Raspberry Pi

Gameboy Halloween costume

The good people at Adafruit pointed us at this video. Besides the fact that the costume is driven by a Raspberry Pi, we don’t know much about the build (or the guy who made it – he goes by MikeHandidate on YouTube, but we suspect that’s not actually his name) – good though, isn’t it?

More Halloween goodies to come tomorrow. Are you using a Pi in your costume or house decorations this year?

Pi Talks at PyConUK

You may remember our Education team attended PyConUK in Coventry last month. We ran the Education Track, which involved giving workshops to teachers and running a Raspberry Jam day for kids at the weekend. We also gave talks on the main developer track of the conference.

Carrie Anne gave a fantastic keynote entitled Miss Adventures in Raspberry Pi wherein she spoke of her journey through teaching the new computing curriculum with Raspberry Pi, attending PyConUK the last two years, being hired by the Foundation, and everything she’s done in her role as Education Pioneer.

See the keynote slides here

I also gave my talk PyPi (not that one) – Python on the Raspberry Pi showing interesting Pi projects that use Python and demonstrating what you can do with a Pi that you can’t on other computers.

See the talk slides here

Alex gave his talk Teaching children to program Python with the Pyland game - a project Alex led over the summer with a group of interns at the Computer Lab.

See the talk slides here

The conference ended with a sprint day where Alex led a team building and testing Pyland and adding challenges, and I worked with a group of developers porting Minecraft Pi to Python 3.

If you missed it last week, we posted Annabel’s Goblin Detector, a Father-daughter project the 8 year old demonstrated at PyConUK while enjoying the Raspberry Jam day.

Real-time depth perception with the Compute Module

Liz: We’ve got a number of good friends at Argon Design, a tech consultancy in Cambridge. (James Adams, our Director of Hardware, used to work there; as did my friend from the time of Noah, @eyebrowsofpower; the disgustingly clever Peter de Rivaz, who wrote Penguins Puzzle, is an Argon employee; and Steve Barlow, who heads Argon up, used to run AlphaMosaic, which became Broadcom’s Cambridge arm, and employed several of the people who work at Pi Towers back in the day.)

We gave the Argon team a Compute Module to play with this summer, and they set David Barker, one of their interns, to work with it. Here’s what he came up with: thanks David, and thanks Argon!

This summer I spent 11 weeks interning at a local tech company called Argon Design, working with the new Raspberry Pi Compute Module. “Local” in this case means Cambridge, UK, where I am currently studying for a mathematics degree. I found the experience extremely valuable and a lot of fun, and I have learnt a great deal about the hardware side of the Raspberry Pi. And here I would like to share a bit of what I did.

My assignment was to develop an example of real-time video processing on the Raspberry Pi. Argon know a lot about the Pi and its capabilities and are experts in real-time video processing, and we wanted to create something which would demonstrate both. The problem we settled on was depth perception using the two cameras on the Compute Module. The CTO, Steve Barlow, who has a good knowledge of stereo depth algorithms gave me a Python implementation of a suitable one.

The algorithm we used is a variant of one which is widely used in video compression. The basic idea is to divide each frame into small blocks and to find the best match with blocks from other frames – this tells us how far the block has moved between the two images. The video version is designed to detect motion, so it tries to match against the previous few frames. Meanwhile, the depth perception version tries to match the left and right camera images against each other, allowing it to measure the parallax between the two images.

The other main difference from video compression is that we used a different measure of correlation between blocks. The one we used is designed to work well in the presence of sharp edges and when the exposure differs between the cameras. This means that it is considerably more accurate, at the cost of being more expensive to calculate.

When I arrived, my first task was to translate this algorithm from Python to C, to see what sort of speeds we could reasonably expect. While doing this, I made several algorithmic improvements. This turned out to be extremely successful – the final C version was over 1000 times as fast as the original Python version, on the same hardware! However, even with this much improvement, it was still taking around a second to process a moderate-sized image on the Pi’s ARM core. Clearly another approach was needed.

There are two other processors on the Pi: a dual-core video processing unit called the VPU and a 12-core GPU, both of which are part of the VideoCore block. They both run at a relatively slow 250MHz, but are designed in such a way that they are actually much faster than the ARM core for video and imaging tasks. The team at Argon has done a lot of VideoCore programming and is familiar with how to get the best out of these processors. So I set about rewriting the program, from C into VPU assembler. This sped up the processing on the Pi to around 90 milliseconds. Dropping the size of the image slightly, we eventually managed to get the whole process – get image from cameras, process on VPU, display on screen – to run at 12fps. Not bad for 11 weeks’ work!

