LEGO model smart home

I do love a good demo. The folks at PubNub have been showing users of their software how home automation with a Raspberry Pi works – on an itty-bitty scale, with LEGO.

This little house is rigged up with seven embedded LEDs (representing things like the stove and the fireplace, as well as lights); sensors to measure humidity, barometric pressure, and temperature; and a stepper motor that remotely opens and closes the door. Scale the system up, and you could apply this ability to remotely control appliances in a full-size house.

Joe Hanson at PubNub says:

The project is includes both the hardware (the house, Raspberry Pi, and accessories), and software (an interactive GUI). This blog post is the proof-of-concept and high level introduction to the project, and we’ll dig deeper and give full tutorials in the coming months.

Lego smart home

Home automation, of course, is something you can do without proprietary software (you’ll find plenty of examples on our blog); but we really like the slick user interface that PubNub offers; and…tiny LEGO houses. You can learn more over at PubNub’s own site. And I am reminded that I still haven’t got that PIR sensor for the hall light hooked up to a Pi.

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PiJuice: portable power for your Pi projects

Helen: some Kickstarter campaigns just jump out at you. When I took a look at PiJuice it was obvious it was the real deal – they’ve only gone and sorted out portable power for the Raspberry Pi, with bells on. Their Kickstarter runs until Tuesday, so you’ve got the weekend to jump on board. Here’s Aaron Shaw to tell you more.

I started playing with the Raspberry Pi since the very beginning and after being involved in The MagPi and various other activities I am now fortunate enough to call Raspberry Pi tinkering my “work”. The thing that got me hooked back in 2012 was the hardware and physical computing capability – writing code to do things in real life (probably because of my background in Automotive Engineering) and I still spend a considerable amount of my time just learning new things and playing around with everything the Raspberry Pi has to offer. It has been a fantastic opportunity and I want to share it with as many people as possible.

PiJuice

Around a year ago I met Harry Gee from PiBot and we started by just throwing around our ideas for how we could help to make the Raspberry Pi even better. One of the things that we had both found difficult was creating portable or remote projects – it was of course possible, but it was just a lot harder than it needed to be. This ultimately led us to the idea of making a neat, safe, portable power solution for the Raspberry Pi to allow people to do even more exciting things with their Pi, whilst saving a lot of time and effort in the process.

PiJuice module

We’ve called this the PiJuice and it’s the ultimate product for portable and remote Raspberry Pi projects. The idea with PiJuice was to remove a barrier to entry from portable Pi projects so that beginners and professionals alike could focus on building, making and learning rather than worrying about the complexities of lithium battery charging and other electronics issues, whilst reducing the costs in the process.

 

Maker Kits – Made for Makers

PiJuice is more than just an add-on board. We are passionate about education and are keen to turn PiJuice into a modular project platform – a way to allow people to build their awesome ideas much more quickly and easily.

To kick things off and provide some inspiration we have developed a number of exciting tutorials and projects including a Raspberry Pi games console, a compact camera, a Pocket Pi and more.

Make cool stuff

We are calling these Maker Kits and they are already available to purchase in kit form from our Kickstarter page and are being uploaded as free guides on Instructables.

These guides will soon be turned into high quality step-by-step guides that you can either use with our Maker Kits or to build and make your own.

Free Off-Grid Power To the Pi

Off-grid power

When creating Raspberry Pi projects outdoors we’ve also been interested in using solar power as it is free and renewable. We’ve worked hard to create an efficient and low cost solution that will open up new off-grid and sustainable applications for the Raspberry Pi.

The PiJuice Solar has additional circuitry which adds functionality to enable truly autonomous, self-monitoring operation of the Raspberry Pi – perfect for weather stations, remote camera systems for nature watching and more.

Additionally, we are actively investigating possibilities for affordable wind and thermoelectric power generation with PiJuice Solar for added flexibility.

What would you do with yours?

What would you do with yours?

