New Raspbian and NOOBS releases

If you head over to the downloads page, you’ll find new versions of our Raspbian image and NOOBS installer. Alongside the usual firmware and kernel improvements, major changes to the Raspbian image include:

  • Java updated to JDK 8
  • Mathematica updated to version 10
  • Sonic Pi updated to version 2
  • Minecraft Pi pre-installed

Following its release last week, of our port of Epiphany has replaced Midori as the default browser, bringing with it hardware-accelerated video support and better standards compliance.

Epiphany is now the default browser

Epiphany is now the default browser

Our Raspbian image now includes driver support for the BCM43143 802.11n WiFi chip. Last week Broadcom released a rather neat USB hub and WiFi adapter combo based on this chip, which should now work out of the box. More info is available here.

BCM43143 802.11n wireless dongle

BCM43143 802.11n USB hub and WiFi adapter

Finally, to free up SD card space, the offline NOOBS package now only contains the Raspbian archive. To install Arch, Pidora, OpenELEC, RaspBMC or RISC OS you will require a network connection.

Let’s get Physical! New physical computing animation

With the success of the first two productions from Saladhouse, our animator friends in Manchester (What is a Raspberry Pi? and Setting up your Raspberry Pi), we proceeded to make plans for a third in the series. The topic we chose to cover this time is one which demonstrates the additional power of the Pi in learning – an introduction to the realm of physical computing.

Look through the amazing projects in our blog, the MagPi or Pi Weekly and you’ll see many of them use the portability of the small form factor and low powered nature of the Pi along with the extensibility the GPIO pins give you – not to mention the wealth of community produced add-on boards available making it all much easier.

B+ gpio closeup

Those pins sticking out there. General Purpose Input/Output. Did we mention there are 40 on the B+?

Here at Pi Towers we all love physical projects – from robotics and home automation to flatulence alarms and scaring the elderly – and we believe they’re a great way to introduce young people to coding, computational thinking, product development and understanding systems.

The video refers to some resources for projects you can make yourself. We featured the hamster disco on our blog in July, and you may have heard talk of some of the others on twitter – which are all brand new, constructed and tested by our education team. They are:

 

And here they are in real life:

Physical computing Foundation style: fart detector, robobutler, hamster cam and grandpa scarer. Yes, they all work :)

Physical computing Foundation style: fart detector, robobutler, hamster cam and grandpa scarer. Yes, they all work :)

See more in our resources section.

Huge thanks to Sam and Scott from Saladhouse for their hard work on this – and also to our voice actors Arthur (son of Pi co-founder Pete Lomas) and Maia! And yes, that’s Eben narrating.

A little gift I brought Dave back from Memphis...

A little gift I brought Dave back from Memphis…

Gert’s VGA Adapter

The Raspberry Pi has an HDMI port to connect a display. If your monitor only has VGA, you have to use an adapter. Because this requires a digital-to-analogue conversion, those adapters can be quite pricey, and they can draw lots of power. So our friend Gert van Loo (who developed the Alpha board that became the Raspberry Pi, and the man behind the Gertboard and Gertduino) has created a VGA adapter that uses the Pi’s GPIO.

VGA-My_Pi_700

This wasn’t possible on the Model A or B, but now the B+ exposes 40 GPIO pins, there’s more to play with. As well as just allowing you to connect a VGA monitor natively, it also means you can use it as a secondary monitor alongside HDMI. And unlike composite video, the DPI interface can be run independent of the HDMI. The software for dual screens is still under development, but we expect that to arrive in the next couple of weeks. Running two screens at maximum resolution will consume SDRAM bandwidth, and is yet to be tested. (And there’s a catch: as the board uses most of your GPIO pins, you lose access to them.)

The VGA output supports the same resolution as your HDMI one: from 640 x 480 up to 1920 x 1024 at 60fps. At the highest resolution the pixel quality is almost as good as HDMI. The adapter uses a simple resistor ladder network as a digital-to-analogue converter, so the colour quality depends on how well-balanced your resistors are. There is slight colour banding, and with 6 bits per channel you have a maximum of 262144 colours.

Dom has been working on the software side and the new DPI (read: VGA) driver software has been added to the latest release.

IMG_0549.resized

“Where can I buy one?”, I hear you ask. Currently, nowhere. But Gert has made the VGA adapter open hardware, so you can make it yourself, or find yourself an enthusiastic partner and have it made. All the data is in the public domain on GitHub. Besides the manual and schematics, you will also find the database for the PCB and the Gerber files. The PCB design supports both through-hole and SMD parts. The design consists of:

  • 1 PCB
  • 2 connectors
  • 20 resistors

The cost is not prohibitive, but having a single PCB made is rather expensive, so you might want to collect a group of interested people and order a batch; if you’re interested in doing that, head over to the forums and see if you can organise a group buy.

