Raspberry Pi

Pi HomeGuard: helping people stay independent longer

Several people have mentioned the idea of using the Pi to help relatives and carers support older people in their own homes by monitoring aspects of their daily routine as well as things like the indoor temperature, but until now, we hadn’t seen anyone write up a system they’d implemented. So we were very interested when we received an email from Jamie Grant, telling us how he had used a Raspberry Pi-based home monitoring system to help him support his late mother in maintaining her independence.

An early Pi adopter, one of Jamie’s first projects was home power monitoring. After installing a system to plot electricity usage in his own home using CurrentCost hardware and a Raspberry Pi, he was struck by the “kettle spike”, a power spike that shows clearly that someone is up and making tea. His mother was very elderly, was living alone and had a worsening serious illness, and it occurred to him that the kettle spike would provide a useful indication that she was OK. He decided to install the system at her house, adding some wireless PiR (passive infrared) motion and door sensors. Jamie called this first version HomeCare Guardian; power and sensor data were displayed in a simple webpage. Here’s another screenshot, showing the system in 2013, after about a year of development:

From this single page, Jamie could see whether his mum was OK and going about her usual daily routine, and a sensor at the front door indicated when she took a taxi journey to visit her friends and when she returned. He says,

I found Homecare Guardian a great comfort and my sister and I used it daily to check on her condition. Near the end mum was more forgetful and sometimes left her front door open, we could see whenever this happened and I would call round and check she was alright.

Mum managed to stay totally independent and was only admitted to our local hospital for her last week where she got the best possible care.

Jamie has continued working on the wireless sensors and their power requirements: his latest PiR motion sensor is powered by just two AA batteries and has a battery life of over a year, and his new door sensor has an estimated battery life of over three years. With sensors for motion, door opening, indoor temperature and water (to provide flood alerts) ready to go, he hopes to add a humidity sensor soon. The same system, he observes, could also be used for checking an unoccupied property for flood or frost risk as well as other aspects of security. Very recently he has been working with an Android app developer, and they’re hoping to add an alerts app facility soon.

The system has been renamed as Pi HomeGuard, and you can see a working live site, all running off a Raspberry Pi, at www.pihomeguard.com. Jamie is interested in taking this prototype further and making it more widely available, and would be glad to make contact with people who’d like to become involved; if this describes you, say so in the comments, and we’ll put you in touch.

Christmas light sequencer

Over at Instructables, Osprey22 (what’s your real name, 22? Let us know and I’ll add it to this post) is driving audio and eight strands of lights (plus a jolly twinkly star) from the same Raspberry Pi, so the two can be sequenced using some custom Python he’s written. Play to the end for a bit of Let it Go, if you’ve not heard it too many times this year already.

Osprey22 has made full build instructions available, along with all the code you’ll need, and sequencer files for a few Christmas choons. We love it.

XmasPiLights from Reading College

Over in Reading, there’s a rather special Christmas tree.

Reading College holds a week called “Go Further” every year, where students are encouraged to go beyond their curriculum to create ambitious projects. This year’s students decided to make a Christmas techno-tree from steel they milled themselves, a 3D-printed star they designed themselves, and string after string of LEDs, all hooked up to social media so people around the world could activate the star at the top.

Here’s a time-lapse of the tree’s creation:

And here’s the tree being built and tested.

You can see a live stream of the tree at xmaspilights.com – and most importantly, you can make the 3D-printed star at the top twinkle by using the hashtag #XmasPiLights on Twitter, Instagram or Google+.

Thanks to our friends at Energenie for sponsoring this project. We’re off to Twitter to make some stars twinkle.

Royal Institution Christmas Lectures

As you may have heard if you follow us on Twitter, Facebook or G+, we are sponsoring this year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. The lectures are part of British educational history: Michael Faraday started them in 1825 to introduce science to ordinary people – especially young people – and they’ve been running ever since, with only one break in 1939-42 during World War II.

Professor Danielle George, presenter of this year’s lectures. Photo credit: Paul Wilkinson

We’re incredibly proud to be associated with the lectures. They’re a real educational jewel, and they provide some of the best television in the UK over the Christmas period. British readers can watch this year’s lectures on BBC4 on December 29, 30 and 31 – the theme (which, serendipitously, has a lot of relevance for Raspberry Pi users) is Sparks will fly: How to hack your home. International viewers will be able to watch later on on the Royal Institution’s website.

Here’s a teaser the Royal Institution released on YouTube yesterday.

If you’d like to read more about this year’s lectures, there’s a long interview with Professor Danielle George in the Guardian, where she explains why hacking is such a crucial skill for children. We hope you’ll be watching the lectures along with us!

Controlling Telescopes with Raspberry Pi and Mathematica

Eben: Here’s a guest post from Tom Sherlock, describing how he’s been able to control a telescope using a Raspberry Pi, Mathematica and the Wolfram Language.

As an amateur astronomer, I’m always interested in ways to use Mathematica in my hobby. In earlier blog posts, I’ve written about how Mathematica can be used to process and improve images taken of planets and nebulae. However, I’d like to be able to control my astronomical hardware directly with the Wolfram Language.

In particular, I’ve been curious about using the Wolfram Language as a way to drive my telescope mount, for the purpose of automating an observing session. There is precedent for this because some amateurs use their computerized telescopes to hunt down transient phenomena like supernovas. Software already exists for performing many of the tasks that astronomers engage in—locating objects, managing data, and performing image processing. However, it would be quite cool to automate all the different tasks associated with an observing session from one notebook.

