China press and community tour

As you might have spotted, if you follow us on Twitter, Eben and I spent the last week and a bit touring China, meeting the Raspberry Pi community there and giving interviews to the press, with some sterling organisational help from our friends at RS Components. (A special and huge thank you to Eric Lee, without whom we’d have been absolutely stuffed. Mostly with delicious pork confections and noodles, but stuffed nonetheless.)

Here’s what we got up to.

First up, there were a lot of press conferences to give, with help from the excellent William, our simultaneous translator; after a week of doing this, we ended up with more than 100 pieces of media being written or recorded about Raspberry Pi across China. This one, in Shanghai, is pretty typical.

Press conference

We noticed that the tech press in China is incredibly well-educated; a lot of these journalists trained as engineers and then moved into publishing. (And everywhere we went, at least 50% of the technical journalists were women – something I wish we’d emulate in the west.)

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We went to a Raspberry Jam in Shanghai, held at RS Components’ offices. We met some great people (Kevin Deng and the gang from 52pi.cn, a Chinese website dedicated to the Raspberry Pi, actually followed us on to the next event in Shenzhen as well), who’d built some amazing projects.

Shanghai Jam

The robot on our desk is LIDAR (laser radar)-equipped, from DFrobot. We’re listening to a talk about open source from David Li, one of China’s most famous open source pioneers. Eric Lee from RS is on the right.

lidarbot

This laser-etcher is one of the projects the 52pi gang had brought along; you can buy lasers for this sort of project off the shelf in China, where the integrity of your eyeball is your own responsibility. I’ve got a couple of coasters with our logo on them on my desk at the moment, made using this machine.

laser etcher

Jackie Li gave an amazing talk about the projects he’s made at home – cameras streaming to remote screens, a simplified media centre for his grandma, robots – and this excellent LED persistence of vision device for displaying reminders in the kitchen.

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We flew out next to Shenzen, where hundreds of people turned up for a Raspberry Jam, and where we did more press conferences and more interviews. Before we left for China, I’d been worried that the community base would be smaller than we’re used to. It turned out to be almost too large for us to deal with in the time we’d had allotted in each location.

Shenzhen Jam

It got a bit hard to move in Shenzhen for all the people wanting a photo. We saw some great presentations (one of which, from Martin Liu, who describes himself as a living-room maker, demonstrated the work we sponsored to get the XBMCmenu working in new fonts – including Chinese. It’s at the back of the photo here, behind all the people with cameras.)

allthecameras

We met a lot of Shenzhen makers who are also entrepreneurs; on the left here is Zoe from Seeed Studio. Eben’s holding some sensors from their Grove project, which works with Raspberry Pi.

seeed

This young gentleman had a robot to show us, controlled with Scratch (on the desk to the right), and a poster for Eben about Pi-controlled brewing. He was terribly shy, and I really wanted to give him a hug, but suspected that might have made matters worse.

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We managed to get about an hour at the enormous electronics market in Shenzhen with Eric, where we had some fun looking at components and working out if we could lower the bill of materials cost in the Pi itself. Unfortunately, it’s so big you need at least a week to work your way around the place; we plan to return.

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Next stop, Taipei. We started off at Noise Kitchen, where we met a group from CaveDu, a local hacker group. The robot in the middle was being prepared for the next day’s Jam at Tatung university – the display shows how many likes CaveDu’s Facebook page has.

CaveDu

These guys hung around for HOURS to meet us, for which we’re very grateful; our plane was delayed six hours, and we didn’t get there until nearly 11pm. I met a home-made laptop with a removable wireless keyboard (a clever way to get around the hinge problem), and made a new best friend.

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First thing the next morning, we headed out to Tatung university.

tatung uni jam

We were expecting a few tens of people, having failed to learn our lesson from Shenzhen. More than 250 people turned up.

tatung crowd

Among the crowd was my new best friend from the night before. We do not have a language in common, but we bonded over high-fives and fist-bumps.

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It was HOT; about 33C in the shade. And unfortunately, the air conditioning in the building got turned off an hour or so in, so we get damper and damper as these photos progress and the temperature climbs well above 40C.

We met a self-balancing robot in a hamster ball.

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We bumped into an old friend. (The beer is there for thermal reasons.)

Rapiro

Eben got interviewed, sweaty, by Taiwanese TV.

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And this is my other new best friend, Liang Chih Chiang, who gave a presentation (which he’s very kindly translated for me so you can all read it) about our community and social media – a subject that’s very close to my heart, for obvious reasons.

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We saw some amazing projects, like this gaming machine…

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…this Pi-powered 3d printer…

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…and this, which I was never able to get close enough to to find out what it does. I think it might be a musical instrument. Or possibly a cocktail machine.