We are really interested in what you want to do with your own PiJuice. We want to create the projects that appeal to you the most, so please suggest us your ideas in the comments, or on Twitter (@ThePiJuice) using the hashtag #ProjectPiJuice to get our attention. We will turn the best of these into free projects for everyone to enjoy!

We really hope to help as many people as possible create awesome portable Raspberry Pi projects as well as continuing to create beautiful guides for cool projects! We’re currently coming to the closing stages of our Kickstarter and would appreciate any support to help make PiJuice even better – http://pijuice.com.

– Aaron & The PiJuice Team

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Our 1000th blog post!

We recently noticed that we were soon to be approaching our 1000th post since our blog began in July 2011, and thought we ought to curate some stats and share some of our proudest moments from this incredible journey with you!

Eben set up the blog to let people know about developments of the Raspberry Pi and its use in education. This is what the website looked like back then:

first-post

We’ve come a long way since that first post: the blog has seen two (2013, 2014) major redesigns (as well as that joke one), and it’s brought you eight product launches (Model B, Model B rev2, Model A, Camera module, Pi NoIR camera, Compute module, Model B+, Model A+ and Pi 2 Model B); we’ve announced Picademy, free learning resources, our million pound education fund, we announced we’re sending Pis to the International Space Station, we’ve run several competitions and many more education initiatives as well as featuring countless amazing Raspberry Pi projects.

Some stats

In the 1000 posts to date, there have been:

  • 1691 images
  • 51,974 comments in total
  • 1702 tags
  • 5370 links

These 1000 posts have all come from just 15 authors (though some are guest articles posted by one of the team). Liz has written (by far) the most:

liz-is-pacman

Pi chart

The most common tag is education (57).

Dave tends to write the longest posts with a 9313-character average, and the longest post was Ben’s Mega USA Tour.

Our first post was on 24th July 2011. Here’s what we posted on 24th July in subsequent years:

Top 10 commented posts:

  1. Raspberry Pi 2 on sale now at $35 (837)
  2. And breathe… (706)
  3. We’ve started manufacture! (635)
  4. Model B now ships with 512MB of RAM (586)
  5. Ladies and gentlemen, set your alarms! (554)
  6. New product launch! Introducing Raspberry Pi Model B+ (552)
  7. Raspberry Pi Compute Module: new product! (509)
  8. Competition: name our bear! (492)
  9. The Raspberry Pi User Guide is here! Win a signed copy (543)
  10. Pricing updates (good news!) from Element 14/Premier Farnell and RS Components (449)

You can browse the entire history of the blog in our Archive page.

And this is what the homepage looks like today:

website-1000th-post

www.raspberrypi.org – 25 March 2014

I look forward to seeing what it looks like on the day of our 2000th post, expected Wednesday 23 January 2019.

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A Pi’s eye view of the solar eclipse

Last Friday morning I got up at an unfamiliar hour to board a train to Leicester, where BBC Stargazing were broadcasting a special live show to coincide with the partial solar eclipse over the UK. Regular readers will have seen Dave Akerman write here last week of his plans to launch two Model A+ Pis with Pi in the Sky telemetry boards on a weather balloon as part of the BBC’s event, with the aim of capturing stills and video of the eclipse from high above the clouds. As we’ll see, Dave was far from the only person using Raspberry Pis to observe the eclipse; to begin with, though, here’s a downward-facing view from one of his Pis of the launch, done with the help of a group of school students:

I caught up with Dave a bit later in the morning, by which point the payload had been recovered after a shortish flight.

