Thirty-five Pixels, powered by Raspberry Pi

Creative Director and Interactive Developer Michael Newman was tapped by UCLA Extension to design their 2015 winter course catalog cover. To accompany his work, he also designed, developed, and built a Raspberry Pi-powered interactive installation called Thirty-five Pixels which is currently on display at UCLA Extension’s 1010 Westwood building through the 2015 Winter Quarter.

Michael Newman along with his installation Thirty-five Pixels in situ.

Michael Newman along with his installation Thirty-five Pixels in situ.

Although it uses a single 50″ LCD HDTV mounted vertically, the masking on the piece gives the effect of a 7 by 5 matrix of individual circular displays. On the inspiration for the design, Michael says:

Using the mantra “Play, Learn, Explore, Connect” I have created a framework which abstracts my experiments into a visual experience. First exploring physical media, such as black and white ping pong balls and CNC controlled devices, I iterated through a variety of concepts and ultimately developed a digital mechanism that can display both simple, dot matrix style data, and complex data and images simultaneously.

Thirty-five Pixels runs on a Raspberry Pi Model B+ and uses a camera module for motion detection and image capture. The piece is also Internet-connected so that users all over the world can interact with it and control what it displays. It can pull content from Twitter, Instagram, and other media such as past course catalog covers.

You can try out the remote interface here and also watch a camera’s view of the piece to see how you have an effect on it. Michael wrote about Thirty-five Pixels on his portfolio site, which I encourage you to look at for technical details and for some of his other fantastic work.

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Flotilla

Liz: Here’s a guest post from our friend Paul at Pimoroni, who has a really exciting Kickstarter to share. You know Paul’s work already: he designed the Raspberry Pi logo, and he’s the brain behind the ridiculously successful Pibow case. Over to Paul!

When I was in nursery school, our class had a BBC Micro. One day, it was my turn to play. I’d been ‘painting’, and being young and uneducated, didn’t wash my hands before using the computer, and got paint smears all over this shiny beige machine.

I got shouted at by the teacher a lot and didn’t get to play. Protecting the shiny new machine was more important than learning.

This is why I love Raspberry Pi. It’s a computer you can be rough and experimental with. If it breaks, it’s replaceable, unlike an expensive iPad or laptop.

Learning is more important than the thing you’re learning on. But this attitude of fear and reticence still prevails. We still see a lot of doubt, and a “that’s not for me” feeling when it comes to tinkering and plugging things into circuit boards. As much as we love playing with breakout boards, and the geekery involved, the friction that goes with it can easily turn a 10 minute job into an hour. Digging out wires, reading datasheets, and finding three blog posts with different libraries in various states of undress; we think these are unnecessary distractions.

So, being Pimoroni, we had a lightbulb moment and decided to fix a bunch of issues at the same time. A year later, Flotilla was born; making all these frustrations a thing of the past.

Flotilla is a system of smart, affordable breakout boards backed by great software that lets you easily use them on the Raspberry Pi. The idea is that you can just break out a Pi, pop in a Raspbian SD card with the Flotilla software installed, plug in the Dock then start playing and learning without knowing much of anything beforehand.

widgets

The first level is Cookbook. You plug widgets into the Dock. Cookbook suggests recipes that involve those pieces. So plug in a Light-sensor, a Barometer, and Cookbook might suggest you build a weather station or a Digi-pet.

cookbook

The next step is Rockpool. A simple app-like interface for defining rules. So you can say “If the temperature is high, turn a motor with a fan on”. It’s impossible to get wrong, and can be used without typing. You can build surprisingly complex projects; such as line-following robots, musical devices and games.

rockpool

The Pi can also act as a WiFi Access point and web server. This lets you connect to Flotilla from your tablet, phone or laptop, and control Cookbook and Rockpool from a web-browser. Great if you’re running your Pi from a battery. On a robot, say. :-)

After that, you’re into the world of Scratch and Python. We’ll be providing lovely Flotilla libraries to get you started.

The whole idea is top-down learning. People start by having fun, and doing and discovering what interests them. If they like it, they can delve further into how things work. Clive says it best in the video. It’s “learning by stealth”.

We’re pretty sure Flotilla is the first fully-fledged plug-and-play digital tinkering kit. We’re also sure that the Raspberry Pi is the right place for it. The easier it is for everyone to start learning, and being comfortable with computers and electronics, the more time scientists and engineers have to make spaceships, instead of a better coffee-maker, or pet-feeder.

