Right off the bat, let me acknowledge that I am by no means an expert on Raspberry Pi. If anything, I’m a beginner with Pi who was fortunate enough to find a sponsor for this video who valued a beginner’s perspective on things.
WD Labs is the sponsor for this video. They sent me their full Raspberry Pi kit which they call the Compute Centre, which includes a Pi 3, keyboard, case, mouse, power supply, a microSD card that plugs into the Pi preinstalled with software, and a hard drive.
This Halloween, I decided to dress up as a mad scientist. Kind of obvious, I know, but a great excuse to wire up this Adafruit Neopixel Goggle Kit I had sitting around.
To be perfectly honest, I’ve never had an easy experience with Neopixels. Somehow I always manage to burn one out, or get an unexpected glitch. My hope was that this kit would provide me with a guaranteed success, and I’m happy to say that it delivered.
The kit comes in a box with most everything you need including a Trinket micro controller (basically a tiny Arduino), a pair of plastic costume goggles, two Neopixel rings, multiple colors of wire, a surface mount JST battery connector, a small rechargeable battery pack, and USB battery charger. You will need to supply your own micro USB cable for loading code, and devise your own diffuser for the lenses (plain copy paper works fine).
You’ll also need a few tools, including a soldering iron, solder, hot glue, E6000 adhesive (optional), wire cutters/strippers, and a computer.
No printed instructions are, but the online documentation is ample and detailed, plus you’ll need to go online to download the code required for the Trinket to do its magic.
Right off the bat, the instructions have you soldering a small surface mount JST connection to the Trinket. This allows you to run the Trinket from the included battery pack, but it’s also a likely stumbling block for anyone just beginning with soldering. It’s a delicate operation.
Wiring the two Neopixel rings also presented some challenges. Despite the documentation, it was hard to get a clear idea of exactly which wires ran to which areas of the rings. After thinking it through, I came up with the right solution — but again I think this is an area where someone without experience might lose hope.
Before glueing everything in place, you’re advised to load the Arduino code to the Trinket and see if everything’s working as planned. Though the Trinket is Arduino IDE compatible (meaning it can connect to the standard Arduino software), you will need an additional download and adjustment to get things working. Again, another bump in the road for a beginner.
The Instructions also advise reinforcing some of the wiring with a few globs of E6000 adhesive. I didn’t have any, but having seen it used in so many other projects I took it as a great excuse to walk to the hardware store and buy some. Securing the rings into the goggles required hot glue, which I had plenty of.
The end result looks great and I’m happy with how these turned out. For a unique costume or cosplay showpiece, I think the $40 price of the kit is a good value. It should be noted that you can’t see through the goggles once they’re complete — they’re just meant to hang out on your head and look cool.
Cool things I learned with this kit:
-Programming a Trinket board
-Chaining together multiple NeoPixels
-Using E6000 to provide strain relief on electronic wiring
-Working with and recharging small LiPo battery packs
-Surface mount soldering (JST on Trinket)
What to watch out for:
-A little bit of tricky surface mount soldering
-Configuring Arduino software settings for use with Trinket
-Aligning Neopixel rings in goggles for symmetry
-Devising your own diffuser for the lenses (I used Frisket film)
This is the Mini Strandbeest kit. It sells for as little as $15 online and you can put it together in under an hour. And when you’re done you have this cool, working, miniature model of a Theo Jansen Strandbeest.
Now, in order to fully get excited about this kit, you need to get fully excited about what a Strandbeest is, which is easy. The real things are these awesome, giant, moving, wind-powered sculptures made out of PVC pipe. Here’s a video that can start you down the rabbit hole of falling in love with these things.
After that, you’ll want the kit. Now, there are a bunch of variations out there, but this design seems the easiest and most affordable to come by.
They used to be as rare as hen’s teeth and the only way to get one was to find this imported Japanese issue of Gakken magazine that came with a kit and instructions in Japanese. Now, if you can find this, snag it, because it’s the best quality reproduction out there. It also comes with a magazine that’s so pretty, you can look past the fact that it’s in all Japanese. Adafruit stocks this version for $50 and has a link to English instructions.
