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Product Review | Totem Mini Lab

Craig HissettCraig Hissett wrote 10/17/2019 at 16:19 • 8 min read • Like

The Totem Mini Lab is a kit to build an all-in-one lab setup. Built around Totem's take on an Arduino Uno, it features a companion lab board which adds many useful tools and features to your prototyping and development. 

Unboxing


The kit comes with the following parts (as listed on the Totem site:

Building

I thoroughly enjoyed putting this kit together. Having recently assembled the little 2WD Car Kit from Totem I found building this an absolute joy. The included parts sheet for reference came in very handy for organising and measuring out parts and accompanied the printed build guide brilliantly. Some of the images in the book can be a little unclear as to where the nut inserts go, but once you have done the first few steps it becomes clear what is meant. The printed guide was a much better reference tool than using the online guide that the 2WD Car Kit requires to use, but I feel that is because I used my phone to view it.  Still, the high quality printed document is a nice addition to the kit.

The build itself was fairly straight forward using the included driver (the only tool needed). I did find a few of the screw angles were a bit tight for a fat fingered fellow such as myself when assembling the frame, but the driver does have a wide angle of use to help it still do the job at an angle, plus the order you attach the brackets can also make it easier.

Still, all in all I had a great time assembling this, and look forward to using it :-)

Finished Build

Software & Usability

***Software review to follow***

Expansions

It is possibly to add add-on modules to the lab it further increase its value as a prototyping and development lab.


Outcome

All in all I think this kit is absolutely fantastic. As someone without a dedicated workspace for prototyping and development I was really excited at the prospect of an all-in-one system that could improve my workflow and also tidy up the stack of boxes full of random microcontrollers, components and all kinds.

Once I have received the add on modules I am going to be moving my development for my current projects ( #DIY SamplePad Controller  and #Digibone ) exclusively to this lab and will then update the software and usability section of this review. I am also keen to test how this would work in conjunction with a raspberry Pi w/touchscreen setup. Or even use the Maker Kit to build a Pi cluster chassis to add to this build.

I'm really hoping to see Totem continue developing add-on boards for this lab; it's a great form factor, and increasing the options available will really increase it's appeal as a useful tool for makers.

One in particular I'd love to see is a Network-based add-on, build around an ESP32 to add Wifi, Bluetooth and perhaps ethernet ports for IoT development. I'd also love to see some further TotemDuinos developed, using perhaps the Mega as a base rather than the Uno, maybe even including an ESP32 on it rather than as a separate module. 

Anyway, I'm really excited by this lab and look forward to seeing where the future takes it!

UPDATE - Using the Lab [26 Nov]

In the last few weeks I have received my add-on boards for the lab. I have received the one on the right in the picture above, and also the one second form the left. I have been using my setup for a few weeks and let me tell you - it's an absolute game changer.

Going from not having a dedicated set-up to a dedicated mini lab was always going to have a positive impact, but the care and thought that has gone into putting this kit together is just brilliant.

I'm not an expert with the on-board tools and I'm sure there'll be better versions of what is used, but the way it is build into the kit makes using it easy. The same with the add-on boards; having all these everyday use components at hand at all times (instead of sifting through bottomless boxes of accumulated components) will save so, so much time moving forward, and enables you to quickly try those little ideas you have while working on your code.

One small thing I would improve is the included box of breadboard jumpers - it would be awesome if a custom box was made that could be attached to the structure in some way, or a drawer could be added. It's a simple little thing, but being able to keep your wires in with the lab would be great.

I am really impressed with the form factor, and I've already started building similar kits to fit into this style of setup:

This Pi-based addition uses a Pimoroni pHAT Stack to break out the GPIO Header, and I've also added the Sense HAT for use with coding.

I'll be adding an i2c display at the top to display the Pi's IP Address on startup and to be used in projects.

I'll be adding more stuff as I go too, which will be fun! I also plan on building a frame for the two add-on boards to allow me to use them with the Pi one as well, and also allow for the three to be used together.

I'm really excited to see what other things I'll add to my ecosystem of mini lab builds!

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