Recently, my exploration of projects such as OctoPrint (hosting software to offer wireless management and more for desktop 3D printers) have doubled and tripled how often I need to spin up and maintain RasPi units in the field. With OctoPrint (also my home RaspBMC / OpenElec rig) almost one hundred percent of my use of the Pi can and should be handled “headless” (i.e. without a display/keyboard/mouse hanging off of the Pi itself: all control being handled by another system on the network). However, while OS install tools such as NOOBS, OctoPi, pre-installed OS SD cards make this particularly easy by pre-loading SSH tools and offering raspi-config for quick keyboard-only activation, there are often a few steps I need to do on the Pi with a display and keyboard before patching it into the network — at the very least, running raspi-config, activating wireless connections if necessary, and loading a few apps such as TightVNC.
So I find myself, as do many members of the Adafruit community, throwing together a handy (if inelegant) Go-Bag or Go-Box that I can pull out of a backpack or suitcase at the drop of a hat to get some work done on a new Pi, before cutting the KVM umbilical to start its headless life. This really doesn’t need to be anything special, though if you have ever seen a real survivalist’s “Go Bag”/”Bug out bag” then you can imagine taking this process much much further if you get the time to.
My current rig is actually a pair of nested Adafruit black shipping boxes (see the photos). All of the fragile stuff such as the HDMI 4 Pi screen, RasPi, wireless dongles etc go in the inner box for additional protection, while the power strip, power bricks, network cables, and keyboard fit in the outer box. In fact, the only “fancy” customizing I have done to date is to cut a bunch of flaps in the inner box so that I can snake the cables out of the box from the Pi and the display driver board, pinning the components in place in an adhoc way that I can adjust quickly to suit a new peripheral or adding a new Pi.
Below are my latest recommendations for your RasPi Go-Box. Depending how you use your Pi, your list may differ.
Key features of a SBC Go-Box/Go-Bag:
- HDMI Display (required), small enough for stowing, but at a resolution suitable to reading and troubleshooting crowded command line outputs and my vim editor (5″-7″+ HDMI @ 720p+ suits my eyes fine)
- Keyboard (required), small enough for stowing, but burly enough to handle lots of use and, ahem, mishandling. Should draw as little power as possible. Wireless is a plus, provided loading drivers is no issue, because you never know how easy it will be to access your Pi in the field.
- Mouse (strongly recommended), drawing very little power and requiring minimal driver setup. Frequently handy when booting into a GUI to load and configure apps and wizards there.
- Power supplies + supply-friendly power strip (required), everything you need to run your Pi, display, hub, and potentially a tiny network switch. I use a cheap 4-port power strip with about a 6″ cable attached — small enough to fit in my Go-Box, and allows me to transform the single wall socket for the RasPi power into power for everything I need, with a handy power switch so I don’t have to plug and unplug the RasPi micro-USB power port all the time. I always include spares of our handy 5V 1A USB port power supplies and USB A to MicroB cables for breaking out another Pi.
- Switching Power Supply/Adapters (optional), super handy if you are having trouble finding the right power supply in the field for a peripheral. Yeah, like the power supply for the screen and the USB hub that you left on your workbench at home. We have an excellent one here: Compact Switching Power Supply.
- SD/microSD Card preloaded with NOOBS (optional), so that in the event that the SD card you loaded yourself brings no joy, you can fall back on Raspbian Wheezy or similar and load the packages you need from there. And yes, we’ve got both an 8GB (recommended) and NOOBS LITE 4GB edition in the shop.
- 4+port Switch + two or more Ethernet cables (optional). Bring your own copper network with you! Adds weight but can help eliminate wifi troubleshooting while you get your Pi and Pi wireless add-ons configured. If you are bringing your laptop with you for controlling the headless Pi, make sure you bring an adapter for connecting to an ethernet cable if yours doesn’t have one built-in. These are increasingly inexpensive in our wireless-dominant landscape, and many are tough enough to use as a light-use hammer in a pinch.
If you have a great SBC Go Bag/Box that you’d like to share with us, head over here and select the category for “Cool thing for the Adafruit blog!”
Featured Adafruit Product!
HDMI 4 Pi: 7″ Display 1280×800 IPS – HDMI/VGA/NTSC/PAL: Make a lovely video setup with a 7″ IPS screen at 1280×800. Here we have a beautiful bright 7″ TFT display with incredibly high resolution and great angle-visibility! We tried to get the thinnest, brightest, highest resolution display that would be good for embedded computing usage. The visible display measures 7″ diagonal and is a ‘raw LVDS’ display as is used in a tablet which makes it ultra thin and very bright. We include a driver board with HDMI, VGA and Composite inputs. The setup is very easy to use – simply connect a 5-12VDC adapter to the 2.1mm center-positive DC jack, then connect a digital video source to one of the ports . Voilà, a display! …(read more)
Featured Adafruit Product!
Mini Chiclet Keyboard – USB Wired – Black: Add a good quality, slim keyboard to your Raspberry Pi, Beagle Bone Black or other mini-computer with this sleek black chiclet keyboard. It’s a full QWERTY keyboard with a USB cable and is compatible with all operating systems. We tried many keyboards to find one that felt good for every-day use and didn’t take up too much room. (read more, and see notes for config for better use with RasPi)
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