We’re on Kickstarter now, and would love you to support Flotilla so we can turn it into something everyone can use, in schools, at home, in the lab, and contribute too :D

http://flotil.la

- Paul & Jon & the Pirate Crew.

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Resources Restyled

Back in April, when we launched a revamp of our whole website, we introduced a section of free learning resources. Recently we’ve been working on a new and improved design for the layout of this material, and we’re launching it today for a selection of our resources.

balloon-pi-tay-popper

The new look and feel of our free learning resources

Our new in-house designer Sam has produced the templates along with a brilliant set of icons, components, characters, illustrations and bespoke GPIO and wiring diagrams.

The Learn and Make activities are:

We have also revamped a number of Teach resources, each containing lesson plans and links to the Programme of Study:

As well as a new guide to for teachers:

We think they’re looking great – and hope you all do too!

We’ll be migrating all of our resources into the new template in the coming weeks. The content still all lives on GitHub, and you can still collaborate; if you’re a regular contributor, you’ll notice that there are some extra files to make the templates work.

New recipe cards for our learning resources

Gotta collect ‘em all!

 

Remember all our resources are available for free under a Creative Commons licence, so you can print, copy, share, modify and do anything you want with the materials – we don’t want to restrict educators in any way! We know some of our Raspberry Pi Certified Educators from Picademy have been using their own modified versions of our worksheets to teach the Computing curriculum – it’s a great way of tailoring the material to the needs of their own students.

Those of you who are coming to see us at BETT this week will see we’ve also been giving out recipe cards for each of these new style resources, which again have been beautifully designed by Sam. Teachers – if you miss us at BETT, you can download these recipe cards to print out for your wall displays.

Carrie Anne leading the first session of the day at BETT

The education team out in force at BETT

Check out the rest of our teach, learn and make resources look through our BETT schedule on our website.

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Social animals: electric eel tweets with a Pi

Meet Miguel Wattson (geddit?), the most piscine member of the Raspberry Pi community. Miguel is an electric eel who lives in a tank at the Tennessee Aquarium; and his keepers, with some help from some computer science interns, have decided to use Miguel’s tendency to generate electricity to do some showboating.

miguelwattson

Bzzzzt.

 

Electric eels (actually a kind of knifefish, so strictly speaking they’re electric fish, which sounds much less cool) have the ability to discharge up to 860 volts from three large organs made from electrocytes – organic cells which work like the voltaic pile in an early battery –  which they use to stun prey, to communicate, and to navigate. An electric eel at full power only discharges for a couple of milliseconds, but even so, has the ability to electrocute a full-sized human.

This is all very glamorous and exciting, but the problem for eel watchers is that all of this drama is silent and invisible. There’s no way to tell just from watching whether or not an electric eel is discharging. Happily, there’s a way around that.

Sensors (I’m guessing electrodes in the water, connected to ground, whose resistance can be measured – but I do not have an electric eel to test this setup on – your ideas in the comments please!) in Miguel’s tank detect when he discharges. These signals are sent to a LED light and speaker system in the aquarium, where they make static rapping sounds, and flash lights to demonstrate how frequently Miguel discharges. Here he is, doing his thing at feeding time.

But the aquarium team didn’t stop there. Miguel’s electrical activity also sends a message to the attached Raspberry Pi, telling it to send a tweet. Miguel’s Twitter feed is full of fishy puns, eel facts, and messages about conservation – along with the occasional “POW” and “BUZZ!” A database of tweets is constantly added to by staff at the aquarium (Miguel does not have fingers and consequently finds it hard to type).

“Ironically, the eel code was written in Python,” said Evgeny Vasilyev, one of the computer science interns  from Tennessee Technological University’s Business Media Center. “The project’s main set piece was Raspberry Pi, a low cost computer which provides all of the necessary functionality in a compact package.”

The Pi not only sends the tweets – it acts as a throttle to make sure that Miguel doesn’t start spamming the feed when he gets overexcited. Feeding time, for example, gets Miguel so overstimulated that he discharges more than once a second. The Pi keeps the frequency of tweets down to a reasonable level.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press has some video of the setup:

You can follow Miguel on Twitter at @EelectricMiguel. You’ll notice that he follows Tennessee Aquarium’s pioneering tweeting groundhog (no, we have no idea what a groundhog is doing in an aquarium), @ChattNoogaChuck, whose profile boasts that he is the aquarium’s chief seasonal forecaster.

If you’re following Miguel, keep an eye out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, when he’s fed, for bursts of activity!