I also coded up a demonstration app, which can do green-screen-free background removal, as well as producing false-colour depth maps. There are screenshots below; the results are not exactly perfect, but we are aware of several ways in which this could be improved. This was simply a matter of not having enough time – implementing the algorithm to the standard of a commercial product, rather than a proof-of-concept, would have taken quite a bit longer than the time I had for my internship.

To demonstrate our results, we ran the algorithm on a standard image pair produced by the University of Tsukuba. Below are the test images, the exact depth map, and our calculated one.

We also set up a simple scene in our office to test the results on some slightly more “real-world” data:

However, programming wasn’t the only task I had. I also got to design and build a camera mount, which was quite a culture shock compared to the software work I’m used to.

Liz: I know that stereo vision is something a lot of compute module customers have been interested in exploring. David has made a more technical write-up of this case study available on Argon’s website for those of you who want to look at this problem in more…depth. (Sorry.)


Making a Unicorn HAT

Our good friends at Pimoroni have made a very sparkly HAT. We thought you’d like to see where unicorns come from.

The Unicorn HAT is available at Pimoroni for £24 – get them while they’re warm (but not hot)! Clive’s busy writing a graphics resource for learners featuring this particular HAT – watch this space for more details.

Scooter with blinkenlights

Alex Markley, a programmer, writer and comedian, has a young relative who, thanks to a Model A Raspberry Pi, some Adafruit Neopixels, some sensors and a scooter is currently the world’s happiest nine-year-old.

I asked Alex if he’s written the project up – he says he’s working on it. We’ll add a link to any build instructions he produces as soon as they’re available.

Robot volcanology

Earlier this week, we talked about Raspberry Pi robots under the sofa. Today, we’ve got a Raspberry Pi robot under a volcano to show you.

Dr Carolyn Parcheta studied volcanology in Hawaii, and now works as a NASA postdoctoral fellow in Pasadena. Her particular area of study is the geometry of volcanic fissure vents: something that’s very hard to map, because they’re inaccessibly narrow, coated with sharp glass from eruptions, and are often destroyed when magma flows through them.

Learning about that geometry is crucial in building an understanding of how eruptions work: how magma flows, and how gas escapes. So with the help of a Raspberry Pi, Dr Parcheta has built a wall-climbing robot to go where humans can’t, and is using it to model cracks and vents in much more detail than has been possible before.

She made this video about the project for a National Geographic award last month, where she placed in the finals.

Dr Parcheta’s eventual goal is to 3d-map all of the fissures in Kilauea, an active volcano on Hawaii. There are 54 in all, and she completed maps of two in May this year. We’ll be keeping an eye on her progress – and on the progress of that brave little robot!

Eben at Techcrunch Disrupt

Eben was speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt in London yesterday, where he had a display board and HAT to show off, and some other bits of news. You’ll get to see a PiTop (a laptop kit that’s currently going great guns on Indiegogo), be tantalised with some details about the A+, and learn about what we think is important if you’re growing a hardware business: enjoy!


ToyCollect. A robot under the sofa.

On Saturday December 6 (we’re letting you know ahead of time so you’ve got absolutely no excuse for not finishing your build in time), there’s going to be a special event at the Cambridge Raspberry Jam, held at the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy. Pi Wars is a robot competition: unlike the televised Robot Wars you’ve seen in the past, though, nobody’s robot is going to be destroyed. There are a number of challenges to compete in (none of which involve circular saws, which will please some of you and sadden others), some additional prizes for things like innovation and feature-richness – along with the Jim Darby Prize for Excessive Blinkiness, and more. We’re absurdly excited about it. You can listen to Mike Horne, the organiser of the Cam Jam (and writer of The Raspberry Pi Pod blog, and occasional helper-outer at Pi Towers) explain more about what’ll happen on the day, on this episode of the Raspi Today podcast.

Mike’s expecting people to come from all over the country (it’s amazing how far people travel to come to the Cam Jam – I bumped into friends from Sheffield and from Devon at the last one). It should be a blast. We hope to see you there.

I was thinking about Pi Wars this morning, when an email arrived from Austria, complete with some robot video. Dr Alexander Seewald used a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino to build a tiny little robot, small enough to fit under the sofa, to rummage around and rescue his two-year-old daughter’s lost toys. (I do not have a two-year-old daughter, but I do have cats, who take great delight in hiding things under the sofa. Once, horrifyingly, we found a mummified burger down there. It had been some months since we’d eaten burgers. I could use one of these robots.)

The robot has a Pi camera on the front, with a nice bright LED, so the operator (using a tablet) can see where the bits of LEGO are. The voiceover’s in German, but even if you don’t speak the language you should be able to get a clear idea of what’s going on here.

