Update 3/16/2014: thanks to everyone who voted for this project in the Game.Life 4 contest!

The motivation for this project came when I combined my Raspberry Pi voice-controlled electrical outlets with a RetroPie. Due to the number of peripherals and cables involved (a powered USB hub, microphone, two USB controllers, breadboard, wireless remote, plus the normal HDMI and power cables for the Pi), this led to a pretty tangled mess of wires that didn't exactly look great sitting in the TV cabinet. So, I wanted to build a nice case to hold everything that looked something like a regular game console - ideally with external connections for the USB devices, an HDMI port, a power switch, and a single power cord (shared by the Pi and the USB hub).

The normal way to do this would be with a custom project box and regular panel mount connectors, like these HDMI and USB ones from Adafruit. To do that, you need to either machine or laser-cut a custom panel to fit all the connectors, and I don't have the means to do so (yet....cough, cough, Full Spectrum Laser contest). I've seen a bunch of cool Raspberry Pi LEGO cases out there - but most of them just enclose the Raspberry Pi itself, without all the extra space for a USB hub and breadboard, or sturdy external panel mount connectors.

Enter Sugru, a self-setting rubber that you can mold by hand, kind of like Play-Doh or modeling clay*. Let it sit for 24 hours and it hardens into a tough, slightly flexible rubber. I'd recently used it for the first time to waterproof a small DC motor for a different project, and realized it would be great for this: build a case out of LEGOs, and use Sugru to firmly seal in the panel mount connections - no machining or lasering required. Rather than using regular panel mount connectors (which have screw terminals that I wouldn't need for this approach), I could use either very short extension cables or female-female couplers to create the panel mounts. The result is a very fun and kid-friendly approach to building a stylish case, without requiring any tools.

So, you could use this idea for ANY project that requires panel mount connections - it doesn't have to be Raspberry Pi-related. I'll just be using my RetroPie "console" as an example since it contains a variety of different connectors (HDMI, USB, barrel jack). I'll also include a power switch (a nice addition since the Pi doesn't have one built in), but that part requires a bit of soldering. It should be pretty easy to adapt the process for any other connections you need for your project (VGA, RCA, pushbuttons, slide switches, etc etc).

*Sugru has an Instructables account where they post their own projects that use Sugru. I am in no way affiliated with the company, nor is this an endorsement of the product. I first found out about Sugru when I won a couple packets as a prize in a different contest, and decided this would be a cool use for it. If you know of a different, cheaper, or better material to use, please mention it in the comments below (for example, I'm curious if plain old modeling clay would work, but my hunch is that it would be too brittle once dried).

Step 1: Materials

Materials - here are the materials required to build the panel mount connectors only. I'll assume you already have your own electronics project that you need to build a case for at this point. If you need different types of connectors (e.g. VGA), you'll have to get the appropriate type of extension cable or female-female coupler.

