Maker’s Tablet

For the past year or so I’ve had a project on my project list called the PiPad+.  The details on the project page are pretty generic, describing it as a DIY tablet.  I’m hoping to remedy this by fleshing out the project details and motivating myself to finish it in the coming weeks.

Like most of the Maker community, I was amazed when the PiPad came out.  When Chalk-Elec got their 10″ displays back in stock I quickly bought one so I could create my own version of the PiPad.  Of course, being myself, I couldn’t just copy what had already been done.  I had to do something new and exciting.  Right off the bat I decided I would get rid of Raspbian’s default GUI and do something new that was optimized for touch controls and my personal tastes.  I got as far as implementing a basic window manager and a grid-style homescreen before I “took a break” because GUI design is hard!  For the past year the code lived in my GitHub, gathering digital dust, until very recently when I decided to delete it.

During the long “break”, the project was also subjected to a good deal of feature creep and component scouting.  Many things have also changed in that time; I bought a 3D printer, the Raspberry Pi 2 was released, etc.  Rather than continue to let this project stagnate in its project drawer I’ve decided to try to finish up the project in the near future so I’m no longer plagued by the inexorable desire to shove in as many features as possible.  The semi-final state of the project will be as follows.

Processor:

I chose to build my tablet around the Raspberry Pi due to the large amount of community support behind the SBC.  The huge number of people tinkering with the Pi’s OS ensured that I’d be getting the maximum performance available for the hardware.  I’m currently using a Raspberry Pi 2, though I will probably upgrade to the Raspberry Pi 3 once it becomes available.  The built in WiFi and BLE will help save space inside of the tablet.  The only downside with using the Pi is the size.  Due to the dimensions of the USB port the thickness of the tablet will have to be around 2.5cm.  Rather than attempting to slim down a Pi, I opted to utilize the thickness to cram the tablet full of features as detailed below.

Screen:

Due to the amount of stuff I wanted to cram in this tablet I decided to get Chalk-Elec’s 10″ Touchscreen to use as the tablet display.  If things get too cramped I might consider upgrading to one of their bigger displays.

Battery:

For the battery I decided on an EasyAcc 10Ah Battery, commonly used as a portable phone charger.  I chose this battery because it was the largest one I could find that would fit in the tablet chassis.  It also has pass-through charging, a feature which allows the battery to power the tablet while it’s being charged.  Surprisingly, this is a rather uncommon feature in portable battery packs.

Extra Features:

Rather than building a basic tablet that won’t get much use, I decided to add extra features that would enable my version of the PiPad to be the ultimate Maker’s tablet.  The extra added features are detailed below.

Multimeter

The most important tool in a Electrical Engineer’s toolbox is his multimeter, so this one was a must have.  However, I had trouble finding a small and cheap USB multimeter, so instead I opted to make my own.  I borrowed heavily from this Instructable when designing my custom board.

Oscilloscope

An important tool for working with analog circuits is an oscilloscope.  A few months prior to starting this project I bought an Xprotolab Plain, which is a nifty little USB oscilloscope that’s surprisingly cheap.  Due to its small size I decided to add this into the tablet.  I also created an adapter to go from the Xprotolab’s header to a standard BNC connector.

Logic Analyzer

The Xprotolab Plain also had a Logic Analyzer built in so this one was a freebie.  The logic level is only 3.3V, however, so I’m toying with the idea of making an adapter to add 5V tolerance.

Bus Pirate

The Bus Pirate seems to be a commonly used tool by many makers and hackers.  I don’t have any experience with it, but decided to include it in the tablet since it didn’t take up much space.  I decided to go with version 3.6 of the hardware as that seems to be the most widely supported.

GPIO Header

Lastly, because I wasn’t using them for anything I decided to add a breakout for the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO to the tablet.  This would add some additional IO to fiddle with and was simple to add.

Plans

The components that will hopefully make the tablet are currently sitting on my workbench in a rough semblance of how they will be organized inside of the tablet.  The steps that I still need to take in order to get everything working are listed below:

  1. Populate, solder, and test the multimeter
  2. Determine how to organize the power subsystem
  3. Decide on a semi-final organization of all the parts’ locations inside of the tablet
  4. Finalize the 3D printed bezel with connector cutouts
  5. Glue the mechanics together
  6. Secure the components inside of the tablet with double sided and Kapton tape
  7. Connect everything together
  8. Design and attach a removable back plate
  9. Decide on whether to use Raspbian’s default window manager or design my own

Over the next few weeks I’ll start going through each step, trying to finish up the tablet hardware so I can move on to other projects.  For the components that I’ve custom built, I’ll post source files and separate blog posts to explain how I’ve designed these parts, and how they work.

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