Dr Seewald has made complete instructions available, so you can make your own ToyCollect robot: there’s everything you need from a parts list to code on his website (in English). It’s a nice, complete project to get you started on building a robot that has some use around the house – let us know if you attempt your own. And see you at Pi Wars!

Seeking the next Alan Turing – the Bebras Computational Thinking Challenge

Last week saw the London Film Festival open with the premier of The Imitation Game, a film which chronicles the awe-inspiring work of Alan Turing cracking the German naval Enigma machine at Bletchley Park, Britain’s code breaking centre during WWII.

Alan Turing was a man of startling intellect and one of the founding fathers of computer science. After his work at Bletchley, Alan Turing went on to make significant contributions to the development of ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) at National Physical Laboratory (NPL), and later on the Manchester Mark 1 at Manchester University. Turing was a mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, computer scientist, mathematical biologist, and also a marathon and ultra-distance runner (all qualities to which I can only aspire and fail to measure up on every count). Of course, the tragedy of his life is how he was persecuted and prosecuted for his sexuality, which ultimately led to him taking his own life. This injustice was eventually recognised by the British Government in 2012, leading to a posthumous pardon by HM Queen Elizabeth in 2013. To this day Alan Turing remains one of the most notable figures in the development of computing in the UK.

As an undergraduate at King’s College Cambridge, Alan Turing studied mathematics. It was during this time he did his seminal work on computation. Turing devised a methodology of describing hypothetical abstract machines, and demonstrated such machines are capable of performing any mathematical computation if it could be represented as an algorithmTuring machines are a central object of study in the theory of computation. Building on this earlier work in 1949 Turing proposed an experiment, the Turing test. In this test Turing attempted to understand and define the basis of machine “intelligence”. Turing’s assertion was that a computational device could be said to be “intelligent” if a human interrogator could not distinguish between the responses from the machine and that of another human being, through conversation alone. To this day the Turing test continues to spark debate around the meaning of artificial intelligence, so in homage of his work we’ve created an educational resource – a whole scheme of work for KS2 and KS3 – for teachers to explore the Turing experiment.

At Bletchley, Turing had a bit of a reputation. He was nicknamed “The Prof” in recognition of his curious mannerism, his intellect and his understanding of computation. Here at Pi Towers, we are keen on all things computing, and we are always looking for ways to grow the next generation of Turings, so in conjunction with ARM Holdings and Oxford University we are proud to support and sponsor the UK Bebras Computational Thinking Challenge.

The Bebras Computational Thinking Challenge is open to all schools in the UK, for pupils from Year 2 to Year 13, and runs during the week beginning November 10. The challenge is free to enter, takes about 40 minutes and is completed online. If you are not sure what to expect, you can have a go at questions from previous year’s competitions here, but if you are interested in taking part in this year’s competition your school must register by October 31. Not in the UK ? Don’t worry, this is only the UK chapter of an international competition, so you can find out your national organising body at the Bebras site under countries.

RACHEL-Pi – delivering education worldwide

Liz: If you’re a regular reader, you’ll have noticed more and more frequent mentions over the last year of a piece of kit called RACHEL-Pi. RACHEL is an offline server, run on a Raspberry Pi, full of educational content from teaching curriculums, Khan Academy materials, Wikipedia, classic literature, reference material and textbooks; alongside vital community materials like medical and first aid textbooks.

We’re very proud to be able to support World Possible’s RACHEL-Pi project through our education fund. It’s being used all over the world in remote places where the internet is unavailable – and this year it’s gone from strength to strength. Here’s Jeremy Schwartz, the Executive Director of World Possible, to show you what they’ve been doing with the project in the last year.

What an incredible 12 months it has been. World Possible has seen RACHEL-Pi (our Raspberry Pi-based educational server) deployed in scores of countries – often in the most remote of locations – delivering a world of educational content to tens of thousands of students previously far removed from the great online learning tools those of us reading this blog take for granted almost every day.

How’d we get here?

It’s worth taking a few seconds to get some history on World Possible’s RACHEL server. In 2009, World Possible (an all-volunteer team, mostly from Cisco) curated a package of creative commons resources (Wikipedia, Khan Academy, CK12 textbooks, and much more) for offline distribution. Coupling the content with open-source web server software, we could create “Remote Area Community Hotspots for Education and Learning,” (“R.A.C.H.E.L.”) – a locally cached web server accessed through any connected web browser (with no need for internet connectivity).

RACHEL is accessed via a web browser

Probably more naïve than anything, an attempted round of pilot projects of RACHEL (which at the time was a power-hungry NAS device) in 2009, in Sierra Leone, failed in pretty dramatic fashion.

