All about Laika
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About Laika - Powerful hardware control for your Raspberry Pi

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Introducing Laika

The Laika platform allows control of motors, switches, lamps, robots and more using Scratch, Python or C on your Raspberry Pi.

The system is simple, and anyone can start by using the Scratch programming language to control hardware in a matter of minutes: download the drivers, plug in the USB cable and Scratch away!

All this whilst being powerful and flexible enough to meet the needs of advanced users - a high-speed, reliable design with a variety of programming interfaces.

 

Use Laika to help you realise your design dreams

explorer 001 white

 image of a Laika Exlporer PCB

Laika is unique

Laika provides you with an expandable, easy to use platform on which to build your skills in both hardware and software. Use Laika in your next robotics project and benefit from these features:

  • USB connectivity.
  • Modular and expandable.
  • Multiple programming interfaces.
  • Simplicity for beginners.
  • Sophistication for advanced users.
  • Flexible and universal hardware mounting.
  • Robust industrial grade design.

 

Be a Laika Explorer

The Laika Explorer board is well suited to people who want to learn how to control hardware like motors, LEDs and sounders, by developing software graphically in Scratch on the Raspberry Pi. This will be supported by the online Laika tutorials and forums to guide novices.

For advanced programmers, the Laika Explorer provides a quick way to prototype and develop technical projects by calling functions from the Laika library to manage the hardware fast and efficiently.

Laika Explorer IO

The Laika Explorer board gives you:

  • 2x analogue and 4x digital inputs - to connect sensors, switches and other input devices.
  • 7x digital outputs - to control LEDs, motors, sounders and other output devices.
  • 2x H-Bridge motor driver circuit - to allow two motors to be driven in forward, reverse or brake, ideal for creating robots and buggies.
  • 4x built-in switches - to allow convenient interaction between hardware and software.
  • 7x indicator LEDs - present on each digital output for easy diagnostics.

 

explorer dev 002

 Prototyping with the Laika Explorer board

 

Once you've mastered the basics you could use Laika to create a robot like this:

 laika lander

A mini 'Laika Lander' buggy

 

Or you could make a bigger robot by using a commercially available robot chassis such as the Dagu Rover 5 ...

Raspberry Pi Laika Buggy 

A buggy made using a Laika Explorer board, a Raspberry Pi and a Dagu Rover 5 Chassis

 

Using the Laika Explorer board

This simple system consists of one PCB which you connect to your Raspberry Pi using a USB lead and then control using Scratch. You can get to work quickly by using the on-board LEDs and switches.

Explorer system

Laika Explorer - Simple System Overview

 

Getting started

You simply connect the Explorer board to your Raspberry Pi with a USB cable. This will give you access to a range of analogue and digital inputs and outputs, with switches and LED's, together with a dual motor driver.

You can use Scratch, Python, C or any programming language that can call functions in the Laika library to communicate with the Explorer board.

 

The Scratch way

A Scratch Broadcast can be used to send data to the Explorer board. There are seven digital outputs and each one can deliver 500mA, though not all at the same time. Each output is also protected with a back-emf diode, that means that relays and small motors can be driven without worrying about frying the output transistors.

To turn on digital output pin 3 in Scratch:

scratch 1

The Explorer board includes a very useful dual h-bridge motor driver, which means two motors can be driven at the same time either forwards, backwards or braked. The output will handle 1.5A continuous across both channels, or 3A if the outputs are connected together to drive one motor.

To drive motor A forward:

scratch 2

The Explorer board includes two analogue inputs which give 10-bit resolution. This means that variable resistors can be read to give you a volume control for example.

To read in an analogue input into a Scratch Sensor:

scratch 3

 

Variables in Scratch are also supported, as is the Remote Connections feature. In fact, you do not even need Scratch running on the RPi to which Laika is connected. A special Python script has been written allowing you to use Scratch to communicate with Laika over a network connection. Fancy controlling your RPi robot through your WiFi connection? It's easy with Laika.

