Sci Fi Your Pi – Project Description

When thinking about science-fiction, things that come to mind are touch/motion controls, things that slide in and out of place and bright lights.This is why I would like to propose to build the desk of the future, inspired by some visual effects of the Tron Legacy movie.



Slide1The desk should make optimal use of the surface available. This implies that if for example a desktop computer is not in use, it should disappear in order to free up the space. The idea here is to have a built-in desktop computer, using the Raspberry Pi 2 and some other accessories such as the Cirrus Logic Audio Card, Pi Camera and WiPi dongle, that would slide out of the desk at the touch of a button. The mechanism would be much like the Z-axis of a 3D printer, using threaded rods and stepper motors, controlled by the GertBot add-on board. Pressing the button again would result in the computer to slide back into the desk, freeing up space to be used for something else. Ideally, the desktop computer would power on automatically when sliding out and shutdown properly when sliding back in.

Another feature would be to have lights integrated into the desk. I’d like to experiment with lights built into the surface of the desk, consisting of white LED strips which would be toggled on or off using the PiFace Digital 2’s relays. The lights would be laid out in patterns inspired by the Tron Legacy movie. Their purpose should not only be limited to giving light though. For example, the integrated lights could blink briefly when an email is received or when a certain hashtag is used on Twitter.

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The above mentioned features require buttons or some other form of control. This would be covered by capacitive touch sensors hidden in the table. Touching the surface at certain locations would act as buttons. I’ve been experimenting with Bare Conductive’s Touch Board, which is basically an Arduino with onboard capacitive touch chip and mp3 player. Pressing a button would trigger the required action, with accompanying sound effect. The picture on the side represents some experiments I’ve been doing with aluminium foil and conductive paint as sensors, with and without a plexiglass overlay.

Finally, once everything is proven to work as expected, I’d like to replace the off the shelf components with a custom built Raspberry Pi HAT, resulting in a more compact, easily wired and cost effective solution. The design of the schematic and layout of the board would be done using Eagle and will be released at the end of the project. In case of problems with the HAT, the BitScope Micro will come in handy for troubleshooting.


The starting point of the desk would be a cheap Ikea desk. Because the features mentioned earlier will be integrated into the desk, the surface will be impacted. To mask these modifications and give the project a more futuristic look, a sheet of white plexiglass would be used to cover the desk’s surface. This will still allow light to shine through and capacitive touch buttons to be triggered. A cutout will ensure the desktop computer can slide in and out of the desk.

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The above sketches represent what I’d like to achieve with this desk. The futuristic patterns will be inlaid with LED strips, at the back of the desk the computer will be able to slide in and out of the desk and finally in the front right corner some capacitive touch buttons will be available. The surface will then be covered by a sheet of thick, white plexi, hiding the LED strips and buttons. At first glance, it will look like a normal desk, until a button is pressed …


The goal of this project is to have something anyone can build at home. At first, off the shelf components will be used to demonstrate the desired functionality and will later be replaced by a custom HAT. The HAT will ensure the project is easier to build and more cost effective.

I hope you like my idea, and if you have any additional suggestions, remarks or questions, feel free to comment below!

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