See vga666 at github.com/fenlogic/vga666 (it’s 6 bits per colour channel, hence 666…)

Gert’s looking to get the PCBs produced, and hopefully the manufacturer will be able to put them on sale (we’ll update with a link) – but they’re so easy to make we anticipate they’ll be generally available before long anyway. Gert says he expects in due time that a far-east manufacturer will see fit to sell them for two dollars.

Want to see a prototype? Of course you do.

IMG_0545.resized

Click to embiggen, and marvel at Gert’s work soldering together some of those teeny resistors.

HATs in the wild. And a unicorn.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll recall that a month or so ago, we announced a new way of making add-on hardware for the Raspberry Pi: namely, the Raspberry Pi HAT (Hardware Attached on Top). You can read James, our Director of Hardware, explaining what they’re all about in the original blog post: in short, the HAT is a solder-less way of attaching hardware which can be auto-detected by the Pi, so GPIOs and headers are automagically configured by the Pi, without you having to do anything.

Gordon Pighat Hollingworth

The pink confection on top of Gordon is a hat, not a HAT.

(A tangentially related question: how do you pronounce EEPROM? Fights are breaking out at Pi Towers: a small majority of us rhyme the first syllable with “meep”, while the rest of us rhyme with “meh”. This is like the scone/scone thing all over again. Angry opinions in the comments, please.)

HATs are starting to appear in the wild. Adafruit are sending PCBs out for prototyping. HiFiBerry have HATs you can buy now: the Digi+, which enables you to connect an external digital-to-analogue converter; and the DAC+, a high-res all-in-one DAC. And the whimsical bearded pixies at Pimoroni have come up with my favourite so far (it’s my favourite because SPARKLES): the Unicorn HAT. I saw it in the flesh on Saturday at the Cambridge Raspberry Jam. It’s a thing of beauty. Here’s Paul, introducing the Unicorn HAT.

Are you making a HAT? Let us know in the comments: I’ll add links to this post if I’ve missed yours out here.

Sonic Pi v2.0 competition for schools is launched!

This week, Dr Sam Aaron released the much anticipated final version of Sonic Pi v2.0. It will be replacing Sonic Pi v1 on Raspbian very soon, and you will be able to get it via our Downloads page (we will let you know when). In the meantime, you can follow the instructions at the bottom of this post to download and install it. The latest version of Sonic Pi brings music creation and performance to the forefront with live coding capabilities, parameter modification, samples and much more!

To celebrate, we have launched the first ever Sonic Pi Competition to find some of the best space-themed music, coded with Sonic Pi v2.0 by school children in the UK. The Sonic Pi Competition is designed to encourage school students aged between 6 and 16 years old to use their creativity and coding knowledge to create a unique and original two-minute piece of music on a Raspberry Pi device.

Entries need to include an audio file of what the music sounds like, the code used to create it, a short written description, and a cover art file.

All entries will be put into a hat to win a Raspberry Pi and SD card at random. Semi-finalists will win a Sonic Pi half-day workshop with Sam Aaron and Juneau Projects for their school, and a custom Sonic Pi Pibow case. Overall winners in each category will win a Sonic Pi classroom kit containing 25 x Raspberry Pis and peripherals for their school and a Minirig speaker, as well as a Sonic Pi Competition trophy designed by artists Juneau Projects.

The final will take place at the Cambridge Junction on 4th November 2014 as part of the Sonic Pi Live & Coding Summit, with the 12 semi-finalists (four in each category) introducing and playing their music on a Raspberry Pi to the audience in front of an expert panel of judges.

You can find everything you need know, including some lesson plans to get your students started, in this new Sonic Pi Competition Resource. You’ll find the entry form here.

The deadline for entries is 13th October 2014, so get creative with your code, and become the next big thing in music!

Sonic Pi v2.0 can be downloaded right now by typing the following from the command line or LXTerminal window:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install sonic-pi

Bus stop Pac Man

Last week saw Trondheim in Norway host a Maker Faire. Rather than go with the usual stale old poster advertisement, the folks at Norwegian CreationsHK-reklame and Trondheim Makers hacked a piece of civic infrastructure with a Pi, a modded MaKey MaKey and some aluminium strips, ending up with a bus stop you can play Pac Man on.

You can read all about the build – which involved hacking the power supply to the bus stop so it provided 230V of AC for the monitor – over at Norwegian Creations.

bus stop

We love Maker Faires, and we love the way that this sort of bus stop hacking project has become – well, if not exactly mainstream, something culturally recognisable. If you want to meet the team at a Maker Faire this month, Rachel Clive and James will be with the folks from Pimoroni, demonstrating what happens when art, education and science come together in the form of a tiny computer at the gargantuan World Maker Faire in New York on Sept 20-21.