The failure took a real toll on World Possible and forced us to rethink RACHEL distribution, ultimately building a distribution network of partnerships with on-the-ground teams that could do the hard part for us, and many of which still lead the RACHEL distribution charge today:

UConnect in Uganda and East Africa more broadly – read more

Powering Potential in Tanzania – watch RACHEL being taught; read more

EVCOAfrica in West Africa – watch Seth introduce RACHEL

Despite the early successes of those groups, we still didn’t have the final piece of the puzzle that has exploded RACHEL deployment today (development of open-source educational resources + uniform standards of web browsers + proliferation of low cost computing hardware and storage). In comes the Raspberry Pi, giving us the ability to create a plug-and-play webserver and hotspot at a price point that we can distribute to masses of people without any required computer literacy background.

Is it working? – “Content is king; distribution is King Kong”

Almost exactly a year ago, a partnership with the Gates-Backed Riecken Libraries in Guatemala and Honduras, as well as a funding leap of faith by a few loved donors and the Rotary Club of Portola/Woodside Valley (CA), allowed us to launch a new phase of World Possible and RACHEL-Pi focused on creating, curating, and distributing relevant content from and within disconnected communities. A good old fashioned sneaker-net, delivering locally relevant (and often locally created) digital educational content to disconnected schools, libraries, orphanages and community centers.

The World Possible team in Guatemala is now led by Israel Quic, a native Mayan, initially attracted to RACHEL-Pi as a means of preserving and teaching his Mayan heritage and language to local communities.

Israel Quic presents RACHEL at Campus Tec, the technology department of University de la Valle

Israel quickly saw an opportunity to collect more locally relevant agricultural and political resources than we currently distribute as part of our Spanish-language RACHEL-Pi. In April, the fruits of his labor truly began to sprout, when word came from one agricultural community, an early RACHEL-Pi recipient, which built a drip irrigation system out of old plastic bottles after discovering how to do it from a single teacher’s smartphone while researching our Guatemalan content on their RACHEL-Pi.

A drip irrigation system made from old plastic bottles, using how-to content from RACHEL-Pi

The successes only caused us to redouble our efforts. Aided by our local Facebook page, World Possible Guatemala solicits offers of help and requests for RACHEL from across the country.

Current RACHEL-Pi installations in Guatemala

Installations of RACHEL-Pi in community centers and libraries are often made available 24/7, enabling anyone with a smart phone to come learn, research, and explore.

San Lucas Toliman RACHEL-Pi wifi access point

Facebook post of Biblioteca Comunitaria Rija’tzuul Na’ooj

San Juan del Obispo in Sacatapequéz is an agricultural community where middle school kids are using RACHEL to learn not only how to grow and irrigate, but also how to cultivate mushrooms and make fresh peach jam. Along the way they get business skills as well.

The mission in Guatemala is still just beginning, but the lessons learned and successes are providing a key roadmap for World Possible. Make available valuable educational resources, supplement them with locally relevant vocational and cultural content, get buy-in from local community volunteers, and distribute… distribute… distribute. The results are truly inspirational.

What’s next? – “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Globally, the RACHEL effort is still driven by the hundreds of groups that download RACHEL and distribute independently in their own communities. Everything we do is free to download through our website, FTP site, BitTorrent sync, or even shared Dropbox. The Raspberry Pi has also made it so anyone can do this on their own, a powerful democratization of access to a world-class education.

World Possible will continue to support these groups through our own volunteer network, through independent advice, and by creating the best package of content available. Even more today, a biweekly newsletter is connecting thousands of RACHEL advocates in nearly 40 countries who have been through the process and can provide best practices to new users locally.

What excites us most is our ability to replicate the successes that have been achieved in Guatemala. In Micronesia, Professor Hosman and her students curated a RACHEL for the state of Chuuk. She’s now working with Inveneo to deploy RACHEL to the entire region’s network of schools.

Grace, a teacher at Akoyikoyi School in Chuuk, receives a RACHEL-Pi

In Kenya and East Africa, thanks to a generous grant from this very Raspberry Pi Foundation, we’ve just completed a hire (Bonface Masaviru) to follow the roadmap that Israel Quic laid out in Guatemala. Bonface is spreading RACHEL throughout Kenyan schools…

… and working with local volunteers such as Zack Matere to help us curate RACHEL Shamba (an offline package of farming resources):

Where we can, we’ll look to our long-time distribution partners to help create full labs to access RACHEL-Pi. Here in Uganda, Romeo Rodriguez gives his “children” their first ever look at technology in a new library thanks to a full “digital library-in-a-box” from World Possible.