Mathematica is highly useful because it can perform many of these operations in a unified manner. For example, Mathematica incorporates a vast amount of useful astronomical data, including the celestial coordinates of hundreds of thousands of stars, nebula, galaxies, asteroids, and planets. In addition to this, Mathematica‘s image processing and data handling functionality are extremely useful when processing astronomical data.

Previously I’ve done some work interfacing with telescope mounts using an existing library of functions called ASCOM. Although ASCOM is powerful and can drive many devices associated with astronomy, like domes and filter wheels, it is limited because it only works on PCs and needs to be pre-installed on your computer. I wanted to be able to drive my telescope directly from Mathematica running on any platform, and without any special set up.

Telescope Serial Communication Protocols

I did some research and determined that many telescope mounts obey one of two serial protocols for their control: the Meade LX200 protocol and the Celestron NexStar protocol.

The LX200 protocol is used by Meade telescopes like the LX200 series as well as the ETX series. The LX200 protocol is also used by many non-Meade telescope mounts, like those produced by Losmandy and Astro-Physics.

The NexStar protocol is used by Celestron telescopes and mounts as well as those manufactured by its parent company, Synta, including the Orion Atlas/Sirius family of computerized mounts.

The full details of these protocols can be found in the Meade Telescope Serial Command Protocol PDF and the NexStar Communication Protocol PDF.

A notable exception is the Paramount series of telescope mounts from Software Bisque, which use the RTS2 (Remote Telescope System) protocol for remote control of robotic observatories. The RTS2 standard describes communication across a TCP/IP link and isn’t serial-port based. Support for RTS2 will have to be a future project.

Since Mathematica 10 has added direct serial-port support, it’s possible to implement these protocols directly in top-level Wolfram Language code and have the same code drive different mounts from Mathematica running on different platforms, including Linux, Mac, Windows, and Raspberry Pi.

Example: Slewing the Scope

Here’s an example of opening a connection to a telescope mount obeying the LX200 protocol, setting the target and then slewing to that target.

Open the serial port (“/dev/ttyUSB0″) connected to the telescope:

theScope = DeviceOpen["Serial", {"/dev/ttyUSB0", "BaudRate" -> 9600, "DataBits" -> 8, "Parity" -> None, "StopBits" -> 1}];

First we need a simple utility for issuing a command, waiting for a given amount of time (usually a few seconds), and then reading off the single-character response.

ScopeIssueCommand1[theScope_, cmd_String]:= Module[{}, DeviceWrite[theScope, cmd]; Pause[theScopeTimeout]; FromCharacterCode[DeviceRead[theScope]] ];

These are functions for setting the target right ascension and declination in the LX200 protocol. Here, the right ascension (RA) is specified by a string in the form of HH:MM:SS, and the declination (Dec) by a string in the form of DD:MM:SS.

ScopeSetTargetRightAscension[theScope_,str_String] := ScopeIssueCommand1[theScope,":Sr"<>str<>"#"]; ScopeSetTargetDeclination[theScope_,str_String] := ScopeIssueCommand1[theScope,":Sd"<>str<>"#"];

Now that we have the basics out of the way, in order to slew to a target at coordinates specified by RA and Dec strings, setting the target and then issuing the slew command are combined.

ScopeSlewToRADecPrecise[ theScope_, ra_String, dec_String]:= Module[{}, ScopeSetTargetRightAscension[theScope,ra]; ScopeSetTargetDeclination[theScope, dec]; ScopeSlewTargetRADec[theScope] ];

We can also pass in real values as the coordinates, and then convert them to correctly formatted strings for the above function.

ScopeSlewToRADecPrecise[ theScope_, ra_Real, dec_Real]:= Module[{rah,ram,ras,rastr,dd,dm,ds,decstr}, rah=ToString[IntegerPart[ra]]; ram=ToString[IntegerPart[Abs[FractionalPart[ra]]*60]]; ras=ToString[IntegerPart[FractionalPart[Abs[ FractionalPart[ra]]*60]*60]]; rastr=rah<>":"<>ram<>":"<>ras; dd=ToString[IntegerPart[dec]]; dm=ToString[IntegerPart[Abs[FractionalPart[dec]]*60]]; ds=ToString[IntegerPart[FractionalPart[Abs[ FractionalPart[dec]]*60]*60]]; decstr=dd<>":"<>dm<>":"<>ds; ScopeSlewToRADecPrecise[theScope, rastr, decstr] ];

Now we can point the scope to the great globular cluster in Hercules:

ScopeSlewToRADecPrecise[theScope, AstronomicalData["M13","RightAscension"], AstronomicalData["M13","Declination"]];

Slew the scope to the Ring Nebula:

ScopeSlewToRADecPrecise[theScope, NebulaData["M57","RightAscension"], NebulaData["M57","Declination"]];

And slew the scope to Saturn:

ScopeSlewToRADec[PlanetData["Saturn","RightAscension"], PlanetData["Saturn","Declination"]];

When the observing session is complete, we can close down the serial connection to the scope.

DeviceClose[theScope];

Please be aware that before trying this on your own scope, you should have limits set up with the mount so that the scope doesn’t accidentally crash into things when slewing around. And of course, no astronomical telescope should be operated during the daytime without a proper solar filter in place.

The previous example works with Mathematica 10 on all supported platforms. The only thing that needs to change is the name of the serial port. For example, on a Windows machine, the port may be called “COM8″ or such.

Telescope Control with Raspberry Pi

One interesting platform for telescope control is the Raspberry Pi. This is an inexpensive ($25–$35), low-power-consumption, credit-card-sized computer that runs Linux and is tailor-made for all manner of hackery. Best of all, it comes with a free copy of Mathematica included with the operating system.