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Any suggestions, anybody?

We had a wonderful, exhausting, wonderful time. Thanks so much to everybody who came to see us; and an especial thanks to Eric, Desiree, Soo Chun, Katherine and the rest of the RS gang, who looked after us so well. We hope we’ll be back in a year or so – and until then, here’s a picture of a bit of press that I can’t read, but that’s made me laugh more than anything else that’s been published about us this year.

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Layer Cam: the lensless tourist camera in a lunchbox

Have you ever noticed the way that everybody takes the same photo when doing the tourist thing? Just look at Google: there are a million pictures of people punting past King’s College Chapel in Cambridge out there, all taken at the same angle, from the same position – and they’re all online. So why do we (and I’m just as guilty of this as everybody else) spend precious time taking pictures of something that somebody’s almost certainly taken a better photo of already?

SaladeTomateOignon in Paris, another photogenic city, has noticed the same thing.

He says:

28 million people visit Paris every year, taking dozens of pictures each. Every building, every statue has been captured, under every sky and every light.

Because billions of pictures of the Eiffel tower have been taken, I am sure that you can find matching cloud patterns in dozen of them, even if taken years apart.

Pictures have been taken with simple pin-hole camera, smartphones or with the most complex and expensive large format silver film camera or DSLR, and lots of them are now online.

On the Internet, those photographies are sprinkled over the city, with some areas densely covered, and other more sparsely. Each website is like a stratum of pictures of every kind: postcards, paintings, photos, satellite images…

Layer cam is a project to tap into those layers, like a drill extracting a core sample of images.

Based on a Raspberry Pi, connected to the Internet through wifi and geolocalized by a GPS chip, Layer cam runs with Python code (mostly made from bits of code I found here (Martin O’Hanlon) and there (disasterjs) and taps into Panoramio API. The ‘Layer cam’ logo has been designed by Alice.

We love this project. It’s just the right amount of pointless, it’s in a Tupperware box, Paris is beautiful, and it made us smile. You can find out how to build your own at saladtomateoignon, with code and physical build instructions (which involve rubber bands and duct tape, like the very best of projects).

What does a good computing classroom look like?

Space matters

In September 2014 (as in a couple of weeks) the new Computing curriculum will come into play in schools in England. Basically this means that ICT as a subject will be replaced by Computing and that students from the age of five will have the opportunity to learn an exciting and powerful new subject.

There has been a lot of discussion on how to prepare for this in terms of teacher training. It’s vitally important and it’s why we run Picademy for example. But as the subject matures we also need to start thinking about what an effective computing classroom looks like and how to set it up so that students can get the most from the subject.

Teaching and learning spaces

My primary school was not like others. Pupils were free to roam about and do what they wanted. It was an interesting educational experiment. I now know what happens when pupils are responsible for their own education: they smear their faces with woad (well, Crayola indigo warmed up on the radiator) and then scuttle up trees. (Student voice, I’m looking at you.)

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Next lesson I will independently investigate the physics of boomerang precession

There were no classrooms in this school of the future, just “bays”—quasi-rooms with no walls, opening onto a central area. It was a terrible environment for most subjects: it’s tricky to concentrate on improper fractions or ‘How come the moon doesn’t fly off into space?’ when the bay across the way is thrashing a class set of percussion instruments like a colony of chimps pummelling the corpse of dead hyena.

So I’ve never been a fan of “learning spaces”. Even typing the phrase makes me start rocking gently and keening. And yet learning spaces are exactly what the new English Computing programme of study needs. Walk into a standard ICT suite in any secondary school in the land and you will be stared down by banks of unblinking monitors lining the walls and the central reservations.

This is not a learning room, it’s a teaching room. It’s set out so that teachers can monitor the monitors (and monitor the monitor monitors if they are lucky enough to have them) and control what the students are doing with their hermetically sealed PCs. What they are typically doing, given the closed nature of hardware and software in most of these suites, is usually pretty anodyne. It should come as no surprise that the word “suite” comes from the old French meaning “a group of identically clad followers”.

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Even Orwell wouldn’t have gone this far

This new-fangled ICT thing: it’s a slippery slope and no mistake

So what the typical student is doing in the typical ICT suite is … ICT. Which is great! Good teachers are running rich and exciting and useful ICT lessons under the old programme of study (PoS). Outstanding teachers have been including elements of computing into their lessons for years (contrary to the belief of those who had never actually read it, the old PoS was pretty flexible and adaptable). But all too often a school’s ICT policy is that the subject should be safe. Not inspiring or useful or thought provoking. Just safe.