(It’s the first World Maker Faire Eben and I have ever missed, but we have a great excuse; it clashes with the vacation we’ve been planning all year for our tenth wedding anniversary.) Say hi to the giant motorised cupcakes for us!

Talking Fisher Price smartphone

Back in the mid-seventies, when I was even smaller and more adorable than I am today, my parents bought me a Fisher Price Chatter Telephone. I’m sure many of you had one too. Mine was called Bert. I loved him, chewed him, made imaginary phone calls on him, and pretended he was a pet dog. (With a rotary dial and a handset, natch.)

chatter telephone

This year, I was surprised on visiting Lorna, our Trademark Compliance Elf, and her two small children, to discover that the Chatter Telephone is still manufactured, even though no child born in the 21st century recognises things with rotary dials and giant handsets as phones. (Phones are the little black slab things that we use to Skype with distant aunties, and they definitely don’t have wheels.)

Grant Gibson got his hands on a modern Chatter Telephone for his son, who didn’t seem particularly moved by it (probably because little black slab, Skype, etc.) So he decided to hack it into something a bit more interactive, and came up with this. A Chatter Smartphone.

The rotary dial provides the inputs, sound is output through the modern Chatter Telephone’s speakers (the vintage ones didn’t have speakers, but the modern ones play clips from Toy Story), and he’s added a servo motor to control the googly eyes. This particular Chatter Smartphone has been set up to deliver weather information, cinema listings, and more; as well as offering information on demand, it can issue alerts, so Grant’s family knows when he’s left the office and is on his way home, or if the ISS is passing overhead. If you make your own, Grant has provided code so you can adapt yours to your own needs.

chatter phone hack in progress

You’ll find comprehensive build instructions, along with all the electronics help and code you’ll need, at Grant’s blog. Thanks Grant – we love it!

 

Final Call for September Picademy Applicants

Are you a teacher? Have you got back-to-school blues after yesterday’s return to the staffroom? Are your classroom displays distinctly lacking in interaction or automation? Are you bored of taking the register the old fashioned way? Well we think that we have the perfect remedy for you!

Have you packed your Raspberry Pi yet?

Have you packed your Raspberry Pi yet?

We’re offering another two days of FREE training from the Education Team in our HQ home town of Cambridge, UK. You don’t need any experience with Raspberry Pi. We will teach you, inspire you, feed you, and give you free resources. All you need to do is get here! We are confident that you will have such a good time that you’ll shake those back-to school-blues and be excited about getting hands on with technology in your classroom, like Raspberry Certified Educators Dan Aldred and Sue Gray, who created a dancing and singing glove over the two days of training:

We can help you create lots of classroom projects from scratch, like a ‘Make-an-entrance’ Doorbell for your classroom or an RIFD tag register for your desk!

Apply now for September Picademy (29th & 30th September 2014). The deadline for applications for this event is on Friday 5th September, so you’ve only got a few more days. We will email all successful candidates on Monday 8th September.

Applications for October Picademy (27th & 28th October 2014) will remain open until Friday 3rd October.

We accept applications from practicing teachers from all over the world who teach any subject area. We’ve had art teachers, history teachers, science teachers and Primary non-subject specialists as well as ICT and Computing teachers visit Picademy; the course is appropriate for any teacher, no matter what their subject.

Here is what some of our Raspberry Pi Certified Educators have to say about their experience at a Picademy:

Picademy was a hard two days of CPD but was definitely the best I have been on. It is difficult to mention the best thing about it because there were so many! Unlike most CPD I have been on we were not just talked at – we were hands on developing and creating nearly all the time. We had so many opportunities to networking and share ideas – I have not used Twitter so much and am seeing more value in it now. The time simply flew by especially when we were working on our projects during which we were writing code, debugging, bouncing ideas around, sharing, creating, swearing, laughing, tweeting, eating sweets, learning, googling, performing bear surgery and collaborating. Although the two days finished last week for Picademy#3 it hasn’t stopped – ideas are still flowing and the tweets and emails are pinging about the internet. – Matthew Parry – CAS Master Teacher

It was an epic journey. For some present, they had never plugged in a Pi before Monday, by the end they were exploring different programming concepts not for necessity but for curiosity and intrigue. For others, we now had a colossal array of activity ideas and cross-curricular links not to mention a brilliant network of fellow interested educators. What more can you ask for from 2 free days of CPD? – Sway Grantham – Primary Teacher, UK.