If you’re paying less than that, you’re getting a counterfeit and it’s not going to come with the magazine and the cool box. I know because I ordered one. For example, I found this on Amazon for around $15, that advertises itself with an image of the magazine cover — but it’s really just a generic kit. Rest assured, it seems that there a bunch of knock-offs out there and I’m pretty sure they’re all this same bag of parts with printed instructions in English. **[See Update at End]
I also think it’s safe to say that none of these inexpensive kits are sanctioned by Theo Jansen himself. If you really want to make sure the artist is getting his due, order your kit from Strandbeest.com –that’s his site– and pay the $35.
That said, I’m going to show you what to expect on the more common $15 version. Maybe build this, gift it to a friend, and then treat yourself (and Theo) to the official version once you realize how cool it is.
Having compared both products, I can tell you that they’re functionally the same, they go together the same, but the parts on the cheap version aren’t made as well. I had some slightly deformed parts that didn’t affect performance but bug me a little, aesthetically.
Here’s what to know about this build. The parts are mostly injection molded plastic, and it kinda all goes together like Ikea furniture. Once you learn the pattern, you just sorta repeat it over and over until you have all your legs, then you arrange each leg on a frame, attach the joints, stack another frame on and repeat.
I will say this though, that it’s not immediately obvious that these A-frame pieces have an interlocking top side and bottom side. I noticed it after placing my second frame and had to undo some of my work, so watch out for that.
Also, the instructions make such a big deal about what order the rods attach to each section of the crankshaft that I psyched myself out and triple checked that I had it right. I even looked at the original Gakken instructions to confirm it. From what I can tell, just make sure the arms stack so that each successive arm is closest to you. That’s what I did and it worked fine.
For me, the genius of this kit is that it all goes together with no glue and no screws. You can back out of a wrong move very easily. The joints have all been designed to slot in together in a way that the natural motion of the Strandbeest won’t unlock them accidentally. There’s a rubber band that goes across the top of the thing, which you’d think is for some kind of wind-up action, but it’s actually just there as a simple way to cinch the whole thing together with tension.
Towards the end, two metal shafts get placed through each side, which helps to stiffen it up and connect the two halves.
The most fiddly bit is the turbine, where you have to attach these thin blades to the turbine frame. What’s interesting is that this is where the two versions of the kit differ. On the high-end kit, the blades have been shaped with a curve and are fitted to the frame with double-sided tape.
On this cheap version, the blades are flat, but take a slight curve when you press them into the frame with these tiny plastic grommets that stick out on front. It’s probably just a way to save money, and honestly, I have to hand it to them because functionally it seems to work just as well. That said, a dab of super glue on these grommets wouldn’t hurt.
The last part is just pushing on two plastic gears and the turbine, and running a short metal shaft through it. After that, prepare to get spittle everywhere as you try blowing this thing across your table. Seriously though, try digging up a small desk fan for some virtual wind or you’ll start to resent how much lung-power this project takes.
So that’s the Mini Strandbeest Kit. It’s a quick build with a fun payoff, and it looks really cool on your shelf. I like it so much, I’ve got it on my List of Top 5 Kits for Makers.
It turns out that there’s a third variation of this kit that includes the original Gakken box design, but omits the cool magazine. I received the following kit by ordering from this product page on Amazon. Your results may vary, but I was pleasantly surprised by this version and the price (around $13 on Prime).
I have no shame admitting that I love making kits. Hell, I even get a sick satisfaction from making Ikea furniture. There’s just something nice about a project that’s been well thought out, with the instructions and all the pieces you need laid out for you.
So, to put my love of kits to good use, I figured I’d dedicate a page to this site to my running list of what I think are the five best kits for makers (of any age or skill level). You can find the top navigation bar of this site (tucked under Projects), or by clicking this link here.
If you have a kit you’d like to suggest adding to the list, I want to hear about it. Contact me.
Also, in full disclosure, I (theoretically) get a little cut of the money from the Amazon links on this page. So if you feel like supporting me, indulge yourself in buying a kit from the list. Thanks.