Dave, John and Helen

Dave explains to my three-year-old son that the balloon payload has come down in fields by Leighton Buzzard

BBC Radio Leicester interviewed Dave, making for a really interesting five-minute introduction to what a balloon mission involves. BBC Television filmed several interviews, too, including this one, broadcast on BBC Stargazing live the same evening, featuring images of the eclipse captured by the Pis:

My favourite moment is when the balloon bursts, having reached a diameter of about eight metres. Despite the lack of air, as Dave points out, the pop is clearly audible:

Dave later posted this image of the eclipse captured by one of the Pis:

Solar eclipse, captured by high-altitude Pi

If you watched right to the end of the BBC Stargazing interview, you’ll have heard Lucie Green mention another project, this one with the involvement of BBC Weather’s Peter Gibbs. The Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading is running a citizen science programme, the National Eclipse Weather Experiment (NEWEx), to collect data to study small weather changes expected to accompany an eclipse, such as a drop in temperature and changes to clouds and wind. They particularly encouraged schools to join in, and we sent one of our weather station prototypes to the National STEM Centre in York so that they could help a local primary school take part. They installed it on their roof:

Weather station prototype on National STEM Centre roof

Matt Holmes from the STEM Centre displayed data from the weather station alongside a webcam image of the eclipse:

If you’re in the UK and you’d like to watch the (very) brief interview with Peter Gibbs that followed the one with Dave Akerman, you can catch it on BBC iPlayer, starting at 29m40s.

Other people were using Raspberry Pis to take weather measurements during the eclipse too. Cookstown High School in Northern Ireland have set up another of our weather station prototypes; you can see live data from it at www.piview.org.uk/weather/, which you can drag to see older data and zoom for more detail. School staff are also tweeting more photos and information about the weather station as @STEAM4schools. Here are its temperature recordings during the eclipse:

PiView Weather Station - 20 March 2015, morning

As you can see, it’s difficult to separate out effects of the eclipse from other temperature variation, which is where NEWEx’s big-data approach will hopefully prove valuable.

One computing teacher planned his Friday morning class’s eclipse observations in our forums, with help from forum regular Dougie, whose own measurements are here, and others. They held an eclipse party before school, and they and others have shared their measurements in the forum.

School eclipse party

HOW COOL: REALLY COOL!!!

We’ve seen a number of timelapse films of the eclipse captured using Pis, too. Berlin Raspberry Jam organiser James Mitchell used a Raspberry Pi to make a timelapse of the 74% eclipse seen there:

It’s really great to see Raspberry Pis used in such a variety of ways to enhance people’s experiences of a rare and remarkable astronomical event, and particularly to see the involvement of so many schools. Did you use a Raspberry Pi for observations during Friday’s solar eclipse? Tell us in the comments!

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Raspi-LTSP is now PiNet: easily manage a Raspberry Pi classroom

Helen: Over the past year and a half, Raspi-LTSP has become very popular as a simple and easy-to-set-up way of managing Raspberry Pi users and files in a classroom setting. Today its 18-year-old developer Andrew Mulholland launches PiNet, the new incarnation of this very valuable, free, open source project. He’s written us a guest post to tell you more about it.

PiNet

For nearly two years now, I have been working on RaspberryPi-LTSP. The goal setting out was clear: a simple, free and easy-to-use system for schools that allowed them to manage their Raspberry Pis more easily.

So today I am proud to announce PiNet, the replacement for RaspberryPi-LTSP. The idea for PiNet/Raspi-LTSP was spawned out of a workshop I was teaching two years ago in a local primary school. The workshop ran over two days and I had forgotten to install a piece of software on all the SD cards before cloning them. I also had somehow to remember which student’s work was on which SD card so I could hand it out to them the next day. Logistically, managing it was a bit of a nightmare! And I only had one class of kids to worry about.

How can you manage students’ work when you have perhaps hundreds of different students using a set of Raspberry Pis in a week? Does each student get assigned her or his own SD card? And what happens when those SD cards need to be updated with the most recent software update?

After many (many) hours of work researching possible solutions, I came up with a proof-of-concept script. The script used LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project) to build a virtual Raspbian operating system on a server, then let Raspberry Pis network boot off it. I released this on GitHub back in September 2013 not expecting much to come of it. Rather surprisingly, people slowly started playing around with it, I started getting emails with new ideas and I discovered there was an interest in the project.

PiNet classroom with lapdocks

A PiNet classroom, using Motorola lapdocks to provide display, keyboard and trackpad

200+ commits and 3000+ lines of code later, the feature list has grown after a huge amount of feedback from educators right across the world.