We’ll continue to find ways to hire additional country managers, local to their communities, who have proven their dedication to RACHEL, to involve indigenous people in creating and distributing the content they currently lack.

If you’d like to be part of the mission, we’d love to have you. A great group of development volunteers can be reached at rachelproject@googlegroups.com. If you have networking expertise, we can pair you with a group that might need your help deploying RACHEL – info@worldpossible.org.

If you want to join the Raspberry Pi Foundation in supporting our efforts financially, we’d love it – donate here.

If you want us to come talk to your group, or help deploy RACHEL, we’d love that also – please don’t hesitate to get involved! Thank you to all of the individuals and groups who already have; there is so much more we can do together.

Compute Module IO Board Hardware Design Files Now Available!

Back in April we announced the Compute Module, and since then we’ve had a lot of interest from manufacturers who are looking to design the module into real products. We’ve already had orders for significant numbers of modules.

It has taken a little while to spin up the wheels of mass production, but they are now well and truly turning, and behind the scenes our initial customers who have already made orders are now getting their modules. Now that production is in full swing, Compute Modules will soon be available to the masses from the usual partners, for $30 in volumes of 100 or more, or individually if you pay a premium. Premier Farnell have the ability to back-order here and RS Components here.

When we announced the Compute Module we released all the schematics for the module itself and also the schematics for our ‘get you started’ Compute Module development board, the Compute Module IO Board. We had always promised to also release the full CAD for the IO board, and today we are doing just that!

Compute Module IO Board as viewed in the CAD tool

The design files are the Cadence OrCAD schematic file, Cadence Allegro PCB file and the full board Gerbers, bill of materials (BOM) and PDF version of the schematic. People should be able to take the design and easily modify it, or just take the Gerber files and create copies of the board if that’s what they want to do.

As a bonus we are also releasing the full CAD for the Camera and Display adaptors as well.

These design files can be found here and are released under a modified BSD licence (the licence is included in the zip with the design files).

Note that the only difference from the official Raspberry Pi Compute Module IO Board is that this publicly released one does not (and cannot, without permission from Raspberry Pi) have the Raspberry Pi logo on it. We have also removed the CE and FCC compliance logos, as again this is something board manufacturers are responsible for: you must perform your own certification for any clones or derivatives of this board.

Spreading the Jam

Today we’re launching a new section of our website for information about Raspberry Jams – events and meetups for Raspberry Pi users. We want to promote community events and make it easier for people to set up their own; and to spread the great sense of community that we see around the Pi even further.

Jams come in a variety of flavours: some have talks, demos and workshops; some just provide space for people to work on projects together. Some are small, just a few people sitting around a table; some are held in universities with hundreds in attendance.

The new Jam section has a map and calendar of all upcoming events, and you can submit your own to be added. It contains a page of information on how to set up and run your own Jam, and gives examples of featured Jams for inspiration.

Thanks to Mike Horne for his help on putting this together!

Goblin detector and Jam review – a guest post from 8-year-old Annabel

Liz: Annabel Oakley is eight years old. That makes her our youngest ever guest blogger! Here’s her account of a day out at a the PyCon UK Raspberry Jam in September at Coventry University, and the goblin-scaring project she made with her Raspberry Pi. Thanks very much, Annabel – and thanks also to Dad, who helped out with the Goblin Detector and drove the car!

Annabel wanted a project to show at the  computer conference. She decided to make a Goblin Detector which would sound a buzzer and flash a light, when her brother or sister went in her bedroom.

Annabel used a Raspberry Pi computer and a motion sensor.

Her dad showed her what to do, and Annabel wired it up and wrote the program to control it.

The program was written in a computer language called Python. The Goblin Detector has a motion sensor in a margarine tub. It connects to the Raspberry Pi using three wires.

The Raspberry Pi has an add-on called Pibrella which gives it three lights, a buzzer and a button. It waits 5 seconds to let you get out of
the room, then it waits for movement. When it sees movement, it sounds a buzzer. You can press the button to stop the buzzer, and it will wait for movement again.

The motion sensor is very cheap, only £3, and can be found in light switches which turn off automatically. It has three wires:

• Positive
• Signal
• Negative

The program waits for a high current on the Signal wire, which means it has seen some movement. You can find out how to make and
program one yourself on Annabel’s dad’s website.

Then Annabel and her dad set off for the computer conference. The ticket was only £5 for children!

When Annabel got there, she got given a goody bag which included a brand new Raspberry Pi, a book and other goodies!

Annabel wrote a program to put the words “Hello World” on the screen in Minecraft.

Some teachers were also at the conference. The teachers were learning how children used computers.

