Dots Board – Developer Giveaway!

Howdy y’all!

I’m in Austin, Texas at the moment – Matt and I set up our SXSW Create computer lab yesterday and now we’re couple of hours away from the doors opening, so I thought I’d tell you all about the new DOTS project we’re trialling here.

SXSW computer lab

Our SXSW computer lab – all came out of only two flight cases!


If you’ve been following me on twitter you might have spotted the DOTS board I’ve been working on.


First Prototype

DOTS 2015 - First Edition

Final version – DOTS 2015 – First Edition. A collaboration between Raspberry Pi Foundation and Bare Conductive


Inspiration and Bare Conductive

In preparation for SXSW I was thinking a lot about using PCBs as a creative and interactive medium – I was also interested in developing ways to play with circuits at events that didn’t involve lots of wires (that get lost) or soldering (that you often need extra permission for).

It just so happened that the lovely Matt Johnson from Bare Conductive came to visit Pi Towers and we had a lot of pizza and talked about Raspberry Pi HATs. After about an hour of talking about cake, we had a brainwave and came up with the idea of a Dot to Dot board.

Bare Conductive is a conductive paint

Bare Conductive is a conductive paint


Bare Conductive is a conductive paint – so it’s perfect, we can make circuits without the wires!

Designing the DOTS board

I used EAGLE Freeware to design the board – this meant I could design a prototype 2 layer board at HAT size without having to sign up for a licence. I personally found Eagle the easiest PCB software to get started with – Particularly because there are lots of community-generated libraries available like Pimoroni’s EAGLE Library.

EAGLE already has a very strong following in the open source hardware space and I would keep a close eye on them in the coming months.

Farnell have very kindly donated some Professional licences to the Foundation so we could make the DOTS board commercially if we ever wanted to.

Ok ok, the eagle-eyed of you will already have noticed.. I admit it, I kinda cheated at Connect the Dots. I wanted to make sure that people could make a circuit, so for this version I broke out the GPIO pins and designed a pad that exposed some ground plane – This meant that all people have to do is blob some paint all over the pad and it would make a circuit.

I will be uploading my Eagle files in the DOTS Github folder here as soon as I get back to the UK – Hack it and let me know how it goes :)

Making the DOTS board

I have been working with Stacey and Connor at Ragworm to get the boards made in time for SXSW.  This is the first time I’ve ever had a board assembled for me – thankfully there is only two components on the board; the GPIO header and one resistor.

Stacey sent over some photos of the assembly process:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Software and Developer Giveaway

For SXSW Ben made some test code and Eben some Pygame code – thanks Ben & Eben!

You can actually install this on your Pi today:

Python 3:

sudo apt-get install python3-pip
sudo pip-3.2 install rpi_dots

Python 2:

sudo apt-get install python-pip
sudo pip install rpi_dots


Run from the command line:

sudo rpi_dots

But I have more – I am going to be giving away 50 boards and 50 tubes of Bare Conductive to BETA testers. I’m interested in developers who would like to have a go at making some software to work with this board.

I will welcome feedback on the hardware and will share future aspirations for the board as well as feedback I get from events. I hope to produce a set of boards this year for different age groups and themes – so come get involved! :)

Give-away is now closed.


We are super excited about trying the board out at SXSW – I will report back with what we think worked and what didn’t. If you are visiting SXSW make sure you come say hello :)

Recipe cards, stickers and DOT boards

Recipe cards, stickers and DOT boards

Folks from

We have even had our first participants during the set up. Folks from – An operating System for 3D printers built on top of Raspberry Pi with Raspbian!


Diego avatar

Eagle software is free “as in beer” (at least the free version). KiCad ( is free “as a bird”.

KiCad is receiving interesting updates lately and is becoming an interesting piece of software for OSHW. For instance it allows up to 32 copper layers + other technical layers, and no size restrictions.