Since the Pi is just a Linux box, the Wolfram Language code for serial-port telescope control works on that too. In fact, since the Pi can easily be wirelessly networked, it is possible to connect to it from inside my house, thus solving the number one problem faced by amateur astronomers, namely, how to keep warm when it’s cold outside.

The Pi doesn’t have any direct RS-232 ports in hardware, but an inexpensive USB- to-serial adapter provides a plug-n-play port at /dev/ttyUSB0. In this picture, you can see the small wireless network adapter in the USB socket next to the much larger, blue, usb-to-serial adapter.

Astrophotography with the Pi

Once I had the Pi controlling the telescope, I wondered if I could use it to take pictures through the scope as well. The Raspberry Pi has an inexpensive camera available for $25, which can take reasonably high-resolution images with a wide variety of exposures.

This isn’t as good as a dedicated astronomical camera, because it lacks the active cooling needed to take low-noise images of deep sky objects, but it would be appropriate for capturing images of bright objects like planets, the Moon, or (with proper filtering) the Sun.

It was fairly easy to find the mechanical dimensions of the camera board on the internet, design a telescope adapter…

…and then build the adapter using my lathe and a few pennies worth of acetal resin (Dupont Delrin®) I had in my scrap box. The normal lens on the Pi camera was unscrewed and removed to expose the CCD chip directly because the telescope itself forms the image.

Note that this is a pretty fancy adaptor, and one nearly as good could have been made out of 1 1/4 plumbing parts or an old film canister; this is a place where many people have exercised considerable ingenuity. I bolted the adaptor to the side of the Pi case using some 2-56 screws and insulating stand-offs cut from old spray bottle tubing.

This is how the PiCam looks plugged into the eyepiece port on the back of my telescope, and also plugged into the serial port of my telescope’s mount. In this picture, the PiCam is the transparent plastic box at the center. The other camera with the gray cable at the top is the guiding camera I use when taking long exposure astrophotographs.

Remotely Connecting to the PiCam

The Pi is a Linux box, and it can run vncserver to export its desktop. You can then run a vnc client package, like the free TightVNC, on any other computer that is networked to the Pi. This is a screen shot taken from my Windows PC of the TightVNC application displaying the PiCam’s desktop. Here, the PiCam is running Mathematica and has imported a shot of the Moon’s limb from the camera module attached to the telescope via the adapter described above.

It’s hard to read in the above screen shot, but here is the line I used to import the image from the Pi’s camera module directly into Mathematica:

moonImage=Import[ "!raspistill -ss 1000 -t 10 -w 1024 -h 1024 -o -", "JPG"]

This command invokes the Pi’s raspistill camera utility and captures a 1024×1024 image exposed at 1,000 microseconds after a 10-second delay, and then brings the resulting JPEG file into Mathematica.

One problem that I haven’t solved is how to easily focus the telescope remotely, because the PiCam’s preview image doesn’t work over the vnc connection. One interesting possibility would be to have Mathematica take a series of exposures while changing the focus via a servo attached to the focus knob of the telescope.

Conclusion

Mathematica and the Wolfram Language provide powerful tools for a wide variety of device control applications. In this case, I’ve used it on several different platforms to control a variety of astronomical hardware.

Christmas shopping guide

Christmas is coming, and we’re all panicking because we haven’t bought all the presents yet. (My Dad’s difficult.) Waking up at 3am in a cold sweat because you don’t know what to buy the Raspberry Pi fan in your life? Sweat no longer: we’re here to help!

Raspberry Pi kits

If you want a Raspberry Pi on its own, you can buy it from one of our manufacturing distributors, from our Swag Store, and from many other vendors.

There are also some great kits available if you want to get all the extra bits and bobs you’ll need in one box. We sell a starter kit containing a lot of goodies: it’s £75.

If all the extras in there make things a bit rich for your blood, check out The Pi Hut’s kit, which doesn’t have the shiny PiBow case, the special bag, the stickers or the keyboard or the mouse, but has everything else you’ll need. It’s £42.

Specialist starter kits for people wanting to use their Pi as a media centre, or focusing on using the camera board, are available from CPC in the UK, or MCM in the United States.

Books

There is now a terrifying number of books available on the Raspberry Pi – check out the electronics or computing section of your local bookshop. Some of our favourites are:

The Raspberry Pi User Guide – this book’s written by our very own Eben Upton and by Gareth Halfacree; it’s the canonical guide to the Raspberry Pi, from the person who created it. This link goes to the latest edition, which covers things we’ve done this year like the Model B+.

Sticking with the “books wot we wrote” theme, here’s Carrie Anne’s Adventures in Raspberry Pi. Aimed at kids aged 11 and up (younger kids will still get a lot out of it, but we recommend Mum or Dad lends a hand), we think it’s the biggest seller of the Raspberry Pi books so far this year; and we highly recommend it.

If you’re an adult who doesn’t mind the branding, Raspberry Pi for Dummies is a superb guide to the device and what you can do with it. It’s good for beginners, but it’ll take you a long way – much further than you might guess from the title!

You can find many, many more Pi books at Amazon.

Add-on boards and fun

One of my favourite add-ons of the year was a late entrant: it only came out last week. Pimoroni’s Skywriter is a motion and distance sensor HAT for your Pi – and you can do this sort of thing with it (click the button to turn the sound on). It’s £16.

Pimoroni’s other add-on boards are among our very favourites: Pibrella is only £10, and offers you lots of inputs and outputs; we use it a lot in our own teaching sessions. It’s a fantastic way to get started with electronics: it’ll allow you to make noises, flash lights, drive motors and much more.

