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

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

UConnect in Uganda and East Africa more broadly – read more

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 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 systems made from old plastic bottles, using how-to content from 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

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

San Lucas Toliman RACHEL-Pi wifi access point

Facebook post of Biblioteca Comunitaria Rija’tzuul Na’ooj

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

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):

RACHEL Shamba

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!

cmio-cad

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.

raspberry-jam

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.

goblins

Annabel used a Raspberry Pi computer and a motion sensor.

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

goblin detector
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.

wiring

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.

Pibrella
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!

Annabel, book
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.

programming

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

programming
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.

kids
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!

girls

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

robot
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.

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

Miss Philbin, famous programmer
Sam and Annabel had to show off their animation to everyone else.

demo

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…

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…

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.

babbage-incision

Making the incision

babbage-eye-removal

Removing the eye

babbage-camera-insertion

Inserting the camera

babbage-pi-insertion

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

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!

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

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 James Kong, 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:

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 camera, all set up in a biscuit tin and secured with duct tape. (Although you can see a webcam in the picture below, James says he’s been using a Raspberry Pi camera board in the video at the bottom of the page.)

Biscuit tin

Biscuit tin in position

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

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 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.

LightUpJugglingPins

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.

The MagPi issue 27

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.