The maker movement is in full swing. Every day we stumble upon new, interesting projects which would never have been possible just a few short years ago. The growth within the maker community stems from the affordable technology being made available to them today. The rapid decline in 3D printer prices has contributed the most to this growth. Even those who can’t afford a 3D printer now have the option of making their own thanks to another interesting movement, RepRap.
Constructing the actual hardware of your own 3D printer is oftentimes the easy part. It’s integrating software to do the slicing, as well as control all the movements of the machine, which can be the trickiest of tasks. One company, based out of Austin, Texas, is trying to change all of this. Photon Elephant LLC has just launched a Kickstater campaign for their product, also called the Photon Elephant.
The Photon Elephant is a bundle of both hardware and software, which together will control almost any Cartesian-based 3D printer. We have seen several printers that rely on a Raspberry Pi to send signals to an Arduino board to control their movements. What the Photon Elephant does is totally eliminate the need for an Arduino board, integrating linux right into the printer itself.
“We think that creating new and exciting 3D printers should be easier, so we set out to make a simple and powerful platform that anyone can build on,” explained the company on their Kickstarter page. “We found the process of working with the available open source solutions to be tedious and out of date. The next generation of 3D printers deserve better. That’s why we built Photon Elephant.”
The company uses the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins to drive the motor controllers directly, and has built an SDK so that hackers and makers are able to modify the setup to suit their specific needs. The companion board has an additional header with 40 pins allowing users to run custom components such as sensors or additional motors. The SDK gives almost complete control to the individual building the printer, as the company mentions below.
“You can use the SDK to easily add support for anything you can imagine! Maybe you want to start incorporating new sensor feedback data into your print process to improve reliability, or you want to add an extruder that uses a bunch of motors for full color. The Photon Elephant SDK is built for this kind of thing!”
The company plans on introducing support for other types of 3D printers including Delta-bot machines, and even selective laser sintering printers. In the meantime, if you know how to use the SDK, you can already cater the Photon Elephant to any of these types of machines.
Photon Elephant is trying to raise $10,000 on Kickstarter in order to launch full-scale production of their device. If they reach their goal before their campaign ends on February 12th, the plan is to begin shipping the initial units sometime in May of this year. For those interested in backing their campaign, you may pre-order the fully assembled shield board, which connects to a Raspberry Pi A+ or B+, for just $90. After the first 50 boards sell, the price will jump up to $115.
Let us know if you have backed their Kickstarter campaign. Discuss this story in the Photon Elephant forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out the company’s Kickstarter pitch video below: