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Pi Glass interview

Adafruit creatives Noe and Pedro Ruiz hack video goggles to make a 3D-printed Google Glass-like attachment

How did you get started with Adafruit?

Noe It was about a year ago, we came on their show-and-tell and we wanted to show people what projects we were working on. At the time it was a simple wearable project – a 3D-printed belt buckle with Adafruit LEDs and their GEMMA microcontroller, so the thing there is mixing self-expression and design with the electronics and making it flashy and cool. Adafruit really liked that, and what they liked even better is that we happen to make videos as well, so Phil [Torrone], a cofounder of Adafruit, wrote to us asking if we’d like to be an author on their Adafruit Learning System. We said sure, we can write documentation, but we can also do video too. And that sort of led to starting another project and it gained momentum from there, and every week we’ve been coming out with a new 3D-printed project since. Recently it’s been getting so much bigger, and it’s always a challenge because every week we’re upping our skills – it’s like, can we design that, will that print? So far it’s been more successes than failures. We do a good job learning from the bad stuff and capturing the really good stuff and telling people in our guides how to keep moving on. It’s very hard stuff but we try to make it look like it’s not so hard so that people try it out and learn from it.

The tiny screen on top of your glasses provides a 320 by 240 display and feels like you’re looking at a 52-inch screen a few feet away
The tiny screen on top of your glasses provides a 320 by 240 display and feels like you’re looking at a 52-inch screen a few feet away

Pedro We try to make the guides as repeatable as we can – step-by-step guides that are easy to use.

Noe It’s so open sourcey! We had no idea of the open source hardware movement and it’s completely empowering to give away our design files. When we started out as Pixil 3D we really didn’t give away our designs – we’d hold on to them because it was our stuff. But now it makes so much sense to give away our designs since you have that incentive to. It’s like hey, here’s a cool project idea – just buy some parts and then follow along with our circuit diagrams and tutorials.

Pedro It really speaks to what 3D printing is becoming; it’s the shell that holds all the components that bring it to life inside.

So what exactly does your DIY Glass do?

Noe The idea was sort of inspired by Limor [Fried] herself – she has these hundred-dollar video glasses on the shop and she said: “You know what? Let’s take it apart. Let’s take the guts out, the actual circuitry, and make a new format for it. Instead of being two glasses let’s make it clip on to your existing glasses kinda like Google Glass, but let’s make it for the Raspberry Pi.” So that was the original idea and it was rather simple because there really wasn’t much programming or software involved – it was just repurposing this component inside this hundred- dollar pair of glasses and making it more Google Glassy and more DIY. From a design standpoint it was really challenging because the tolerances and things for that was kinda hard, especially for different machines – you’re always looking at different tolerances; even when you’re slicing it, things will come out a little bit differently. So that’s why it’s so important to give away the files and to tell people that you can modify it and you can make it work for you. And quite a few people have made their own and printed it for their application.

Pedro It’s a good foundation for anybody who can build on top of it. So we’ve seen different Pi UIs that mimic the Google Glass UI – this is something that somebody could take and sort of adapt.

Noe It’s a great example – so someone who’s not super ace at designing or printing but maybe has the software chops can take this project and make it even better. We’d really like to see that.

How did you make the attachment after you split up the original video glasses?

Noe So I guess for starters we bust out the calipers and we start measuring like crazy. From there we designed the components, we remake them in CAD – our favourite CAD right now is 123D Design, which is from Autodesk. We use it literally on a daily basis. But you start off by making the components and modelling them out, and creating the enclosure on top of that and just chiselling away and creating features, figuring out how to split it up into pieces so that it can print without any support material. We really strive to make our designs with no supports – that way you can get a really clean design that looks beautiful and doesn’t require that extra bit of waste. And it is 3D printing – it’s rapid, right? So we prototype the piss out of our projects! We’re so fortunate that we have the time to do it. It’s hard to keep it under two weeks, but it really feels like it’s a rush and we do step back and take the time to make sure it’s right.

Pedro We always have a buffer of at least a month with projects already in the works and we make sure we keep the pipeline full – sort of like a TV schedule. And sometimes if we can’t finish quite in time, we let people know and say hey, you can finish this for us by all means – go ahead and pick up where we left off.

How is the Pi talking to the attachment?

Noe It’s just plugged in through HDMI, really – it’s just an add-on to the Pi to make it mobile. You just plug into a battery bank, so it’s really simple in that way.

Is there an easy way to control the output?

Noe We have a small wireless keyboard that we sell in the shop, so we thought we’d keep it as simple as possible and use that to control things on the Pi.

Do you think this is a project you’ll revisit?

Pedro Well, with the release of the A+ we might revisit it in a future episode.

Noe Maybe something more enclosed and more specific to the Pi.

Pedro Yeah, so build more libraries for talking to sensors and things like that. We might try and incorporate some eye- tracking, things like that.

Noe We have a really cool remote team that does different projects as well, so we’re just now starting to collaborate with them because they’re more skilled and disciplined in software engineering, so it’s really cool to bring those two minds together – the design and videography and then the software engineering.