PiNet’s features include:

  • Network-based user accounts, so any student can sit down at any Raspberry Pi in the classroom and log in
  • Network-based operating system, so if you want to change the operating system (for example, by adding a new piece of software), you just edit the master copy on the server and reboot all the Raspberry Pis
  • Shared folders to allow teachers to share files with students
  • Automated backups of students’ work
  • Automated work collection/hand-in system
  • Super-easy to set up and maintain
  • Completely free and open source.

PiNet is a replacement for Raspi-LTSP, not an upgrade, so if you’re already running Raspi-LTSP, you’ll need a new installation to get PiNet running on your server (PiNet will automatically update your SD cards the first time you boot up your Raspberry Pis after installing it, so you don’t need to make any changes to those yourself). To make everything as easy as possible, a migration utility has been included in every Raspi-LTSP release since November to allow you to migrate user data and files to PiNet; read the migration guide for help doing this.

PiNet desktop

The Raspberry Pi desktop with PiNet is like the one you’re used to

Here are some of the things that other people have said about PiNet/Raspi-LTSP:

PiNet is already used across the world in over 30 different countries. To give it a go in your school, all you need is an old computer, a router and some networked Raspberry Pis! To get started, head over to the PiNet website at http://pinet.org.uk/ and hit Get Started!

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Piper: Learning electronics with Minecraft

At Raspberry Pi, we’re interested in many of the different ways that computers and education converge. To hear more about a new approach, I’ve invited Mark Pavlyukovskyy to write about his project, Piper, which you can find on Kickstarter now. Here’s Mark:

I was a junior in college when I first heard about the Raspberry Pi. It seemed miraculous that you could have a full Linux board, that could run off of your phone charger, that cost only $35. While I imagined hundreds of different projects that I would want to make with the Pi, I realized that at such a low price point, the board would be perfect for giving kids in all over the world a way to hack and play with technology. It could democratize who had access to creating with technology.

picreate

My first project was to add peripherals like screens and keyboards to the Pi and send these cheap mini-computers to Africa and India for kids to learn about computer hardware and software. Today you can be a software developer from anywhere in the world, and I wanted to use the Pi to serve as an interactive instruction manual to let anyone get started with programming. Not only was it logistically difficult to ship dozens of black boxes with wires and electronics to different countries, but the biggest challenge was actually getting kids interested. For the majority of the students we worked with, the interface or the games we made didn’t interest them as much as putting together the pieces and seeing a working computer as a result of their efforts.

We went back to the drawing board to figure out a way to let kids not only build a computer, but to continue building and creating; to spark their curiosity and show them that they could build real things themselves. After doing dozens of workshops with schools back in the US, we found the hook that would get kids interested – Minecraft. Minecraft is a virtual building blocks game that allows kids (and adults) to create anything they want in virtual reality; even if that anything is virtual replicas of Hogwarts, the Starship from Star Wars, or the city of Beijing. And luckily for us, the Pi had a version of Minecraft that we could modify with Python. The other beauty of the Pi was the GPIO pins. These programmable input/output pins allowed us to create a modified Minecraft that kids could alter by adding their own hardware and electronics to the Pi. We could modify the game, so that once kids built the correct hardware and connected it to the pins on the Pi, the Minecraft would react in some way.

Fav 4_00000

We designed and created a storyline, where you were sending a robot to a different planet, and on the way over, his hardware was damaged, so you had to repair his hardware on the Raspberry Pi right in front of you in order to advance through the levels. In each level of the game you would have to physically build a power-up, such as a button, a switch, a row of LED lights, and these power-ups would give an advantage in the game. The switch for example opens hidden doors, while the row of LEDs serves as a proximity sensor for finding diamonds, so the closer you are to diamonds, the more lights light up.

PC100107-sm

And as we started showing this to kids, we couldn’t get them to stop playing. It was really amazing how interested kids were in both the Minecraft and the hardware. For many, they had played regular Minecraft, and were fans, but modifying it by adding your own real gadgets was a novel concept, and excited them. Many kids had never built anything physical prior to Piper, and they got excited because it showed them that the in-game possibilities were endless.