The Unicorn HAT is just magic. And it’s £18. That’s all we have to say about it.

Babbage the Bear is our mascot, and he’s had a very busy couple of years, going to near-space, having a camera stuck up his bum and becoming an Internet of Things device, and being cuddled by lots of small children. You can buy him at our Swag Store. He’s £9.

Today, we’re launching a NEW accessory for Babbage: the Babbage Backpack Game Kit. For £8.10 you can buy a cute little backpack for Babbage, filled with everything you’ll need to make an electronic memory game and instructions (no soldering required) – a perfect stocking-filler and a really great little project for electronics beginners. Plus, it makes Babbage look super-chic.

 

Ryan Walmsley set up his own business to make and sell electronics more than a year ago, and he’s still only 18. The RyanTeck Budget Robotics Kit is fantastic – it’s affordable at only £24.49, and contains everything you need to get started with robotics – all you need to add is a Raspberry Pi.

Pi&Bash is another new offering, this time from Piventor. THIS BOARD REQUIRES SOME SOLDERING, so it’s not ideal for first-timers. But it’s really good fun if you do fancy getting the soldering iron out, with traffic light LEDs, push buttons, a little backlit LCD screen, a thermometer, and digital and analogue inputs and outputs. It’s only £23.

 

The CamJam EduKit is the perfect stocking filler at only £5. It’s available from The Pi Hut, and it’s my absolute favourite learning kit of the year, coming bundled with worksheets to get you building electronics projects from scratch – or at least it was until the CamJam EduKit 2: Sensors came out last week, for a simply ridiculous £7. The Sensors kit contains everything you need to make a bedroom burglar alarm, a tea-temperature-tester, a device to test whether the light in your fridge really goes off when you shut the door, and much more, with worksheets. It’s a wonderful, wonderful, versatile little kit, and we think that the CamJam team and The Pi Hut have done an amazing job in getting it out for such an affordable price.

Finally, for those not worried to get a soldering iron out (soldering is easy – it’s really worth having a go), you can get an entire Christmas tree for your Pi for only £6. I saw several of these in action at the Cambridge Raspberry Jam last weekend; great for a festive addition to your workbench. Here’s one on a Model A+.

Merry Christmas!

MagPi issue 29 – out now!

The MagPi magazine is a free download created by the Raspberry Pi community, for the Raspberry Pi community. Click the link, or on the picture, to visit their website.

Here are the editors to explain what’s in this month’s issue:

Welcome to Issue 29 of the MagPi, packed with the usual mixture of hardware projects and programming articles, providing lots of avenues for invention during December.

With the Christmas holidays drawing near, what could be better than some new Raspberry Pi hardware. For all those looking forward to building a high altitude capsule or autonomous submarine, the Model A+ provides many great features for a very low power budget. Dougie Lawson presents a whistle-stop tour of the A+, comparing it to other Raspberry Pi Models.

On the subject of robots, computer vision can provide an image cognition solution within many autonomous robotics projects. Derek Campbell sketches out more features of OpenCV (open source computer vision) image recognition software.

The Raspberry Pi is ideally suited as the hub of a sensor array or control unit, since it can be used to propagate information via a web server or other remote protocol. In this Issue, John Shovic’s presents his final article in the Project Curacao remote monitoring series, David Bannon demonstrates how to build and read a simple array of digital temperature sensors, and Brian Grawburg introduces his traffic light extension board.

When developing software or projects, it is important to retain unique files that are part of the build. In this Issue, Alec Clews continues his series on software repositories and using Git, and William Bell discusses the basics of adding external storage to the Raspberry Pi.

Computer programming enables the Raspberry Pi to be used within many different applications. This month, Jon Silvera discusses how to drive a robotic arm with FUZE BASIC, William Bell presents a simple space arcade game in Scratch and Paul Sutton introduces Python graphical user interfaces (GUIs).

The MagPi will be taking a short break over Christmas and the first Issue of 2015 will be published at the start of February.

Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2015.

There’s lots to be going on with here – plenty to get your teeth into over the Christmas break. (And Will Bell demoed his Scratch space arcade game to me a couple of weeks ago – if you don’t love it, you’re dead inside.)

Thanks, as always, to Team MagPi – we hope you all have a great Christmas break!

Astro Pi: Your Code in Space

Dave: We’re really happy to announce a new project in partnership with British Astronaut Tim Peake, UK Space and the European Space Agency: we’re sending Raspberry Pis to the International Space Station! Read on to find out how to get your code running on them…

Leading UK space organisations have joined forces with British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake and Raspberry Pi to offer students a chance to devise and code their own apps or experiment to run in space. Two Raspberry Pi computers are planned to be flown to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of Tim’s 6 month mission and both will be connected to a new “Astro Pi” board, loaded with a host of sensors and gadgets.

Launched today at an event held by the UK Space Agency, the Astro Pi competition will be officially opened at the BETT conference (21-24 January) and will be open to all primary and secondary school aged children who are resident in the United Kingdom.

During his mission to the ISS, Tim Peake plans to deploy the Astro Pi computers in a number of different locations on board the ISS. He will then load up the winning code whilst in orbit, set them running, collect the data generated and then download this to Earth where it will be distributed to the winning teams and ade freely available on the Astro Pi website.

Universities, Science and Cities Minister Greg Clark said:

The Astro Pi competition is a fantastic opportunity for the students of Great Britain to get involved in a truly inspirational project. So much of modern life depends on handling data effectively and this challenge will help the next generation to have fun whilst learning many important skills that we know industry will need in the future. Through challenges like this, and initiatives like the Government’s YourLife campaign, we can illustrate the exciting careers open to those studying STEM subjects.

