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#sideproject: SmartiPi Raspberry Pi B+ and Camera Case

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My first DIY project using my Raspberry Pi was a baby monitor. If you don’t already know about Raspberry Pi, it’s a popular, affordable DIY tinkering machine — basically, a tiny computer — made by a UK-based foundation that also makes a camera to plug into the Pi and take photos or video. Created as an educational tool and popular in UK schools, there’s a ton of online support and open-source resources for the Pi products.

The great thing about Pi’s active online community is how easy it is for a novice like me to find a bunch of tutorials for exactly what I want to make. In about ten minutes, I figured out how to program a baby monitor and had my camera streaming from the baby’s room to my smartphone.

I’m not an expert coder, but I wanted to contribute something to the Pi community so I looked to my background in hardware product design and user experience. I noticed there are a number of Raspberry Pi cases available but most don’t have a lot of functionality or utility. In many cases, they’re just boxes with holes for inputs.

I’ve always wanted to make a product of my own — something small I could manage — and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. I decided to design a Raspberry Pi case that’s functional, affordable, quirky, and fun. The result is the SmartiPi Raspberry Pi B+ and Camera Case.

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pi-colorsBefore I sat down to design, I did a bit of user research. I went onto forums, put some questions out there, and sent around a Survey Monkey. I also talked to the owner of The Pi Shop, an online store for Pi accessories, and he had some good ideas. There were features people mentioned that I didn’t build into SmartiPi, but in the end I think I found the right balance of features for the cost. I really wanted to keep it affordable, since one of the great things about Raspberry Pi is its accessibility.

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People make Raspberry Pi cases out of Legos — I tried to build off of that by making a Lego-compatible case. I used common Lego-compatible sizes for the plates so people can swap these out for their own Legos. They can also pop in their own Lego pivot pieces or other types of pieces to position the camera as desired and even to make it rotate. And there’s always the option of using little Lego people to wrangle the wires.

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I wanted a way for people to pop off the top and be able to look inside — this could be useful for an educational audience who is learning about computing. Having one side open also lets people use Lego pieces with holes as a venting mechanism for when the Pi gets warm.

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There isn’t a specific end goal for every single feature — I designed this for DIYers who’re going to look at the case and get ideas for how to make it their own. For example, the case has a GoPro-compatible mount. GoPro mounts are available all over the place and for cheap, to mount anywhere — on bikes, helmets, skateboards. You can mount the SmartPi case on any one of those. That’s an example of an open-ended feature that aligns with Pi’s tinkering spirit and encourages people to use their imaginations.

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I’m working with manufacturing partners right now to get injection-molded parts. The Kickstarter was fully funded which means I’ll be shipping out 700 cases by January. When I was putting the Kickstarter together, postage was the hardest thing to figure out — I learned that shipping costs are what end up sinking a lot of projects. Once the parts come in, I’ll assemble and package each SmartiPi at my house. (Read more of what I learned about launching a successful Kickstarter campaign.)

In the end, coming up with the name — SmartiPi — might have been the simplest part of the whole project. I picked it because it’s catchy, short, quirky, and easy to remember. And the case is smart. It was much easier to come up with than our baby’s name, because my wife didn’t have to weigh in on it.

(Our #sideproject series is an occasional show and tell of non-client work by Bresslergroup staff. See all the #sideproject posts.)