We are currently creating a sandbox platform that will allow players to make their own levels and add custom hardware, and then share their creations with friends. Because as kids see the endless possibilities of what they can create in the game with Piper, we know that they will remember these lessons, and eventually see the whole world around them as full of possibilities which they can create and invent. We want Piper to inspire an entire generation to believe that they are superheroes not just in the virtual world, but in the real world too. Not to see technology as a black box that works on magic, but as something anyone can remix and create. And together with the incredible community of Raspberry Pi enthusiasts like you, we can bring this vision to life! Please join us in bringing Piper to inventors and creators all over the world!

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Raspberry Pi Internet doorbell

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a Raspberry Pi used to add useful or entertaining features to a doorbell, but it’s probably the most feature-rich doorbell hack we’ve come across. Amongst other things, Ahmad Khattab’s Internet doorbell can call your phone, send you a text, and stream video of who’s at the door:

 

It’s a lovely DIY solution to the problem of missed calls and deliveries, and my favourite thing about it is imagining how much you’d pay for a glossy, boxed-up version of it. Ahmad’s costs £17 plus a Raspberry Pi.

Internet doorbell

This Internet-of-Things device does not come in a fancy case

Ahmad has written some instructions for the benefit of other people who are interested in better living through technology, but not interested in spending a lot of money on things in shiny plastic cases that you can’t open or customise.

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Observing a solar eclipse with high-altitude Pis

Helen: We’re pleased to welcome back to the blog a regular guest, high-altitude balloonist Dave Akerman. You’ll have gathered that a noteworthy astronomical event is to take place across northern Europe on Friday, and as you’d expect, Dave has plans. We’ll let him tell you all about them.

As you have probably heard by now, there will be a total solar eclipse this Friday morning, with the path of totality passing north of the UK and directly over the Faroe Islands.

Path of totality

In the UK we should see about 90% of the sun eclipsed by the moon, with the north of Scotland getting the best view assuming no clouds get in the way.

By now you are probably wondering what all this has to do with the Raspberry Pi, and the answer is that I will be flying two Model A+ Pis on a balloon from (no, not the Faroes) Leicester racecourse. Additionally, there will be several more Pi boards decoding the transmissions, and a V2 Pi B+ showing the results on a large monitor. The launch will be at about 8am so that the balloon is nicely high during the peak of the eclipse at about 9:30am.

Raspberry Pi weather balloon: an earlier launch

An earlier launch of a Raspberry Pi with a weather balloon

Some of you may have followed some of my previous flights using the online map and live image page. This time though, there’s an extra special option for your viewing pleasure.

Live TV.

The launch will be recorded by the BBC and some of the footage will be transmitted on an extra BBC Stargazing show on BBC1 that morning (9am to 10am). Also, there will be a couple of very brief live segments where, hopefully, I get to show some pretty live images and say “Raspberry Pi” as often as possible. Assuming we get to recover the flight, then some of the recorded video should end up on the main Stargazing show in the evening (9pm-10pm, BBC2).

The plan looked a tad uncertain earlier in the week because weather predictions gave me a choice of landing at Heathrow or Gatwick. I spent a lot of time speaking to the BBC trying to come up with a plan that lets us launch but without getting onto the national news for all the wrong reasons! One rejected plan was to launch from Jodrell Bank (from where the main Stargazing show is broadcast), but for some reason they don’t allow mobile phones or 3G there. Another plan was to underfill the balloon and get it to land near Dieppe in France. As of Wednesday morning, though, predictions are continuing to improve and I’m now confident of getting this flight to land somewhere safe in England, instead of having to trek to France to recover the payload.

The reason for launching from Leicester is that the BBC are running a “spectacular live event” from the racecourse, open to the public from 9am to 3pm and then 6pm to 9pm. Entry is free so please do come along if you can. They have a real astronaut and plenty else of interest – see this information page. Also, Leicester is home to the National Space Centre, so there’s plenty to see if you do decide to visit.

