Jan 14, 2015 | By Alec

While many standard 3D Printers are great machines to play around with, things can get a bit repetitive after a while. This is especially the case if you purchase a standard machine, as so many of us do. If you recognize yourself in that, you might have also dreamt about getting your hands on a more advanced model with some of those wonderful new features that are being added to 3D printers nowadays – like WiFi connections, Pause/Resume functions or full-color options.

Those machines can quickly cost you an arm and a leg, so getting on board of a RepRap, do-it-yourself-style can be enticing. If that’s you, then we’ve got some good news, as a new software solution has just launched on Kickstarter that could make building and operating and advanced 3D printer easier: the Photon Elephant operating system package.

In a nutshell, it's a simple and powerful software platform and electronics kit that turns a regular 3D printer into a smart printer and gives even inexperienced programmers and engineers to opportunity to expand upon it. Developed by engineers/programmers Avtar Khalsa, Brant Merryman and Ben McCloskey, it seeks to do away with all the complicated programming steps and piles of software necessary to build your own 3D printer.

Do-it-yourself 3D printers typically revolve around a complicated pc and firmware-based Arduino setup and a host of external open-source programmes to deal with all the functions of a 3D printer. Its whole situation is especially complicated because your Arduino will manage all the motors and sensors, but doesn’t even have its own operating system. Photon Elephant will, or so they told 3ders.org, eliminate all those complications entirely by putting the power of linux directly on your printer through a Raspberry Pi.

As they stated, ‘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. We found the process of working with the available open source solutions to be tedious and out of date.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.’

This means that the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO will directly operate the motor controllers for your 3D printer, while the included Photon Elephant SDK will take care of all the cool features you would like to add to your 3D printer. ‘Do you want to try incorporating sensor feedback to close the loop and get perfect prints every time? Maybe you want to build an SLS printer, but the standard five motor controllers just aren’t enough? We provide a simple specification so the Makers and Hackers of the world can spend more time innovating and less time figuring out the inner workings of firmware code.’

And all of the 3D printing itself is operated in a browser-based control panel, allowing you to ‘start, pause, and resume prints, stream from a webcam and slice your STL files.’ Many of the system’s advanced features, such as WiFi, Pause/Resume and on-board slicing are even plug-and-play. In their own words, ‘the Photon Elephant is the simplest electronics solution for getting a 3D printer up and running without needing to coordinate a bunch of independent software and firmware tools.’

The team explained that their revolutionary simple approach to DIY 3D printers began when simply trying to use a Raspberry Pi to control a printer. This proved so successful (with some great prints as a result), that they are now in the process of turning the circuit board they developed into a commercial product through Kickstarter. According to CEO Avtar Khalsa, “3D printing today is simply not robust or reliable enough, and addressing these issues at the moment requires a coordinated firmware and hardware effort. We are excited to make this coordination easier by allowing hackers and developers alike to modify how their printer works with simple scripts in the language of their choice.”

Their product is aimed at the usual suspects; hackers, makers, students and 3D printing entrepreneurs. If you get onboard with them, they’ll send you an SD card that you can simply ‘plug intothe Raspberry Pi. Wire any compatible printer up to the Photon Elephant companion board, and you’re ready to go! No more worrying about making a bunch of different programs like slicers, firmware and printer managers talk to one another. Just open a browser on any device on your WiFi and start printing!’

If you’re interested, be sure to visit their Kickstarter here. They are looking to raise a modest and realistic sum of just $10,000 by Friday 13 February (so 29 days to go, at the time of writing). Currently, they are still looking to raise more than $8000 of that total sum. A pledge of just $75 will allow you to get your hands on their software package (just add your own Raspberry Pi), while a sum of $90 and up will allow you to get the whole deal.

Just one word of warning: their system is currently only supporting Cartesian RepRap-style printer setups such as Prusa and Printrbot, though they are currently developing the exact same support for Delta printers and SLS printers. Their helpful SDK can, however, be used to support just about every printing setup. It is therefore well worth checking out.

And finally, take a look at a printer operating on a Photon Elephant setup here:



Posted in 3D Printer Accessories


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