Which would be lovely if this meant ‘safe’ for the kids, but more often than not it means ‘safe’ for the senior management. ICT isn’t to be trusted: kids obviously needed watching because they might do bad things. Like play games. Or watch games on YouTube. Or write games and pretend to be testing them. Students have even been known to flip screens upside down using hot-keys; or draw rude pictures in Paint and set them as the desktop of their neighbour’s machine; or stick a Post-it on the bottom of the teacher’s mouse; or Google “funny gifs of cats with glok’s and a bom lol!”

Hence this urge, especially amongst techno-wary management, to constantly monitor and repress and interfere. Technology that enlightens and frees and encourages experimentation is the same technology that is potentially seditious and disruptive and encourages hacking (hurrah!). So it’s sad but unsurprising that in the current climate schools lock down PCs and stop students from messing about. A more open environment doesn’t require lots of time and money (two big barriers to change in schools) but it does need thoughtful policies and a desire to change.

Would you like a handful of magic beans with that interactive whiteboard sir?

All: "Marie France est dans le jardin" ... beeep.

All together now: “Marie France est dans le jardin.” Beeeeeep.

Of course, if all you want to do is to create things on a screen, then a bank of proprietary PCs does the job (though installing some open source software like Inkscape, Audacity, LibreOffice, Firefox and GIMP wouldn’t hurt). But things have changed since the late 90s when IT quietly became ICT and a new curriculum came in: prescribed hardware and proscribed software just aren’t good enough now that Computing is back (in retrospect, they weren’t even fit for purpose then). A generic classroom stifles creativity and if Computing is one thing, it’s creative.

Looking back at my ten years in an ICT classroom it’s clear to me that most ICT suites are the 21st century equivalent of the shiny new language labs that popcorned into secondary schools in the late 70s: shiny and exciting but ultimately a bit rubbish. My old stock cupboard is full of unused smoke-and-mirrors ICT kit that was sold as the next big thing but turned out to be technology for technology’s sake. (We’re very fond of the old magic beans thing in education, but that’s another blog post entirely.) Technology by itself rarely improves learning. Good teachers in stimulating environments always do.

A new classroom for the new programme of study

For the new Computing programme of study let’s give the students the freedom to tinker and to hack and to experiment and to collaborate. And let’s give them the space and the tools to do this. PCs still have a place of course, but ideally there will be a central table(s) full of electronics, robots, sensors, computers, projects kits, stuff you’ve found in skips, printers, bits and bobs, cutters and a runcible spoon. (And, of course, Raspberry Pis!) Let anyone who wants to play come in at break, lunchtime and after school to mess around. Encourage other subjects to use computing as a creative tool, one they can use in their lessons, and to look at Computing and not say “Whatever” but “Hmmm, that’s interesting…” (Because if Computing is not used across the whole curriculum then we are missing both the point and a huge learning opportunity.)

For this we are going to have to change our ICT rooms from teaching rooms to learning spaces. It’s not a trivial thing and it won’t happen overnight. But if you are offered a new room in which to teach Computing this September, or you get the chance to re-purpose an existing ICT suite, please make it the first thing on your agenda. In fact, make a space like this:

In time, ten years perhaps, computing in schools will be a normal tool for problem solving and creativity. Just a tool to do things in the same way that, on a much smaller scale, a calculator is used today in Maths (although the things you can do are very much cooler and more useful than telling your mate to type in ’5318008′ and hand it, upside down, to your teacher). In the meantime, let’s get the learning spaces right. The rest will drop into place.

How you can help

We’re currently writing materials on how to set up a computing classroom and we’d like your help. What would your ideal computing space look like and why? What would you like to see in there, how would it be set up and how could the Raspberry Pi Foundation help you with this? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this and the final materials will be published in our resources area. Comments below would be lovely, thanks!

Getting hooked on programming with YRS project ‘Hook’

Carrie Anne: A few weeks ago, Raspberry Pi hosted its first ever Young Rewired State centre and took part in the Festival of Code. We had a lot of fun. Our participants talked about their experience in this blog post. Whilst we were at the finals in Plymouth, our teams were competing against a group from BBC Birmingham mentored by our good friend Martin O’Hanlon, and their Raspberry Pi project blew us away. Here in their own words is a little more about it.

Not only functional, but stylish too!

Not only functional, but stylish too!

While taking part in the YRS Festival of Code at BBC Birmingham our team wanted to come up with something fun. The idea we finally settled on after much talk of boats and canals (thanks Martin!) was the internet enabled coat hook – a coat hook which would tell you what to wear that day based on the weather forecast.