Helen: If you want to complement the coverage from Dave and the BBC with your own observations, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Society for Popular Astronomy have produced an excellent pdf guide to this Friday’s eclipse, explaining how to view it safely and what you’ll see if cloud cover doesn’t spoil the fun. Remember that cameras, including the Raspberry Pi camera module, are liable to be damaged if you point them directly at the Sun; don’t try direct eclipse photography unless you have the proper filters, but do bear in mind that you can achieve some very pleasing results without any specialist equipment by photographing a pinhole projection of the eclipse.

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Picademy North at the National STEM Centre

Once again the Raspberry Pi Foundation Education Team is taking Picademy, the official Raspberry Pi professional development course for teachers, on the road. This time to the North, thanks to our friends at the National STEM Centre in York!

national-stem-centre-logo

The National STEM Centre houses the UK’s largest collection of STEM teaching and learning resources, and high-quality subject specific CPD, in order to provide teachers of STEM subjects with the ability to access a wide range of high-quality support materials.

We work with business, industry, charitable organisations, professional bodies and others with an interest in STEM education to facilitate closer collaboration and more effective support for schools and colleges, and promotion of STEM careers awareness.

Picademy North will take place on 26 and 27 May 2015 and we have space for 24 enthusiastic teachers from primary, secondary and post-16 who are open to getting hands-on with their learning and having some fun. It is our hope, by running this event in York, that we will reach those teaching in locations that are not already represented by Raspberry Pi Certified Educators.

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 16.23.23

Can you help us put more markers on my Raspberry Pi Certified Educators map?

Picademy is free to attend and applications are open to all teachers from around the world as long as you can fund your own travel and accommodation. If you have applied before but been unsuccessful, please apply again. Our selection process is based on keeping a good mix of gender, location, type of school and so on. We often identify those who have applied more than once to give a place on the course.

If you are interested in taking part and becoming a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator then complete this Picademy application form.

Yesterday I shared this news with the thousands of educators signed up to our education newsletter and was overwhelmed by the positive responses – and I promise there isn’t a Yorkshire bias here, whatever anyone thinks!

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Slice Media Player Starts Shipping!

Back in August 2014 we got very excited about one of the first Kickstarter projects to use the Raspberry Pi Compute Module. We’re pleased to announce that after much hard work, many late nights and far too much sugar and caffeine, the FiveNinjas team have started shipping actual real Slices to backers. Here’s a picture of Gordon and Jon working their ninja magic in a cold warehouse somewhere in deepest darkest Sheffield; the racking that can be seen in the picture contains parts for 1500 Kickstarter Slices.

IMAG1917

Slices are assembled at a secret location in Sheffield, UK

We believe Slice is the first Kickstarter project using the Compute Module to start shipping to backers, narrowly beating our other favourite project the OTTO Camera (which also seems to be very close to shipping!).

Slice comes in black, red and silver

Slice comes in black, red and silver

One of the things we wanted to see with the Compute Module was people using it to do just this type of thing – leverage the Raspberry Pi technology to create innovative and high-quality products with minimum resources, something that has historically been a difficult challenge.

The FiveNinjas team includes our very own James Adams and Gordon Hollingworth, who have been spending large amounts of their spare time working on the Slice hardware and software and, in doing so, discovering exactly what it’s like to build a product using the Compute Module and mass produce it. In the process a few wrinkles have been found, but mostly it has been a big success, and there’ll be another blog post soon from Gordon on the process used to test and program Slice in mass production (which is a very important and often overlooked part of creating a real product).

IMAG1925

Slices being automatically programmed before packing and shipping

We’ve been told that to get the cost of the Slice motherboard down to an affordable level the Ninjas had to make a minimum order of 3000 Slice PCBs, so there are 1500 more Slices that can be built relatively quickly once the Kickstarter units have all been shipped. If you missed the Kickstarter and want to grab one of these extra units, head over to the brand new FiveNinjas store!

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