everything inside of the 3D printed enclosure is an off-the-shelf module, needing little more than the occasional scrap of protoboard to tie them all together.

YARH.IO in tablet mode.

One glance at the rugged design of the YARH.IO, and it’s clear this device wasn’t meant to live on a shelf. Whether it’s getting tossed around the workbench or thrown into a bag on the way to a hacker con, the militarized design of this portable is ready for action. Using appropriately strong materials such as PETG and ABS, we have no doubt the enclosure will survive whatever the on-the-go hacker can throw at it.

But what’s arguably the best feature of the YARH.IO also happens to be the least obvious: the modular design of the enclosure allows you to remove the lower keyboard section and use it as a battery powered Linux tablet (albeit a rather chunky one). Whether the keyboard is attached or not, you still have access to the Pi’s expansion header thanks to a clever pass-through.

Like with the Mil-Plastic that [Jay Doscher] released recently, we know these 3D printed kits will never be as strong as the real military gear they’re emulating. But let’s be realistic, none of us keyboard warriors will be taking them into an actual battlefield anytime soon. What’s more important is that their modular construction allows them to be easily modified for whatever the user’s needs might be. With as far as the state-of-the-art in DIY bespoke computing as come in the last decade, we can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Mil-Spec Looks Without Defense Department Budget

While hackers and makers have a tendency to focus on functionality above all else, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some visual flair. A device that works well and looks good will always be more impressive than the bare bones approach, but the extra time and money it usually takes to polish up the visual component of a build means it’s often overlooked. Which is exactly what [Jay Doscher] wanted to address with his Mil-Plastic project.

On the surface, the Mil-Plastic is yet another entry in the rapidly growing and often ill-defined world of cyberdecks: custom computing devices that forgo the standard laptop and desktop dichotomy and instead explore the road not taken by mainstream consumer electronics. To that end, it’s a solid build more than worthy of praise. But more than that, it’s also a lesson on how 3D printing and some clever design can create a truly impressive visual for little more than the cost of a spool of PLA.

The modular design allows parts to be printed in parallel.

The Mil-Plastic, as the name implies, looks like it was pulled from a Humvee or an Abrams tank. While the gorgeous olive green PETG filament that [Jay] has stumbled upon certainly helps, his eye for detail and design chops aren’t to be underestimated. He’s given the case a rugged and armored look that simply screams “Your Tax Dollars At Work”, complete with faux cooling fins running along the back and a generous application of low-profile stainless steel fasteners. We’ve taken a close look at the decadence of military engineering in the past, and the Mil-Plastic could hang with the best of them.

Most importantly, [Jay] has given us all the tools and information we need to recreate the look on our own terms. You don’t have to be in the market for yet another Raspberry Pi gadget to appreciate the Mil-Plastic; the design can serve as the backbone for whatever you happen to be building. The printed case not only looks impressive, but can easily be modified and expanded as needed.

[Jay] kicked off a minor revolution late last year with his Raspberry Pi Recovery Kit, and has continued to produce well-documented designs that illustrate the incredible power of desktop 3D printing. If you can look through his portfolio and not get inspired, you may want to speak with a doctor.

Designing Space-Rated PCBs

We’ve reduced printed circuit board design to practice so much that we hardly give a thought to the details anymore. It’s so easy to bang out a design, send it to a fab house, and have ten boards in your hands in no time at all. All the design complexities are largely hidden from us, abstracted down to a few checkboxes on the vendor’s website.

There’s no doubt that making professional PCB design tools available to the hobbyist has been a net benefit, but there a downside. Not every PCB design can be boiled down to the “one from column A, one from column B” approach. There are plenty of applications where stock materials and manufacturing techniques just won’t cut it. PCBs designed to operate in space is one such application, and while few of us will ever be lucky enough to have a widget blasted to infinity and beyond, learning what’s behind space-rated PCBs is pretty interesting.

Continue reading “Designing Space-Rated PCBs”

Refurbishing Armored Tablets

Who can resist the insane deals on bizarre hardware that pop up on auction websites? Not [Dane Kouttron], for sure. He stumbled on Armor X7 ruggedized tablets, and had to buy a few. They’d be just perfect for datalogging in remote and/or hostile locations, if only they had better batteries and were outfitted with a GSM data modem… So [Dane] hauled out his screwdrivers and took stuff apart. What follows is a very detailed writeup of the battery management system (BMS), and a complete teardown of this interesting tablet almost as an afterthought.

First, [Dane] tried to just put a bunch more batteries into the thing, but the battery-management chip wouldn’t recognize them. For some inexplicable reason, [Dane] had the programmer for the BMS on-hand, as well as a Windows XP machine to run the antiquated software on. With the BMS firmware updated (and the manufacturer’s name changed to Dan-ger 300!) everything was good again.

Now you may not happen to have a bunch of surplus X7 ruggedized tablets lying around. Neither do we. But we can totally imagine needing to overhaul a battery system, and so it’s nice to have a peek behind the scenes in the BMS. File that away in your memory banks for when you need it. And if you need even more power, check out this writeup of reverse-engineering a Leaf battery pack. Power to the people!

Waterproof IPod Touch Video Boombox


Popular Mechanics contributor [Anthony Veducci] wanted a virtually indestructible video player that he could use anywhere. Not finding a commercial solution, he decided to build his own. He already had a large waterproof case and another for the iPod Touch. The 8″ display came from an iPod accessory. Unfortunately it was developed before Apple implemented their stupid accessory locking, so he had to use an Apple approved video cable through several adapters to get it to work. The speakers were also salvaged parts. The case was assembled using a jigsaw and a whole lot of epoxy. The speaker openings are covered with latex from a pair of gloves and everything is sealed with silicone. We’re usually trying to escape technology when we head outside, but we’ll be looking back at this the next time we need to ruggedize something.

[via Gizmodo]