There were also some computer programmers helping the children and
teachers. The grown-ups were not allowed to touch the keyboards. The children had to do everything themselves! There were lots of grown-up computer programmers around to help out, and some of the children were already experts.

Lots of people were interested in Annabel’s Goblin Detector.

We let the children take it apart and program it for themselves. It was easy to put it back together.

Most of the children at the computer conference were girls. There was a whole pack of Brownies!

Annabel also saw some robots which  could be programmed to dance.

Annabel made a friend called Sam and they wrote a program to take lots of photos, and then turn those photos into an animated video.

There were some famous programmers helping out, such as Carrie Ann Philbin and Ben Nuttall, who work for the Raspberry Pi charity.

Sam and Annabel had to show off their animation to everyone else.

You can watch their 8-second animation here.

Make a Tweeting Babbage

At Picademy, our awesome free training course for teachers, I run a workshop to introduce teachers to using the camera module with Python, and show them how to wire up a GPIO button they can use to trigger the camera. I always make a point of saying “now you know this, what can you make it do?” and suggest some uses for the setup – stop-motion animation, motion sensing or sending pictures to Twitter.

On the second day of Picademy, we give teachers the chance to work in teams on a project of their choice, and there’s always at least one group that extends upon the camera workshop. At Picademy #3 in July, one group decided to take a Babbage Bear apart, shove a Pi inside and have it take pictures and tweet them – it was great fun to help them build the project and we got some funny pictures out of it…

Because I’m happy! pic.twitter.com/mP3ZmhqA1M

— Babbage Bear (@BabbageBear) July 15, 2014

“Where’s that camera connector going?” says Babbage #babbagecolonoscopy #picademy pic.twitter.com/z9bJM4jhdr

— Ben Nuttall (@ben_nuttall) July 15, 2014

Then at Picademy #4 last month, another group took the idea further and made Abuse Bear – a Babbage that tweeted a picture when punched! Perhaps this one’s not quite such a good idea for the classroom. Again, some brilliant pictures…

Call Bear Line! pic.twitter.com/GlSalb52Qc

— Boxing Babbage (@GpsBear) September 30, 2014

Don’t Touch me! pic.twitter.com/QbE70w3VBA

— Boxing Babbage (@GpsBear) September 30, 2014

The idea has been so popular at Picademy that I decided to write the Tweeting Babbage project up as an educational resource! There’s a full set of instructions for building up the code to send simple text tweets from Python, taking pictures with the camera, wiring up the GPIO button, uploading pictures to Twitter, putting it all together and performing surgery on the bear to insert the hardware.

Making the incision

Removing the eye

Inserting the camera

Intel Raspberry Pi Inside

I was at PyCon Ireland in Dublin this weekend, where I gave a talk about Raspberry Pi in education. I brought the modified Babbage along (yes, I got it through airport security) and showed the pictures above during my talk. There was a very audible aww of sentimental attachment to the cute bear I just introduced them to.

Tweeting Babbage: the finished product

Go check out the resource and make your own Tweeting Babbage!

Subscribe to the Raspberry Pi in Education Newsletter

As an educational charity, education is at the heart of what we do here at Raspberry Pi. This year has seen the education team grow in number, resulting in the development of our new learning and teaching materials (a set of resources we’re adding to all the time), a free teacher training programme (Picademy), the introduction of competitions like the Poster Competition and the current Sonic Pi competition, all at the same time as running and participating in outreach events across the globe.

Spot Raspberry Pi Edu team members from Picademy cohort 4!

We often contribute posts to this blog to inform you, our wonderful community, about what we have been up to, and about future developments; and you often respond and interact with us to help us improve.

To help us inform teachers, school IT administrators, governors, head teachers, home educators and parents about what’s up in the world of Raspberry Pi in education, we have created a new email newsletter to keep educators and other interested folk up to date on all of our projects.

Our inaugural issue of the newsletter

You can sign up for our newsletter here, and enjoy a monthly email penned by one of the Raspberry Pi Education Team. It is super easy to both subscribe and unsubscribe to the newsletter, and we shall be keeping an archive of all issues on the education page of the website. We promise never to use your email address for spam, and we promise never to sell it, fold, bend, spindle or mutilate it. Go and sign up – we think you’ll find it really useful!


Moving pictures

Earlier this year, we blogged about a shampoo ad that was running in the Swedish subway. A Pi hooked up to a motion sensor triggered a video effect on a billboard, so the model’s hair blew around in what looked like a response to the wind created every time a train came into the station.

Swedish ad agency Garberg have done something similar to that original project – but this time something’s different (and all their work on this ad has been pro bono). This has become the most-viewed video in Sweden this week, and it brought us all up short. We think it’ll have the same effect on you.