Fuelled by an endless supply of biscuits and coffee at BBC Birmingham and with the help of our mentors we set about creating our ‘hack’. At the weekend down in Plymouth we were lucky enough to make it into the final three for the ‘Best in Show’ category, losing out to another team. However since we were runners up in the category we were rewarded with some limited edition Blue Raspberry Pis!

Our idea was well received throughout the weekend in Plymouth, but what surprised us most was the reception that it received online. Seeing people we’ve never met before announce online that they’d buy our ‘internet enabled coat hook’ that we’d hastily constructed a few days prior was the craziest part of the weekend.

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We’ve each written a short paragraph about our contribution to the ‘hack’ and what we learnt during the week.

Screenshot from 2014-08-15 193909 Screenshot from 2014-08-15 193840Jenny & Ed: Why did we use Lego to build the Hook? Because it’s a classic building material enabling the design of Hook to be easily changed during development, as well as being sturdy AND fun – no actually it was because Kevin (from YRS) promised cake to any teams that used Lego in their hack.

We built the Lego around the coat rack and then the LED chipboards to secure the whole thing together, originally using a breadboard to connect up the Raspberry Pi and the LEDs with crocodile clips, however we kept facing issues where the LEDs would not light up. We realised that this was because one of the clips wasn’t on properly or the pin in the breadboard was loose, so decided that it would be more secure and look better if we created an actual chipboard and soldered all the parts together: cue multiple expeditions down to the workshop and a lot of time bonding with the soldering iron (if you’ll pardon the pun). The building of the Lego structure took around half a day, not including the numerous heated discussions about which colour bricks to use, and then completing the circuitry meant we had a working prototype design only a couple of hours later.

Screenshot from 2014-08-15 193922Darci: I worked on the animation for our project (The Hook). To do this, the BBC gave us some prototype LED boards, which I programmed using a Scratch-like program. We were going to make weather-specific animations for wind, rain and sunshine, but as we only had four days to produce it, I ended up making one animation to show all of the weather animations together.

I started off figuring out how to control the LEDs using an Arduino, but then we all agreed that it would be better to use a Raspberry Pi rather than an Arduino because I find Python much easier to understand than Arduino, and we could also use the GPIO to hook up the LED devices to the Raspberry Pi. So, it seemed simpler to use the Raspberry Pi to control everything instead. I used Python and the RPi.GPIO library to write the code to allow the back end to control the LEDs.

Darci presents hook

Darci presents Hook

Screenshot from 2014-08-15 193944Cameron: I ended up working on the back end which was written in Python. It controls the obtaining and processing of the data from the Met Office and then runs lower level code written by Darci. The Met Office API was really nice and returns a Weather Type field in the JSON response which saved us having to come up with our own heuristic for what the weather will be like. The best take-away from this for me would have to be the program PuTTY which is a free SSH client for Windows that removed the need to connect anything except a Wi-Fi dongle to the Raspberry Pi. The JSON library for Python was very useful and easy to work with as well, something that’s well worth learning.

Screenshot from 2014-08-15 194010Jack: I worked on the front end of the website which allows the user to configure what item of clothing they wanted to place on each individual hook, which could potentially change depending on the time of year. In order to fetch relevant weather forecast data from the Python backend the user’s geolocation was fetched through the browser using JavaScript. Additional information such as the item of clothing on each hook was written to a text file, allowing it to be easily read by the Python script. We aimed to make the website responsive across multiple different screen sizes, so writing CSS media queries was a new skill I had to learn during the week. Luckily the good folks mentoring at BBC Birmingham were happy to show me the ropes.

YRS BBC Birmingham Team Hook

YRS BBC Birmingham Team Hook

Carrie Anne: Although this project did not win in its category, it could still win the public vote! If you are as impressed as we are with this project then head on over to the voting page to cast your vote for Hook!

The first Raspberry Pi computer room in Togo

Dominique Laloux first got in touch with us in May 2013 when he was on the point of leaving to spend a year in the rural Kuma region of Togo in Western Africa, an area where, until 2012, 75% of teachers had never used a computer. He had previously joined a team of Togolese friends to set up the Kuma Computer Center in the mountain village of Kuma Tokpli for the students and teachers of five local secondary schools, and planned to introduce Raspberry Pis there.

computer room in Kuma Tokpli

The building that currently houses Kuma Computer Center’s first computer room in Kuma Tokpli

We next heard from Dominique earlier this month. We were delighted to learn that besides the Center’s first computer room, which has now been up and running for almost two years, the team has established a fully functional Raspberry Pi computer room, with 21 Pis and a couple of other PCs, in Kuma Adamé, a village about 20 minutes’ motorbike ride from Kuma Tokpli. This will be used daily by the 200 students of the local middle school, and was financed largely by former Adamé residents who have settled in Lomé, Togo’s capital. A team of students and teachers from The International School of Brussels, where Dominique works, helped fund the purchase of the Raspberry Pis and their accessories.

