Last May, I was preparing for my presentation at Maker Faire Bay Area 2018 - "Easy Energy Monitoring with Arduino and Dr. Wattson." I'd created a prototype that could collect and log data from my energy monitoring board to an SD card in CSV format for later analysis, initiated by the press of a button.
As I was adding my finishing touches and adjusting the AC wires for the load to be measured, the inevitable happened - the breadboard that had all my components slid off the end of the table but thanks to the lucky mess of wires, it didn't fully disconnect but was instead left dangling. I was able to salvage it and carefully inspect and reconnect any wires that were pried loose, both from my breadboard and also from my Arduino which was another piece of the puzzle that I had to manage. I'm sure this story sounds all too familiar to you - if not, then count yourself lucky (and maybe buy a lottery ticket)! 😊
Here are a few other prototyping "adventures" that I've had that you may be able to relate to:
- "Sweetie, your Raspberry Pi just scratched and marred the surface of our lovely dining table! Grrrr...."
- How many of you have used a piece of plywood to lay all your components out together just to have them mounted on "something?!"
- My Raspberry Pi enclosure looks lovely and has great protection! Everything else around it that it is connected to? - umm, not so much!
- I have used molded plastic enclosures to put my finished prototypes in. There were some mounting holes and cutouts that I had to do, and I'm not the greatest at doing those with a professional finish. At the end of it, I had a pretty ugly enclosure, and man, was it difficult mounting and squeezing everything in there - AND, because there was only one opening at the bottom, final assembly was anything but easy! I did end up cracking at least two OLED displays in the process.
- I have also 3D printed some enclosures. That's when I really got to understand the adage "Measure twice, cut once!" Any mistake in measurement or even the most minute of changes meant another 3 to 4 hours of 3D re-printing for even a relatively smallish enclosure.
My own meandering prototyping experiences were the inspiration, and also the itch that I had to scratch, leading me to create ProtoStax! ProtoStax has also evolved, going through more than 20 iterations over a period of time before I was finally satisfied to unleash it!
The following thoughts were at the forefront when creating ProtoStax:
- It had to look good, of course! 😊
- In order to protect any surfaces and to raise the platform to offer airflow and cooling, it had to have removable rubber feet--why removable? Hold on to that thought...
- It had to support different stages of prototyping - when starting out, having open access to the board, but still having it mounted firmly on a platform is essential. Later on, it would be ideal to be able to easily add the other sides of the enclosure and have a fully enclosed project that also has room for a shield/HAT or two, or some user interaction components. Yet other projects require more airflow or open access - for example, just having the top and skipping the side walls, keeping them open.
- I wanted all the sides of the enclosure to be individually accessible and modifiable. This modularity would also help support different stages of prototyping.
- I wanted to have the ability to combine different enclosures together to make a bigger whole, for those situations where one enclosure is just not enough. [By keeping the rubber feet removable, an enclosure/board can be reconfigured to be stacked on top of another enclosure - in this configuration, it wouldn't need any feet, thereby making protective feet that aren't stuck on but removable a great option.]
- Being a stickler for detail, an emphasis on things like cutouts for cable management, tapped screw holes, and so on would not be an afterthought.
The end result is ProtoStax, a Stackable Modular Enclosure System for all stages of your prototyping. Think of it as a LEGO/Meccano set for enclosures! It can be assembled with ease, support different configurations by adding or removing blocks, and also allow for different units to be combined together to make a bigger whole - form follows function!
We are starting off with supporting Arduino, Rasberry Pi and Breadboards, all in attractive clear acrylic enclosures that can proudly show off your electronics. We also plan to add other boards and finishes as we go along...stay tuned!
Please check out our main page for more information, or better yet, get yourself a ProtoStax enclosure and play around with it - you'll be pleasantly surprised, I promise! And stay in touch, sign up for the newsletter, etc., to keep abreast of developments. We would also love to hear about your enclosure stories and any requests you may have!
Here’s to getting your prototype groove on with ProtoStax to help you every stackable step along the way…happy Making!
Sridhar Rajagopal (and the ProtoStax team!)
PS: I did another presentation at this year's Maker Faire Bay Area 2019. This time, I used a ProtoStax prototype-based enclosure for my demo...looks much better than the image at the very top, doesn't it?! 😊