  • Sugru, available in different multi-packs and color combinations. I used one individual pack per connection. Right now it only comes in red, yellow, blue, black, and white, but you can mix those colors to make new ones.
  • Assorted LEGO bricks - colored to fit your personal style, of course; and quantity will depend on the overall size of your case and number of connectors. Take a look at the next couple steps to get a rough idea for how many pieces you'll need for a single panel mount. You can buy individual LEGO bricks at the Pick a Brick shop.
  • 6" USB-A male to female extension cables (I have a 7-port USB hub, but one port powers the Pi, so I ordered 6 of these). Edit - after using them, these cables are not very flexible, which makes it difficult to cram them into a small case. I didn't want to spend more money on new cables, but I wouldn't recommend these very highly.
  • 6" HDMI male to female extension cable. Note: I actually already had a very short male-male HDMI cable, so I ordered an HDMI female-female coupler to use along with that cable. Either approach should work fine. Edit - as with the USB cables, short HDMI cables don't seem to be very flexible - keep that in mind if you're designing a very small case.
  • 1.3mm barrel jack male-female extension cable. Be careful with your power cable! Unfortunately there are a bazillion different barrel jack sizes. I bought this one hoping it would be compatible with my Plugable 7-port USB hub. I got the diameter right, but the plug is a couple millimeters too long - fortunately it still fits and everything powers on OK. The cable itself is obnoxiously long to fit inside a case (six feet), but you can cut it and solder the ends back together to make it shorter.
  • Rocker switch and some extra hookup wire if you'd like to add a power switch. Unlike the other connections, this one requires soldering. You'll also want some electrical tape or heat shrink tubing to cover up exposed wire.
  • Edit - I just discovered the SparkFun carries a barrel jack power switch. I don't use this in my instructions, but if you want to avoid soldering altogether, you could use that instead of cutting up a barrel jack cable and soldering it to a separate switch. Again, make sure the plug size is compatible with your project - this one will NOT work with the Plugable USB hub I listed above.
If you want to reproduce my project (voice controlled outlets + RetroPie) exactly: to do the voice-controlled outlets see my Instructable. I followed this guide to set up RetroPie, which requires two USB game controllers (doesn't have to be SNES, that's just what I picked). I'm using this powered USB hub which has worked nicely with the Pi. This isn't a "getting started with Raspberry Pi" guide - but if you need help getting set up, send me a message and I'm happy to help out.
<p>Congratulations, this is really a super project!</p><p>I've used the same iBufallo joystick for my budget bartop cabinet. They are great, aren't they? :)</p>
<p>Thanks! I do like the iBuffalo controllers - I've read lots of reviews about how cheap SNES controller knockoffs can be really low quality, but these seem to work pretty well.</p>
<p>Indeed! It's been at least three months of intense use, and I can say that they are really good. Yes, the original SNES ones were even better, but a simple usb plug is less painful than wiring an old joystick to an input board like Control Box or Ipac :)</p>
It looks so complicated
Is there something specific you think is not explained well enough?
<p>What are the following things used for?</p><p>GPIO </p><p>Wireless Remote</p><p>Perf Board</p><p>Are these things necessary to the build?</p>
<p>When i try this i will do a couple things different.</p><p>Plug everything into a power strip, and when that is plugged into wall, every thing turns on.</p><p>instead of usb controllers, i will use Xbox 360 Wireless Gaming Receiver. </p>
<p>Congrats on ur Win </p>
<p>sweet build! Im going to try to see if my take on this will fit into my old school Nintendo </p>
<p>As far as cable management goes, you can save a ton of space by decasing that USB hub, and directly soldering all the usb connections to it. Consider chopping off the male end of the USB extension cables and solder each individual wire to the USB hub board. There will be four wires to solder for each port. It's a bit more labor intensive, but you don't seem to be averse to soldering. If you do this, also consider desoldering the actual USB plugs on the hub itself as well.</p><p>As far as the HDMI cable goes, you can always buy a thinner hdmi cable. Look for ones with a higher AWG. If you want to go super thin and flexible, look up redmere hdmi cables. I'm not sure if they'll work in your application, as there's some active circuitry in the source plug of the redmere hdmi, but it's worth checking out.</p>
<p>Hmm - I'd definitely considered cutting the USB cables and re-soldering with more flexible wires. It hadn't occurred to me to solder directly to the ports though, or crack open the case of the USB hub itself. Ultimately it would be nice if I could fit the whole thing onto a 1/2 sized Lego baseplate instead of a full one (I might take out the voice command stuff and move that to a different room, and just have a dedicated gaming box), so I'll give it a shot if I get to that point. Thanks!</p>
<p>I think this ROCKS! I'm thinking about making a PC with lego....I was wondering how to do the I/O ports. Problem solved! ;)</p>
<p>Glad to hear it - post pics of the build when you're done (or better yet, document the whole thing and write your own Instructable)!</p>
<p>Try silicone calking. I use clear calking and it sets within a couple of hours. It insulates and behaves very similar to rubber. It can also be removed pretty easily with less effort than glue. $5 for a tube that holds way more than 8 packages of Sugru.</p>
<p>You mean like this stuff?</p><p><a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000KE4PBQ" rel="nofollow">www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000KE4PBQ</a></p><p>I can see how that would be more cost-effective if you need to do a lot of these - although I wonder if you can get it in different colors, or paint it? Otherwise I think it just sort of cures in a grayish off-white. Wouldn't go very nicely with my primary-colors LEGO theme, but may be fine for some situations.</p>
<p><strong>sudo halt</strong> and <strong>sudo shutdown -h now </strong>does exactly the same thing.</p>
<p>Well... didn't think about that XD</p><p>Nice work! It's bean a while since I want to make my own retro game console. Thank you for this idea!</p>
<p>No, it just looks so awesome! Nice work mate. I've got a Raspberry Pi sitting on my desk all lonely ... pi + lego = winning at life :-)</p>
It just looks so complicated
<p>Creative Lego application.</p>

About This Instructable




Bio: For my day job I write K-12 STEM projects for www.sciencebuddies.org. In my spare time I write Instructables.
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