 

The Python Way

By using ctypes, a Python script can call the C functions in the Laika library. Here is a quick example to turn on motor A:

python

The Laika library source code and example programs are to be made available for download from GitHub to help you get started with programming in Python or C.

 

Expanding Laika

We're absolutely bursting with ideas for LAIKA and have plans to develop many more modules. The Laika communications system will currently accept thirty-two different types of modules, and four instances of each. That's one-hundred and twenty-seven, modules in total (we don't use zero). Probably enough for the most demanding installation. But we're not happy with that limitation so we plan to enable multiple systems to work on one device, after all, Laika uses USB which can support up to 127 devices as well. 127 x 127, that is a potential 16129 modules!

The other exciting concept in development is the Laika Mesh module. This will use multiple 868MHz (EU) or 915MHz (US) radio transceivers to form a mesh network extension for the Laika system. This will give you the awesome option to spread around your Laika modules forming a wireless mesh network. A typical example of this would be for home automation: control lights, music and more all through the power of Laika.

 

Expansion ideas

Laika has been designed with the future in mind. It can be expanded to add extra functionality by connecting additional 'Expansion' modules. Here are some things we have in mind:

  • ROVER - a large and robust laser cut buggy design. This will be a new reward and files will also be provided under an open source license so you can cut your own if you prefer.
  • ASTERIX - a dual switch-mode power supply. This can power the LAIKA system and power your Pi too! It will offer a wide range of input voltages and will also have an ATX power down switch.
  • PIONEER - a high power dual motor driver that can drive up to 12A for driving really big motors
  • COSMOS - a high-pin count Analogue/Digital input board for an even larger range of inputs.
  • LUNA - dual driver board (5A). A powerful high-side switch with current monitoring.
  • VANGUARD - USB interface (removes the need for the Explorer board in applications where this is not required).

 

EXAMPLE: Expanding the system with the Dual Motor Driver and Dual Driver Board

You may choose to expand the above system with the Dual Motor Driver and Dual Driver Board (this is a dual 5A high-side switch):

system 1

Laika Explorer- Extended System

Suppose that you come across an idea that requires a rather hefty motor to be driven, the Laika Explorer board will not handle a total motor drive of more than 1.5A continuously. Normally you'd be stuck with what you've got unless you invest in an alternative non-compatible system. With the extended Laika you can simply drop in the Pioneer to give you that extra power handling as this module will drive two motors at 12A (requires an independent high current power supply). The Pioneer will also give you (monitor) the current draw of each channel so you can tailor your software to the application perfectly.

Now suppose you want to drive some high power LED's as well as your hefty motors and all the digital and analogue I/O. No problem! Just drop in the Luna dual 5A high-side switch. This will give you control of your LED's as well as giving you a current draw.

 

EXAMPLE: Upgrading the power supply upgrade with Dual Switch-Mode Power Supply module

If you want to be able to use a single power source to power both your Raspberry Pi, the Laika system and also any motors you have then you need the Laika Power Supply: Asterix.

  • The power supply is capable of providing 1.5A for both the 3.3V and 5V outputs.
  • It will run from a wide input voltage of between 2.9V and 18V (so you can also provide a higher voltage for any motors).
  • You can use an AC mains adapter as input or a battery for a cable-free solution.
  • Vanguard, a dedicated USB interface can also be used removing the need for the Explorer board in some applications.

system 2

Laika - Power System


The power supply is limited to 800mA (for the 3.3V regulated supply) on the Laika Explorer board and you will not be able to add too many modules without overloading the 3.3V voltage regulator, especially if you are using it for driving some digital outputs. This is where you might decide that you need to upgrade the power supply. You can disable the Explorer board power supply and simply drop in the Asterix. This is an awesome piece of kit that will provide 1.5A to the Laika modules allowing you to run many more components, but also has on board a 5V 1.5A power supply to power the Raspberry Pi. That way you can get rid of that mains adapter and run the entire Laika system and Raspberry Pi from one power supply! Not only that but the Asterix also accepts an input voltage range of 2.9V to 18V meaning that you can easily run the whole kit from a battery.

 

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Distribute the Laika range

Contact us if you are interested in distributing Laika.