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Fran Scott’s #Error404 show at BETT

It’s not long to BETT now where the Foundation education team will spend four whole earth days doing great works.

Fran Scott

As well as a non-stop stand schedule of talks, demos and activities we’ve also got a number of off-stand monkeyshines including two live stage shows by Fran Scott, who you may have seen recently on the Royal Institution Christmas lectures. Fran will be performing her show #Error404: The Explosions-based computing show and revealing “Computer Science for the problem-solving, creative and imaginative subject it innately is and through live interactive coding, humour and explosions(!)”. (That had me at “explosions” and I was reading the sentence backwards.)

fran scott

If the Raspberry Pi Foundation had a mantra, it would be “computing is not coding”. It’s so much more than that; in fact in the early years of education, it should just be called ‘Thought-provoking Fun’. Fran’s show is a brilliant practical demonstration of that, and she has a talent for explaining science and engineering principles in an entertaining way that everyone can understand. As well as computing the show hooks into the science curriculum (gases and combustion) and also contains dancing and bananas. There’s loads crammed in and it’s a fantastic show— it’s going to be packed, so get there early!

baloon popping cartoon

To tie in with the show we’ll be giving away goody bags containing everything you need to make your own (non-explosive!) version of Pi-controlled balloon popping which would make a fab classroom demo or even a great way to wake your parents up in the morning.

Where and when

The shows are on Thursday 22 Jan at 13:10 and Saturday 24 Jan at 12:55, both in the BETT Arena. Fran will also be on our stand (The Hub! near N8 visitors’ entrance) on Thursday afternoon between 16:00 and 17:00.

Find out more

You can read more about the show on Fran’s site and also download an information pack which includes links to the English Computing curriculum. You can also get in touch with Fran if you want to find out more about the show.

Warning: Blowing stuff up and messing around with pyrotechnics is dangerous so do not do it. Fran is a trained pyrotechnician and a member of the Association of Stage Pyrotechnicians. Do not blow stuff up or set light to stuff or play with matches or stick red Crayola crayons up your nose (as my brother once did). Bad things will happen.

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VNC tutorial from 10-year-old Philip

Philip Organ is a regular attendee at the Cambridge Raspberry Jams. He’s ten now; we first met him back when he was seven, when he sent us a video of a game he’d written for his Pi.

Philip (small) with me and Eben (large) at the last Raspberry Jam

Philip (small) with me and Eben (large) at the last Raspberry Jam

Philip’s Pi shenanigans were impressive then, but he’s come on leaps and bounds in three years. Here’s his most recent video: a tutorial on setting up a VNC server on your Raspberry Pi so you can access it remotely.

I wish more tutorials were like this. Thanks Philip!

 

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Raspberry Pi Big Birthday Weekend 28 Feb – 1 March 2015

Raspberry Pi turns three (three!) next month and we would love you to come to our birthday party!

lego invite

The party is so huge and packed full of stuff that we couldn’t fit it into one day so we’ll be taking over the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory on Saturday 28th February and Sunday 1st March for the Raspberry Pi Big Birthday Weekend. It’s going to be a buzzing behemoth benchmark of a birthday bash. Blimey!

There will be captivating talks, animated hands-on workshops, informative show and tell sessions and chatty panel discussions. There will be a marketplace to buy the latest Raspberry Pi add-ons and other cool stuff. There will be competitions, prizes and goodies galore and a chance to chat with the Raspberry Pi team over a nice cup of tea. There will be gardens bright with sinuous rills and little, fez-wearing monkeys riding unicycles. You really don’t want to miss it.

uncle buck pancakes

This is *exactly* what it will be like. But with fewer pancakes.

Each day will be different so feel free to come to both. As well as two days of all things Pi there will be an actual fill-yer-cakehole party from 4.30pm to 7.30pm on Saturday evening with food and drink (including a surprise birthday beverage).

So whether you’re a seasoned Pi person, whether you got a Pi for Christmas and would like to learn more or whether you’re just wondering what it’s all about then come along—we’d love to meet you. The Raspberry Pi Big Birthday Weekend is going to be a joyous celebration of creativity, technology and community so get your tickets now! Tickets are a scandalously reasonable £2.50 and entry is free for under 16s.

Get involved!

The party will be a celebration of all things Raspberry Pi which of course includes the amazing Raspberry Pi community. We’d like you to get involved and we are looking for people to:

  • give talks about Pi-related stuff;
  • run workshops or help run one;
  • take part in show-and-tell especially if you have interactive stuff or crazy inventions;
  • help run the day by spending a couple of hours as a marshal.