The Olimex guys are starting to switch from Eagle to KiCad (

*I have no relation with KiCad nor Olimex.

jdb avatar

The Raspberry Pi Foundation have been supporting the development of KiCAD – recent versions have added differential-impedance trace routing funded in part by a grant from the Foundation.

Diego avatar

That’s great! I didn’t know.

Ben Nuttall avatar

You can run the software on your Raspberry Pi without access to a DOTS board – just install the same way and run without sudo. Use the space bar to simulate changes in the GPIO state. Or run with sudo and use a breadboard to short some pins to ground!

The GPIO-less version also works on other computers (tested on Linux).

Stewart Watkiss avatar

Sounds great.

I created some cards with my children and conductive paint at Christmas. It was great fun, but we had mixed results – the main thing being that when made they were very delicate. I expect using a PCB will work much better as they have a hard surface that won’t bend.

I’d like to give this a go – create some code and have my kids try with the conductive paint.

By “example of your code” do you mean you want an example program for these boards, or just an example of some similar project?

Stewart Watkiss avatar

I’ve tried the sample code and now I think I understand what is being asked. Essentially this is a standard GPIO breakout – so there is no need to use any special libraries other than the standard GPIO code.

For anyone wanting to try the provided demo in Python 3 then python3-pygame will need to be installed. I believe pygame is installed as default for python 2, but not for python 3.

It is installed using

sudo apt-get install python3-pygame

Alan McC avatar

Don’t know if I’m “coder” enough to apply! ;o) Never stuck my PiPoule script adventures online. Maybe now’s the time…

Great work on the Hat btw. Had been enjoying following its evolution right up to seeing (and handling) the protoboards at the Birthday Bash.

In touch with Ragworm myself with ideas in mind – I have my ThinkingHAT on at the moment. Started playing with Eagle night before last.

Hope everyone has a great time at SXSW.

Jeremy VanSchalkwyk avatar

Once you’ve drawn a circuit on the board with the Bare Conductive, is it permanent? Is there a way to clean it off and create a new circuit?

I have played around with Bare Conductive very briefly a year or so ago, but I never tried removing it…

Ben Nuttall avatar

Yes – it wipes off with a cloth!

Jeremy VanSchalkwyk avatar

That’s great, it sounds like those will be fun to work with! I’d love to try to claim a developer copy, but after coding all day, it’s always hard to motivate myself to code for fun at night, especially with so many other non-code projects begging for time. I look forward to checking them out when they are more widely available, however!

Szymon Życiński avatar

Is that SMD mount? If you did it THT any one could order this PCB at ebay i mount the gpio header on its own.

Rachel Rayns avatar

The Eagle file will be available – swap it for through-hole

Aaron avatar

Impressive that you managed to fit at least 4 trestle tables, 9 chairs, loads of computer monitors, RasPi gear and an entire tent into your flight case ;-)

Liz Upton avatar

We’ve also got ten packs of babywipes, a few gallons of water and many tablecloths. I need a shower. It’s HOT here. :D

ukscone avatar

all you need are a few poles and a watering can & you’ll have all you need to build a field shower

Liz Upton avatar

There is always the opportunity to poke holes in the top of the tent, of course.

Jim Manley avatar

Soooo, is Abishur there yet? I’d be mighty surprised if he didn’t mosey on over on his hoss, although Texas _is_ a big place! After several multi-day drives across Texas en route Navy duty stations on opposite coasts, I swore I would drive all the way across Texas in one day, starting at 7 AM from just over the line in Louisiana, headed West for about 20 hours, and collapsed in a heap just outside of El Paso in New Mexico. I’ll never try that again, but I’ll be sorely tempted!

I can’t believe I didn’t think of the conductive pen idea ages ago – Radio Shack and others have sold them for decades and they’re handy for one-offs. The HAT implementation is simply brilliant, and I’ll be stopping at Fry’s tonight to pick up the stuff needed to make some DOTS HATS on-site at our Pi Day celebration at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley.