Chinese Democracy

We were directed to a Facebook page from Hong Kong this week. It’s been set up by one of the people involved in the peaceful demonstrations that are being called the Umbrella Revolution, protesting about Beijing’s insistence on vetting and controlling the list of candidates for they city’s Chief Executive, effectively preventing free elections in Hong Kong.

Our very own Dave Honess is in Hong Kong this week (nothing to do with the demonstrations – he’s gone to see some Hong Kong friends for a holiday that’s been planned for a long time). He tweeted these pictures on arriving:

Up the revolution! #hongkongdemocracy pic.twitter.com/bEdDymJAWR

— David Honess (@dave_spice) October 2, 2014

These guys got into formation when a Police van tried to drive through #hongkongdemocracypic.twitter.com/hh3SDZq4ef

— David Honess (@dave_spice) October 3, 2014

Eben and I were also in Hong Kong a little while before the demonstrations started, talking to some components suppliers after our press and community tour of China and Taiwan, and visiting friends – the mood was sombre, and many of the people we spoke to were expressing grave concern about what’s next for Hong Kong. Hong Kong is much on our minds here at Raspberry Pi at the moment, and we wish all our friends in the city the very best.

So then. Why am I blogging about Hong Kong? It all comes back to that Facebook page I mentioned up at the top: it’s been set up to host time-lapse footage of the enormous pro-democracy crowds that have been gathering in Central since September 26. And that footage has been collected using a Raspberry Pi and a webcam, all set up in a biscuit tin and secured with duct tape.

Here’s one of the videos taken by the apparatus last week.

This footage is incredible – you can see more videos from the biscuit tin on Vimeo.

What more can we say? This sort of application of the Raspberry Pi, which is as simple as anything (you can learn how to make your own time-lapse camera here in our learning resources section), is an extraordinary leap from what we originally intended the Pi to be – a device to teach school kids computer science. Making technology cheap and accessible has some applications that go way beyond education.

Insert Juggling Pun Here

Martin, our financial director, dropped by for a budget meeting yesterday. “How’s it going, Liz?”

“I’m trying to think up a title for a blog post. There’s this juggler who was on America’s got Talent, who’s using programmable juggling clubs that light up and synchronise. They’re powered by a Pi. And the person who built them is a totally amazing sixteen-year-old girl who interns at NASA.”

“Don’t ask me for ideas,” said Martin. “I’m an accountant.”

Juggling with magical Pi clubs, on a long exposure setting

Let’s start with that sixteen-year-old girl. Lauren Egts is pretty exceptional. She’s a busy and incredibly articulate advocate for open source software, she’s a seasoned Pi hacker (check out the summer vacation project she worked on at NASA, which was also Pi-powered). And we are absolutely love the fact that there’s a Raspberry Pi in her LinkedIn profile photo.

Lauren got an email from the company she did work experience with last summer, saying they’d been approached by a juggler (Charles Peachock, whose juggling got him into the quarterfinals of America’s Got Talent) who, in the way of modern jugglers (we think), needed some technical support. He wanted clubs to use in his act that could have lights embedded which could be synchronised to a routine, and Lauren’s former colleagues thought she’d be able to help. Lauren, being Lauren, rose to the challenge, and the results are pretty spectacular.

You can read Lauren’s explanation of how she hacked together the juggling pin setup over at opensource.com. RasPi Today also interviewed her about the project. You can see the Pi-powered clubs in action in Charles Peachock’s demo reel: he starts using them at 3m 39s in – it’s a very short segment of the video, and the quality’s not the best, but the whole video’s worth watching. Who knew that gravity worked quite like that?

Even now, our very own Ben Nuttall is trying to work out how to make his elbows do that thing.

The MagPi issue 27: out now!

Is that the date already? The new issue of The MagPi, the free magazine written and produced by members of the Raspberry Pi community, is available today.

Editor Ash Stone says:

Welcome to Issue 27 of The MagPi magazine. This month’s issue is packed cover to cover with something for just about everyone!

Are you tired of controlling your Raspberry Pi with the same old mouse and keyboard? Have you ever wished you could have the ergonomic feel of a console controller in your hands when playing some of those retro games we have written about in past issues? If you answered yes to either of these questions, why not take a look at Mark Routledge’s fantastic article describing how to do just that.

Alec Clews talks us through the use of Git, a free version control software package that we also use here at The MagPi to ensure that all of the team work on the most up to date copy of each issue. This is a great read, especially if you work with any type of document or file as part of a team.

As you can see from our front cover, we return to the popular world of Minecraft in Dougie Lawson’s clever article on building QR code structures inside the game. We also have more physical computing from ModMyPi, and a great father and son story on building and funding a Raspberry Pi project through Kickstarter.