If you’d like to do any of these things (or have any other suggestions) then please get in touch. And if you’ve not done anything like this before then this is the perfect opportunity to help out, delight and inform us or just show off :) The party is being organised for us by Tim Richardson and Michael Horne—who are responsible for the excellent CamJams—so drop them a line and get involved!

We’ll also be running the Pi Wars obstacle course as first seen in the December CamJam so bring your robot along if you think it’s hard enough.

We’ll have a birthday webpage up shortly where we will post updated details of speakers, workshops and activities as well as detail on transport and other logistics. If you don’t want to register yet but would like to be kept informed then sign up for the mailing list.

See you there!

 

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Hacking the haulage industry

Regular readers will remember that we featured Andy Proctor’s delivery lorry – hacked with a Raspberry Pi to become an Internet of Things delivery Andy lorry – back at the start of December.  The BBC found out about him too, and he’s featuring on the front page of their news site today, with a really nice little video segment about what he’s been doing. Here it is for your viewing pleasure. Thanks Andy!

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Machine learning, combustion engines and real-time control

What you’re about to watch in the video below is a magnificently physical example of machine learning. Adam Vaughan is controlling an engine with an adaptive Extreme Learning Machine algorithm on his Pi, which predicts homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI – if you’re  a petrolhead, you won’t have to look that up on Wikipedia like I did to discover that it’s a spark-free way of combusting fuel by putting it under pressure until it goes bang) in real time.

spaghetti

HCCI combustion is hard to predict – it’s near-chaotic – so the algorithm Adam designed has to take a huge number of samples (240,000 per second) to get enough data to learn how the engine behaves and to provide something so close to real-time control that you’d never know the difference. (It’s incredibly close to real time – there’s about 300 microseconds – that’s microseconds, or one millionth of a second; not milliseconds, which are a thousandth of a second – of latency here.)

The Pi is recording data about pressure in each of the engine’s cylinders, about the angle of the crank and about heat release – and on the back of that, it’s subsequently controlling the engine in real time over a controller area network (CAN).

This isn’t just a demonstration of how to do mind-bogglingly clever stuff. The research means that fuel efficiency can be improved, and CO2 can be reduced. If you’re interested in a more in-depth look, Adam and Stanislav Bohac have written a paper on the algorithm that’s being used in the video – go and read it if you want a maths and engineering workout!

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Meet the Education Team at the BETT Show 2015

On Wednesday 21st January 2015, the ExCeL in London opens its doors to the world’s leading educational technology show. As well as being a trade show, BETT provides an opportunity for attendees to hear world-famous speakers like education visionary Sir Ken Robinson and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales talk; to meet like-minded teachers, academics and technicians to share good practice; to attend free training sessions; and to find out more about what is happening in the world of ed-tech.

For the first time, our entire education team will be on hand, in our own curated space to answer questions, run Picademy-style workshops, and share our passion for Raspberry Pi in education.

Have some Pis in your school and want to get going with physical computing? Then Clive Beale has a giant GPIO model and will be using it in his ‘Let’s get Physical’ workshops. Are you a science teacher who wants to hear more about our weather station and space (Astro Pi) projects? Creative computer scientist, Dave Honess, will be giving demos across the four days. Heard that we offer free resources to teach, learn and make with Raspberry Pi? Resource and web man Ben Nuttall will be able to tell you more. Want explosions? We’ve got plans for some of those too.

Clive's big GPIO pins

Clive explains how to connect GPIO to LEDs with his giant model

It’s not just the fun-loving foundation team who will be sharing Pi related activities. We will be joined by many of our Raspberry Pi Certified Educators and members of our friendly and active community too. To name but a few from our amazing line-up: we’ll be hosting Dr Sam Aaron, creator of Sonic Pi; authors Martin O’Hanlon and David Whale; representatives from Wolfram, Code Club and Nature Bytes.

Some sessions will be lead by our Raspberry Pi Certified Educators.

Some sessions will be lead by our Raspberry Pi Certified Educators.

We’ve created a timetable of sessions on offer so that you can select those that interest you in advance.

Get your free ticket today, and we will see you bright-eyed and bushy tailed next week! (For those of you who won’t be able to make this event, don’t feel like you are missing out – sign up for the education newsletter today and we will keep you up to date with our events, resources and competitions.)

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