The PiFinder platform is an open source, all-in-one plate solving telescope finder that can add push-to functionality to any telescope without modifications. It fits just like a finder and provides more powerful features than digital setting circles. The company has announced it has introduced the second iteration of the PiFinder hardware.
As Richard Sutherland, creator of the PiFinder notes, “I’m a visual observer using a 16″ f/4 Dobsonian. The PiFinder is my attempt to improve my time at my telescope as I don’t get nearly enough of it and I want to enjoy it as much as possible. The lightweight/low-eyepiece design of my scope is great for transport and use… but it also means there is no great way to add reliable encoders to get solid scope positioning. After seeing some people succeed building small plate-solving systems for feeding telescope position information to a laptop or tablet I decided to try to build something similar, but with its own user-interface rather than relying on a tablet or other device. Thus, the PiFinder was born!”
As he notes about the new version, “We’re releasing a new set of PCB’s and new case parts which collectively mark the second iteration of the PiFinder hardware. The major difference being in this new difference is support for a fully integrated GPS module! Added are new PCB’s that include a footprint for a GPS module as well as a new case design includes a holder on the PiMount for the internal GPS antenna and a redesigned shroud to allow a bit of room for it.”
The 4.4x3x3 inch PiFinder unit mounts into the finder shoe found on most telescopes and weighs about the same as a standard 10×50 RACI finder scope. Once mounted on a telescope it provides precision pointing information, push-to guidance, customizable star charts and even object images on the 1.5” OLED display. The display and keypad backlight are fully dimmable to preserve night vision and good relations at your favorite dark sky site.
Consisting of a Raspberry Pi, camera, OLED screen, and keypad, it can capture and solve an image of the sky each second and integrates a sophisticated accelerometer to provide real-time position and push-to guidance while moving the telescope. This plate solving + imu system removes the need for any sort of star alignment process and provides incredibly accurate positioning anywhere in the sky, making the system very beginner friendly.
The PiFinder includes a full featured catalog system with over 20,000 objects and includes images for each one. These images are presented as they would be framed and oriented through the eyepiece at their specific location in the sky. Users can filter catalogs for specific object types, by altitude, magnitude and even by previous observations. Observing lists can be built on the fly from filtered catalogs and nearby objects or loaded from a disk. As each object is observed, it can be logged directly on the PiFinder with the ability to add context about sky condition and object impression.
SkySafari and other applications that use the Meade LX protocol can connect directly to the PiFinder to view current telescope positioning with multiple updates per second. This can be done via existing Wi-Fi networks or the PiFinder can server as a Wi-Fi access point to enable in-the-field communication.
The PiFinder is fully open-source hardware and software package with a dedicated community of maintainers. A full parts list, build guide, and software is available for anyone interested in building a PiFinder. Kits and assembled units are also available for purchase for the less DIY minded observer.
As Sutherland also notes about the new updates, “With the move to internal GPS and other part reduction building or purchasing a PiFinder is now less expensive! To reflect this we’ve lowered the cost of fully assembled PiFinders by $100 and reduced prices on some kits as well.”
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