Greg Clark

Tim Peake added:

I’m really excited about this project, born out of the cooperation among UK industries and institutions. There is huge scope for fun science and useful data gathering using the Astro Pi sensors on board the International Space Station. This competition offers a unique chance for young people to learn core computing skills that will be extremely useful in their future. It’s going to be a lot of fun!

Tim Peake

Major Tim Peake – photo provided by UK Space Agency under CC BY-ND

To help students on their way in developing their code, five inspirational themes have been devised to stimulate creativity and scientific thinking. The themes are Spacecraft Sensors, Satellite Imaging, Space Measurements, Data Fusion and Space Radiation.

In the primary school age category, teams will be asked to devise and describe an original idea for an experiment or application which can be conducted on the Astro Pi by Tim during his mission. The two best submissions will get the opportunity to work with the Astro Pi team to interpret their ideas and the crack team at the Raspberry Pi Foundation will then code them ready for flight on the ISS.

In the secondary school age group, the competition will be run across three age categories, one for each of Key Stages 3, 4 and 5 (in England and Wales, and their equivalent ages in Scotland and Northern Ireland). In the first phase, competitors can submit their ideas for experiments and applications. At least the best 50 submissions in each age category will win a Raspberry Pi computer and an Astro Pi board on which to code their idea. In phase 2, all teams will develop code based on their original concept and two winning teams will be selected in each age category. The winning teams’ code will be readied for flight by the Raspberry Pi Foundation and CGI.

As well as having their code uploaded to the ISS, all winning teams will each receive a class set of Raspberry Pi and Astro Pi boards, meet the Astro Pi team and participate in a winners’ event during Tim’s flight.

In addition to the main prizes, each of the UKspace companies supporting the project have offered a prize. These prizes will be awarded to the best submission associated with each of the themes, across the age ranges.

Launching the Astro Pi computers, and consequently the successful implementation and completion of this competition is subject to nominal progress through the ESA integration programme and operations on-board the ISS.

The organisations involved in the Astro Pi competition include the UK Space Agency, UKspace, Raspberry Pi, ESERO and ESA.

The UKspace team, led by SSTL, include Airbus DS, CGI, the Space KTN, National Nuclear Laboratory and National Physical Laboratory.

 

Dave: The Astro Pi board will be a Raspberry Pi HAT and will comprise of the following:

  • Gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer sensor
  • Temperature sensor
  • Barometric pressure sensor
  • Humidity sensor
  • Real time clock with backup battery
  • 8×8 RGB LED display
  • Several push buttons
  • A camera attachment on the first board
  • An infra-red camera attachment on the second board

Keep an eye on our blog, the Astro Pi website and @astro_pi on twitter for updates! More information will be made available after the competition launch at BETT in January.

Christmas competition – win a B+ and help decorate Pi Towers!

Our intrepid education team spends a lot of the year on the road. In the last six months, Clive, Ben, Carrie Anne, Dave and Rachel have attended more than fifty events on the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s behalf. And in the course of those six months, some of our equipment has started to get a bit tatty.

This is our stand at Maker Faire in New York a few months ago. The banners are getting bendy with overuse.

We use banners, posters, project demonstrations, leaflets and models at events to show people what we do. In January, we’re going to start redesigning our usual show stand to make it more exciting – and this world-wide competition gives everybody under the age of 18 a chance to shape what that stand will look like.

We’re looking for your designs for the things we use to decorate the stand and inform people about the Raspberry Pi and what it can do: we want you to send us your design for a banner or a poster, your blueprint for a project demonstration, a leaflet you’ve written about Raspberry Pi, or anything else associated with Raspberry Pi that you think we can use to make the stand look good. If you send in something that we really love, we’ll work it into a professional version we can use when we go and present.

The people who send us the best 250 ideas (we won’t be able to use them all on our stand, but we’ll consider all of them!) will receive a Pimoroni Raspberry Pi B+ Starter Kit. We also have 100 runners-up prizes.

You could win a kit like this!

All the entries will be displayed on the walls around Pi Towers, so if you see news footage from our offices or one of our own videos, you might spot your own work in the background!

Carrie did some promo photos for her book in front of last year’s posters…

…and here’s Eben on the news earlier this year, in front of the giant poster wall.

To enter, have your parent or guardian print out this form and fill it in, and mail your design and the form to:

Raspberry Pi Christmas Competition
Mount Pleasant House
Huntingdon Road
Cambridge
CB3 0RN
UK

Please note that we cannot accept entries that do not have parent/guardian contact details and signature. We are not accepting electronic entries – we want your original work to display on our walls!

The closing date is January 10. We’ll be sending out prizes at the end of January. All entrants must be under 18.

PiWars – Cambridge Jam. With robots.

On Saturday, something rather special happened in Cambridge. Tim Richardson and Mike Horne, who run the regular CamJam, were holding a special event: a robotics Raspberry Jam, with competitions for attending teams who had built their Pis into a robot.

Eben and I were judging. Someone had parked some reindeer outside.

The Raspberry Pi robots in attendance varied from the minuscule:

To the terrifyingly large and whizzy.

Two hundred competitors and spectators turned up. I was a bit busy running around tweeting from my phone and asking penetrating judgey questions with a clipboard to take any video, but happily Matthew Manning from Raspberry Pi IV Beginners was there to cover the whole day. If you’ve ever wanted to watch a Raspberry Pi robot navigate an obstacle course full of polished pebbles and see-saws, now’s your chance.