Enjoy the BBQ, chili (with pinto beans, of course), and for the veggie types, being cool as a cucumber … in a broiler! A guy was told ceaselessly that “Everything’s big in Texas!”, and got a bit too drunk once at a big recreational facility there. He got lost while en route the men’s room, and when he stumbled into an indoor pool area and fell in, his head broke the surface as he screamed, “DON’T FLUSH!!!” :D

Liz Upton avatar

We are REALLY sad: Abishur’s got work commitments, so he’s not able to come over. We have just eaten 4lb of meat. See picture of Rachel fretting about all the dead cows at

ukscone avatar

Darn. I really thought you’d be able to hook up with him

Jim Manley avatar

Four pounds of meat … aka a Texas appetizer! :D

We had over 250 people lined up around the building and vehicles spilling out onto N. Shoreline Blvd. (the road between 101 and the Googleplex) when I drove up to the museum this morning! Even more showed up and we know we’ve had over 1,000 people pass through because we’ve given out the number of boxes full of maps needed to satisfy that number. The slack-jawed museum director and the staff were on-hand to witness the assault waves as they hit the beach, and kids are having a ball.

They’re programming Minecraft via Piper self-contained hardware/software exploration Kickstarter kits, using Wolfram Mathematica to do image processing, trying out Next Thing self-built Pi-based cameras, listening to the story of Pi as told via the storybooks “Sir Cumference and The First Round Table”, “The Great Knight of Angleland”, and “The Dragon of Pi”, and ogling and experimenting with a bevy of every model of Pi ever made and a good chunk of the 60,000+ packages available via Raspbian, Arch, Pidora, Ubuntu Linaro, RISC OS, and bare metal implementations.

We’re going to try getting a Google hangout going in time for our 3 – 6 PM Pacific Time (10 PM Saturday – 1 AM Sunday GMT?) exhibition period, the last hour of which will feature raspberry pies made by our Cloud Cafe, in addition to the Raspberry Pi systems being demoed. We need to celebrate Pi Day more often!!! :D

MalMan35 avatar

I have already celebrated Super Pi Moment. 3.141592653!!!! 3/14/15 9:26:53

Neil avatar

Errrr … I must be really thick but I don’t geddit. A great tale of daring and adventure and pizza and jam, but no actual explanation of what it IS and what it DOES. My understanding: A dots board exposes the GPIOs and a few other bits and pieces (e.g. LEDs, maybe buttons) via pads that you can join with hand-drawn conductive paint. Then you can write a programme to tell a “story” with the effects and inputs that you have wired. Is that it?? Does the screen printing constrain or guide what you can do (i.e. literally “join the dots”) or can you just do your own thing?

Rachel Rayns avatar

That is exactly what it is.

You can also do your own thing – as long as you hit the dots then it’ll make a circuit

Jim Manley avatar

Hi Neil – when they say it’s so simple a five year-old can do it, I immediately consult every five year-old within shouting distance and they unfailingly manage to figure it all out in record time. Kids speak “Kid” and while we may understand a few words of it, we will never be able to speak “Kid” authentically again ourselves. Welcome to adulthood! :D

Jared avatar

My daughter was really excited to know that her new dots board could work at home too. Great booth! Really great to meet y’all.

Rachel Rayns avatar

Thanks Jared!

Matt Richardson avatar

Thanks for stopping by!

Shannon Spurling avatar

This is really cool, but i have an alternative idea for your project… how about instead of connect the dots you try a maze with the walls being ground plane, andthe dots being way points that trigger video prompts to direct you to the next waypoint. You could drop on surface mount leds to add some real life response and prevent false triggers.

jonathan chetwynd avatar

Not sure if it’s quite 8 weeks yet, certainly feels like it, maybe one or two days to go….

Anyway I put in what I felt was a cracking great idea, leading from Logic Gates through Look Up Tables and Flip-Flops to a memory Latch, the very essence of what a computer is.

Have not heard a word, and would appreciate feedback!!

Comments are closed