Of course we have not forgotten about programming. William Bell continues his popular C++ series and we also have part three of our game programming series using FUZE BASIC. Start thinking of some game ideas now because in the next issue we will have a game programming competition.

If you want even more from The MagPi this month then why not join us on the 11th October at the SWAMP Fest event (see this month’s Events page) where we will have our own stand. We look forward to seeing you there.

We hope you enjoy this month’s issue and don’t forget to like our Facebook page and leave a comment at www.facebook.com/MagPiMagazine.

Community, coffee and classrooms in Nicaragua

Liz: Today’s guest post is from David Mitchell, who emailed me last week about some work he’s been doing in Nicaragua with the Raspberry Pi, both at a community level and in a local business environment. We thought that what he’s doing is a real exemplar of how Raspberry Pi can offer whole communities a let up, both economically and in education. (I have left David’s US spellings of words like “colour” and “centre” in place, mostly to annoy Ben Nuttall.) Thank you very much, David – over to you! 

My wife Lisa and I are fortunate to divide our time between two beautiful islands. One is Bainbridge Island in the US Pacific Northwest. The other is Isla de Ometepe located in Lake Nicaragua in Central America. Over time we’ve become quite involved with Ometepe’s coffee farmers.  There’s a great community center across the road from our house, and I’ve helped out in past years with donated used workplace computers for their adult and children’s classes.

I was on Ometepe on 29/2/12 when I ordered my first two Raspberry Pi computers (Liz: here’s a reminder of what this site looked like on that day), and I’ve been looking for interesting ways to use them on the rural, agricultural island ever since. Last year I came across a small e-book library in Spanish. I talked with the center staff, and we decided to install a wireless library.

Computers live a hard life outdoors in the tropics, and in a small rural community in Nicaragua, everybody lives outdoors. Because no one can afford air conditioning, buildings have ample space between tops of walls and ceilings. Insects and spiders of all sizes get inside devices and wreak havoc, so packaging is important. I chose a plastic gallon pickle jar which provided enough space for a Pi, a USB hub, a 12VDC-5VDC converter and a PoE injector. USB storage for the library and a WiFi dongle complete the hardware list. Ethernet cable connects the server to the center’s network switch via a matching PoE injector.

The Raspbian version of the Calibre library program isn’t actively maintained, but it’s stable and the book server is relatively light-weight. Administration via X-windows is tedious but seldom needed. For security the center staff suggested putting the server under the eaves where small curious people would not be tempted to explore the pickle jar with its tiny colored flashing lights. Too dim for a night light, it’s a ghostly reminder that inside are worlds to explore. The digital library hasn’t seen a lot of use beyond the center’s own computers, as smart phones are only just beginning to appear in the community. But the books are waiting and the Pi’s tiny power requirements means the hit on the center’s budget, raised from foreign donors, remains negligible.

Look carefully – the Pi server is in the middle of the picture.

As we were installing the library server in early 2014, the director of the center and another friend and I were beginning to plan a coffee roastery. Since 1991 Ometepe’s coffee farmers have sold their coffee to a group called the Bainbridge-Ometepe Sister Islands Association. Recent improvements in farming practices have resulted in more coffee than the group can buy, and an opportunity to provide export-quality coffee to restaurants and hotels in Nicaragua’s growing tourism sector. We’ll use the profits from our business to provide a stable funding source for the center, to help relieve the fundraising pressure. My friends and I are in the midst of a campaign on Indiegogo to raise startup funds.

Tostadores de Ometepe will be an all-Pi shop. The roaster controller will run on software developed in Australia by Pi enthusiasts. The PBX that will answer our two incoming lines, one for each local carrier, will run on a Pi with a couple of GSM dongles. A Pi in a pretty PiBow case attached to the back of a low-cost HDMI TV will be the office computer, though we’ll have to be careful to seal up any open jacks lest we find wasp larvae in them. All of these will communicate through a semi-reliable Internet connection to the OwnCloud server in our Bainbridge Island house, running on a Pi of course. All this software has been created by Pi users, scratching their own itch and making the world a bit better for us all.

The Raspberry Pi has been a seismic event in the evolution of computing. The budget for IT in our startup is 1.75% of total and 8% of furniture, fixtures and equipment. Even five years ago the hardware would have cost ten times as much and occupied up 20 times as much space.

Liz again: If you’re looking at setting up something similar to David’s library project, we wholeheartedly recommend you look at the RACHEL project from World Possible, which just keeps getting better and better. RACHEL offers localised content including textbooks, world literature, medical texts, Khan Academy resources and much more to communities without internet connectivity, using a Raspberry Pi as a local server.