One of the best things about working at Raspberry Pi is being able to get to know the amazing community that’s grown up around the device. The number of kids attending as competitors and as viewers on Saturday made us incredibly proud: and it was good to see some of the young people’s teams winning in the individual categories. (Big congrats especially to Team Vector, a school group who made my favourite robot in the Most Innovative section, with its modular 3d-printed case which could be altered to maximise the robot’s chances in each event; and to eight-year-old Amy, whose soldering is neater than the soldering of some people I know with much bigger hands.)

Here’s MrUkTechReviews’ video of the day’s events:

I know that more video and a podcast are on their way from the event, so this post will be updated with more as the week goes on. Mike’s also working on a complete table of times and winners, which will likely go live on Wednesday; we’ll add a link when it’s up. Enormous thanks to Mike, Tim and all the team of Jam Makers for making this event go off with a real bang.

If you’re looking to take part in something like this yourself, check out the Raspberry Jam page, where you’ll find details on upcoming Jams across the world (there are usually fewer in December than there are in other months because of that thing with the tree and the turkey that happens at the end of the month), and information on how to set up your own. We hope to see you at one soon!

Wheels and a sandwich

If you’re at tomorrow’s PiWars robotics Jam in Cambridge, you’ll meet this little fellow, built by Gert from an A+, with a trailer constructed from a Compute Module baseboard PCB that nobody was using. He made it with a specific purpose in mind: to deliver jam sandwiches to me from the other side of the office.

Why, you ask? When we were developing the Raspberry Pi back in 2011, a regular class of comment in these parts was: “Why doesn’t it have a quad-core processor/a Gigabyte of RAM/more USB ports etc etc?”

The canonical response was: “And wheels and a sandwich?”

It’s nice to see that Gert treats my bad-tempered expostulations as prophecy.

We’re calling him TOAST•E. Come and meet him at PiWars tomorrow!

Putting out feelers: Compute Module Symposium

It’s been a few months since we originally announced the Compute Module. Now we’re beginning to see orders from industrial customers, and designs incorporating it hitting various crowd funding websites, we thought it might be time to have a get-together to share a little!

The Compute Module is not a consumer product. It was developed specifically to help our industrial customers. There are a lot of businesses out there using standard Raspberry Pis inserted into their products: the Compute Module allows them to redevelop their products to be smaller and to address their task more specifically. Over the past few months we’ve seen new products being developed through the Raspberry Pi forums and on social media, and we thought it was about time to think a little more seriously about how we can help.

The other day I was talking with the team at ARM about their Connected Community, and it rang a bell with me about what we’re trying to do with the Compute Module on a slightly different scale. So I thought a developer symposium would be a great way to get people who are interested in the Compute Module together to discuss their projects and designs.

So we’re putting out a call for participation/presentations/papers. We want to invite people who are using the Compute Module in their own products to take part, and we will also give at least the following 30 minute presentations:

  • James Adams – Hardware design with the compute module
  • Gordon Hollingworth – Software design and platform configuration with the compute module
  • Gordon Hollingworth – Compute module automated test development for high volume production

We’ll also be available during the symposium to discuss designs individually, and to help direct people in the right way of doing things.

We have not yet set a date because we don’t know what demand will look like. So if you’re not interested in presenting please tell us what you would like to see from the event, and what you’d like to learn: we’ll see if we can incorporate that into the symposium.

For presentations please send a short abstract (150 odd words will do) explaining what you’d like to talk about to gordon@raspberrypi.org. And let us know if you’d be interested in coming in the comments below too, so we can gauge interest.

Take part in the Hour of Code

At Raspberry Pi Towers, our magical helper elves* have been working around the clock to bring you some fantastically festive Hour of Code activities.

Raspberry Pi Elves Ben and Gert

The Hour of Code is an idea launched in 2013 by Code.org – a non-profit organisation dedicated to expanding participation in Computer Science by making it available in more schools. Their vision is very similar to our own at Raspberry Pi:

Every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science.

To help support this initiative we have created a bumper pack of activities for beginners, and for those ready for something a little more challenging – and they can all be achieved in an hour.

There’s something for all ages and abilities in our tasty selection box, including quizzes, spinny flowers, Santa detectors, musical delights and even snowflake design. Put an hour aside, pull up a Raspberry Pi and tuck in!

Clive’s Santa Detector

No more propping your eyes open with matchsticks to try and catch Santa! This Scratch program uses a low-cost infra-red detector to set off an alarm when Santa sneaks into your room. It’s a great introduction to using simple sensors on the Raspberry Pi and can be adapted to lots of different projects.

Ben and Rachel’s Raspberry Pi Music Box

Trigger some sounds using buttons and the GPIO pins on a Raspberry Pi. In this activity you learn how to wire up a series of buttons to your Raspberry Pi GPIO pins and program them with Python to play particular sounds when pressed.

Les Pounder’s Kids Ruby Quiz

Ruby is an easy to learn language that was created in the late 1990s by Yukihiro “Matz” Matsumoto as a general-purpose programming language. It is the language that is used to create music in Sonic Pi. In this activity, you create a quiz using a special application called Kids Ruby.

Simon Johnson’s Sorting Hat Lesson Plan

Raspberry Pi Certified Educator Simon Johnson has created a lesson plan for teachers based on his Picademy team project, the Sorting Hat!  In this lesson, students create a Raspberry Pi-powered Harry Potter-style Sorting Hat, using the button on a Pibrella add-on board.

Carrie Anne’s Snowflakes

Draw snowflakes with code using Python Turtle. Great fun, and a fab way to start learning how to code with Python. In this activity you learn how to use a sequence of instructions to make shapes, how to use loops to repeat instructions, and how to store information in variables.

