Curious what the next version of OpenSprinkler Pi (OSPi) is going to look like? Here is a sneakpeak preview of version 1.4:
Wait a minute, what is this strange looking board?! And the Pi is installed at an angle? What’s happening here? Well, the new design is all centered around one simple goal: to fit OSPi and RPi into the existing OpenSprinkler injection-molded enclosure. There are many good reasons to do so. The first is cost reduction: the current OSPi uses the Serpac WM032 enclosure with custom cutouts. This is quite expensive to make. On the other hand, the microcontroller-based OpenSprinkler already has an injection-molded enclosure (and I paid a good amount of money for the mold!), so it makes sense to consolidate the design to use the same enclosure. This will bring down the cost quite a bit. Using the same enclosure also gives both products a consistent look. In fact, in the near future OpenSprinkler Beagle will also adopt the same enclosure, and hence all three will have the same exterior look.
The ‘why’ part is easy to explain. But the ‘how’ part proves to a non-trivial engineering challenge. When I was first fiddling with the idea I didn’t think it was at all possible. After all, the injection-molded enclosure was made before OSPi came into place, naturally it was not designed with RPi in mind. It turns out that, due to the positions of the support pillars, the enclosure is just a little bit too narrow to fit RPi at a straight angle. Ouch! But after staring at it for a while like a geometric puzzle, I was delighted to find out that if you rotate RPi by 3 to 4 degrees, it fits perfectly! This gave me inspiration to further develop the idea. It also explains why the Pi has to be installed at an angle, as the picture at the top shows.
In fact, by carefully positioning the Pi, the Ethernet cable can also fit, albeit through the USB cutout instead of the RJ45 cutout. It’s a bit tricky to figure out the position precisely, but I am glad that after two rounds of prototypes I finally got it right 🙂
Of course since OSPi doesn’t have buttons and LCD, some of the cutouts are useless. I am not completely sure what to do with the LCD cutout. If I leave it alone, it looks quite ugly (see picture on the left below). So my temporary solution is to just put a sticky label at the back, thus covering the big empty hole (see picture on the right below). Eventually I think it’s best to put some graphic design here. I am undecided what to put here. It shouldn’t be the OpenSprinkler logo as the enclosure already has a printed logo. If you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments section. I would greatly appreciate it!
Next, because the injection-molded enclosure is not high enough, I cannot continue using the current design where the Pi faces up and connects to OSPi through ribbon cables. It’s necessary to flip the Pi and plug it into OSPi facing down. This will reduce the height of the overall assembly. However, there is one additional complication: the USB, Ethernet, and composite video connectors on the Pi are all quite tall, so it’s necessary to make cutouts on the OSPi PCB to allow these connectors to sink below the board. The picture on the left below shows the back of the PCB, and you can see where the connectors go through the board.
As the Pi is now facing down, it’s not easy to access the GPIO pins directly. Therefore I’ve mapped out all the 2×13 pins on the Pi to the pinout area, seen at the top-left corner of the PCB.
The last bit of the puzzle is the SD card. Since the enclosure has very limited space, it’s not possible to fit a full-size SD card, without making a cutout on the side. So we need a low-profile SD card. There are several options, one is this microSD to SD adapter. It’s basically a microSD card slot soldered onto a PCB shaped like an SD card but half the size. This and other similar adapters are readily available online and they work reasonably well.
While Googling ‘low-profile SD card’, I found an surprising solution that’s dead simple. In case you don’t know this already: many full-size SD cards are actually half empty. What this means is that the useful stuff (namely the chip and connectors) only take half the space, while the other half has nothing in it! As a result, you can safely cut half of the card away, thus making a low-profile SD card without any adapter. This also has the advantage of preserving the high performance of a full-size SD card (while the microSD card is considerably slower). The downside though, is that if you ever need to insert the SD card to your computer’s SD card slot, you will have to tape the other half back, so that it extends to the original length. Otherwise it will be too short to push in and pop out.
Anyways, this is the end of the story. I admit the new funky design feels a bit forced: it’s born out of the need to re-use the injection-molded enclosure, which wasn’t designed with OSPi in mind. But I am quite excited that I figured out all the pieces of the puzzle. Eventually I may pay a sizable chunk of money to order a new mold dedicated to OSPi, but before that happens we have to stick with the existing resources 🙂
The hardware components remain largely the same with version 1.3. The only difference is that the relay has been upgraded to a slightly bigger, 250V / 3A type. I am also considering adding a pin header for the nRF24L01 transceiver, to make it possible to communicate with our upcoming products such as OpenSprinkler Bee. Pending a few minor tweaks, things should be finalized within a month or two. Please leave your comments and suggestions, as this will be the last chance to influence the final design of 1.4. Thanks!