See our Hour of Code page for more fun activities to try out.

* No elves where harmed whilst creating Hour of Code resources or soldering.

Non-formal learning for Syrian refugees

Hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrian children in Lebanon still have no schools. UNICEF innovator James Cranwell-Ward became interested in low-cost technology that could help deliver education for these vulnerable children; he developed an all-in-one Raspberry Pi-based computer system that can be used for programming and electronics as well as learning across a broader curriculum, and in October, refugees aged 10 to 16 attended their first Raspberry Pi class. One student is 11-year-old Zeinab Al Jusuf:

You might recognise those screens; they’re a specially developed UNICEF version of Alex Eames’ HDMIPi screen, and Alex wrote about them for us back in May when this project was in the planning stages. The Pis are mounted behind the screens, and provide access to materials including an Arabic-language KA Lite, an offline version of the education package Khan Academy.

Alongside their studies in areas like science and numeracy, the children are learning to code their own games. Zeinab says, “Over there, we can log in and play games. But here we can create our own games and play with them ourselves or let others play with them.”

It’s hoped this pilot will be extended to provide opportunities for children across Lebanon and beyond, and you can find out more from UNICEF, or from James’s photo log.

Raspberry Pi Glove

If you’re a keen follower of what we and the teachers we train get up to at Picademy, you might remember this little gem. (Not a lettuce. A video.)

That Michael Jackson Tribute Glove (MJTG) was the work of Dan Aldred’s team (that’s Dan taking charge in the above video). When Picademy wrapped up, Dan said he’d go home and carry on developing the glove into something that was actually useful.

Meet Project New York: the Social Media Pi Glove.

Dan had a think about occasions when using a phone, tablet or computer just aren’t practical or safe – like when you’re driving the car. (I think he should also develop a version for when you’re in the bath.) And if you’re supremely lazy, perhaps getting your phone out of a pocket is a bit of a pest. Enter the glove.

The Pi Glove can take pictures and tweet them. It can operate as a single-touch MP3 player. It speaks in a terrifying robot voice. (“CAMERA READY! SM-ILE!”) It scrapes timetable websites to tell you when your train is scheduled, what platform it’ll arrive on, and whether it’s late. It is altogether rather wonderful, and I’m sure you can think of a million other features Dan could add.

Dan has made a build diary available, and knowing him, it’ll be surprising if he doesn’t continue to develop the Pi Glove. We’ll be keeping an eye on what he does next – thanks Dan!

iData Truck: an Internet of Things lorry

Andy Proctor drives a container delivery truck. He’s embedded a Raspberry Pi in the dashboard and turned the truck into an IoT device – saving time on updating his office on his movements, and learning Python and some electronics at the same time.

Andy says on his blog:

When we have the container loaded at the customer’s address we have to phone in and when it’s been unloaded do the same.  We also let the office know when we have our shipping container lowered on the trailer or lifted off at the port.  This normally means going through the switchboard to an operator and passing him simple information 4-5 times a day (with 50 trucks).  They then update the software and then book the container with the next location, so I’ve automated it and learned how to use Python Programming.

Andy explains how everything works in this video.

We asked him on Twitter whether code and schematics are available: he said not yet, but he is planning on building a new website soon to host them.

Andy, if you’re ever in Cambridge with your truck, please let us know. We’d love to have a closer look! In the meantime, we’re going to be watching Andy’s truck’s progress via its Twitter feed, which publicly tweets every event that it logs.

Art Showcase: A Knight’s Peril

Rachel here! This week we came across a fantastic application of Raspberry Pi to make a National Trust medieval castle come alive undead. I’ll hand you over to the National Trust and Splash and Ripple, the creative agency behind the work, who explain more about what they’re doing.

Medieval castle haunted using technology with a twist

With its world-first adventure experience “A Knight’s Peril’, Bodiam Castle in East Sussex is quietly revolutionising what people expect from a day out at a National Trust property.

When a company that describes itself as ‘Architects of Extraordinary Adventures’ claims to have revolutionised history interpretation through haunting a 14th century castle, you would expect some kind of technical wizardry to be centre stage. It would be easy to assume they’ve come up with another smartphone app or gamified tablet experience.

Intriguingly however, they have chosen an opposite track. Splash & Ripple have taken Arthur C Clarke’s declaration that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” as a guiding principal in creating their latest adventure.

The result is digital heritage interpretation turned on its head. They’ve taken the magical abilities of pioneering technology and housed them in the theatrical disguise of a beautifully crafted ‘Echo Horn’.

The extra ‘magic’ of an Echo Horn actually creates a more convincing experience, in a medieval castle, than a distracting tablet app or audio guide ever could. It intuitively fits the feel of the beautiful 14th century Bodiam castle as you cross its moat and gaze at its stony ramparts, listening to the echoes you’ve caught with it. The beautiful sounds create a deeply evocative group experience, which enhances rather than distracts from the experience of being in the castle.

Visitors carry the Echo Horn with them around the castle in an interactive audio investigation. They must use it to listen in on medieval conversations trapped in the castle walls in order to identify and stop a murderer before it’s too late.

It’s effectively a choose-your-own adventure radio play where visitors’ actions, defined by who they follow and who they accuse, affect the ending of their story. This encourages an active exploration of the historical content, which requires visitors to think about what life was like, rather than passively accept an authoritative interpretation.

New historical research on the castle, which informed the creation of the script, was done in partnership with University of West of England History department.

The experience is being specially showcased at Bodiam castle by the creative team on 4th Dec. It has been a year in the making, and is now available to the castle’s 180,000 yearly visitors for at least the next 12 months.

Players use an ancient map to navigate the castle, searching for seals that have emerged from the castle walls. These seals contain hidden RFID chips. Each echo horn contains a Raspberry Pi, a Mini Rig and RFID reader.

Rachel again: thanks guys! We love it – I’m looking at organising an office awayday so we can play with the horns ourselves.

 

 

Training at Barnardo’s Hub Construction Skills Centre

A few weeks ago Dave and I ran a workshop at the Hub Construction Skills Centre in Stepney Green. It was great: the young people were engaged, learned some basic computing skills and saw why it’s important to know how computers work. And that might normally have been a tweet or two from us but this workshop was a bit special…

Firstly, the project was one of the first recipients of a grant from our education fund and is a partnership with Barnardo’s and UK2. The project will provide space, equipment and expertise for young people to learn and develop skills in computing and IT. It ticked all the boxes for us in terms of outreach and learning and introducing young people to the world of computing and tech.

Secondly, the Hub provides training to young people for whom school is not necessarily an option. It runs after-school sessions aimed at improving attendance and encourages involvement in education and community life. It also supports those at risk of social exclusion and young mothers completing their education. This is important stuff.

There’s a revolution going on in English classrooms at the moment due to the new curriculum as well as a continuing campaign in the UK to teach computing and at the Raspberry Pi foundation we’re proud to be a key part of that change. But education doesn’t just happen in schools and the school system doesn’t suit everybody. Places like the Hub have a huge part to play in vocational education and training, as well as informal education, by providing a supportive environment with access to equipment and expertise.

We’re currently working with the Hub on a few projects and also on how we can provide support and training. We’ll blog about it here as the project progresses — we think that it has huge potential and could also serve as a useful model for similar organisations.

As for how the workshop went — UK2 blogged about it and saved me a job. Thanks!

PiPiano: a musical, educational add-on board

Last week we received a surprise parcel from Mike Horne, containing a new add-on board for us to look at. Mike introduced it to us:

It’s called the PiPiano and was designed and developed by 14-year-old Zachary Igielman, who is a regular at CamJam and our line-following-robot guru! He’s currently running an Indiegogo campaign for the board which he’s fitting in around his school work.

I think it’s amazing that a 14-year-old has developed something so complex and it just goes to show what kind of brilliant things the Pi has inspired!

We wholeheartedly agree! The PiPiano uses an I2C port expander to give you thirteen buttons laid out like an octave of a piano keyboard, along with three LEDs and a piezo speaker; and as you’ll see if you watch the video, if the piezo speaker isn’t enough for you, there’s more than one way to use the PiPiano to create other sounds through speakers or headphones. Of course, all the buttons, LEDs and buzzer can be used as input or output for your other projects, and thanks to the I2C expander, the board uses only three of the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins – there’s an option to receive one with a stacking header so that you still have access to the rest of the pins if you have other plans for those.

Back to Mike:

If you’d like to give it a go, the first thing you should do is drink a can of soft drink! The buzzer is a little bit weedy and works so much better if you tape it to an empty can! Zach’s written lots of example code to go along with the board in both Python and C and he managed to persuade me to write the documentation and Phil (@Gadgetoid) Howard to do the video for the crowdfunding campaign.

To get started, go to https://github.com/ZacharyIgielman/PiPiano or http://www.pipiano.com to download the code and find out how it all works.

You’ll have noticed by now that Zach doesn’t do things by half, and we see from his campaign updates that, since launching, he’s been expanding the PiPiano website and teaching a nine-year-old how to use the board, with great success! We’ve spotted that he’ll be playing and demo-ing PiPiano at the Covent Garden Raspberry Jam this Saturday, too.

This version of the board is only available via the PiPiano Indiegogo campaign. If you’d like your own, act now!

Join us at the Bett Show 2015

In my former life as a Computing and ICT teacher and even before that as an ICT Technician, I always looked forward to the Bett Show in London. The Bett Show is the world’s leading learning technology event. Imagine a trade show meets teachers conference and you might have some idea of what it is like. Every year the event is opened by the Education Secretary here in England, followed by keynotes from some of the world’s leading educationalists. The next event’s line-up includes Sir Ken Robinson and Jimmy Wales! Not bad for a free event.

As a technician I attended to see what cool new tech was available for teachers, and to see if we could replace any of our current systems with something more efficient and cost effective. As a teacher I attended for much the same reasons, to get my hands on all the cool tech, but also to attend the free talks and workshops in the many areas over the course of four days.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation Education Team at Bett 2014

Last year the Raspberry Pi education team were hosted by the OCR stand and you can read about what we got up to here.

The next Bett Show takes place this coming January from Wednesday 21st January to Saturday 24th January 2015 at Excel London and we at Raspberry Pi plan to have a presence like never before. We want everyone who attends to be able to experience what it is like to teach, learn and make with Raspberry Pi. To do this we need your help.

We need you! We are looking for members of our wonderful community to help us run workshops, give talks or demos and be a part of sharing what we do with teachers and technicians. Teachers, Raspberry Pi certified educators, digital leaders, technicians, academics, parents, code club mentors, workshop leaders, Raspberry Jam event organisers, or Pi enthusiasts.

Over the course of the four days, we have 20 minute and 50 minute slots to fill on our stand that includes a Raspberry Pi classroom. You can give a talk about how you engage young people with Raspberry Pi or how to setup a Raspberry Jam. You could run a Minecraft Pi or Pibrella workshop. You could bring your code club or group of digital leaders to present what they have done with Raspberry Pi.

To submit your session or sessions for our Bett Show stand for 2015, please complete this form.

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