Raspberry Pi computer room in Kuma Adamé

The new Raspberry Pi computer room in Kuma Adamé

The initial focus is on teaching the students basic computer literacy, and the team chose the Raspberry Pi based on its low initial cost, its anticipated low maintenance costs, its low power consumption and its use of Open Source software. Dominique believes – and we think he’s probably right – that this is the first Raspberry Pi computer room in Togo! He says,

The most important thing is that we now have a nearly complete “recipe” for the setup of a computer room anywhere in Togo, that would fit a middle school/high school for a total cost of about 6000€. The recipe includes the renovation of a school disaffected room (see what our room looked like 6 months ago in the picture), the installation of electricity and local area network at European standards, the design of furniture built by local workers, the training of teachers, the development of a curriculum to teach, the selection of a local support team, etc. Quite an experience, I must say.

Soon to be the new Raspberry Pi computer room!

Before work began on the new computer room

Key to the sustainability of the project is that it has been developed within the local community for the benefit of community members, having begun as an idea of teachers in Kuma. Various groups in the community are represented in the management of the project, contributing different kinds of support and expertise. Dominique again:

We are particularly proud of the setup in K. Adamé (we being Seth, Désiré, all other members of the Kuma Computer Center team, and myself). [...] Our project has been operational for nearly 2 years now and it relies mainly on villagers themselves. Seth, who is in charge of the infrastsructure in K. Tokpli, is a local farmer growing mainly coffee and cocoa. A team of villagers is responsible for opening the room every day for 2 hours at least, and “cleaning teams” make sure the rooms stay in perfect condition. Local teachers will now take over the regular “computer classes” I taught during the entire past school year — sometimes going up to 40 hours per week. The newly installed Raspberry Pi reinforces our infrastructure and will serve 200+ students in K. Adamé from the next school year…

Currently the team is constructing a small building in Kuma Tokpli, which will become the permanent base of the Kuma Computer Center (and the second largest building in the small village), superseding the facility currently made available by a local farmers’ association. They also continue to work on the curriculum, and hope to introduce the students to programming in addition to teaching ICT and using the Raspberry Pis and other computers to support learning across the curriculum.

If you’d like to support the Kuma Computer Center, with funds or otherwise, have a look at their website. And if you’ve got an idea as good as this one to teach young people about computing, you’ll want know about the Raspberry Pi Education Fund, recently opened for applications and aimed at supporting initiatives like this with match funding; learn more here!

Call for questions: Q & A interview with the engineering and education teams

Back in February 2014, Matt Timmons-Brown captured Gordon, our Head of Software, and would not let him go to the café for his “Gordon Special” until he had spilled all of our secrets.

Gordon Hollingworth in interview

Gordon thinking about ‘Specials” as the ghost of a Toltec shaman hoots mournfully over his shoulder.

Matt is spending some time at Raspberry Pi Towers shortly and we’d like to do this again, but this time with added educationy goodness from one of the education team.

So: what would you like to know about Raspberry Pi? Post your questions below. The more questions we get the more interesting the Q&A sessions will be, so fire away!

Pi Wars

Helen: This December will see a Cambridge Raspberry Jam with a difference; we’re giving you all plenty of notice, so that you have time to prepare. We’ll let organisers Michael Horne and Tim Richardson tell you all about it.

Pi Wars

On 6th December this year, the Cambridge Raspberry Jam (CamJam) will play host to the first ever dedicated Raspberry Pi robotics competition: Pi Wars. Named after the BBC series Robot Wars, this competition is challenge-based and is similar to a ‘robot olympics’. Robots will take part in challenges to score points and, as we all know, points mean prizes! Our aim isn’t to have robots destroy each other – we want people to compete to show what they’ve managed to get their robots to do!

We’ve put together some overall rules for the competition which you can read here.

The robot challenges are as follows:

  • Line Follower
  • Obstacle Course
  • Proximity Alert
  • Robot Golf
  • Straight Line Speed Test
  • Sumo Battle
  • Three Point Turn
  • Aesthetics
  • Code Quality

You can read a full description of each challenge by visiting this page.

We’ve also got some side-competitions into which competing robots are automatically entered:

  • Smallest robot
  • Best non-competing robot
  • Best autonomous robot
  • Most feature-rich robot
  • The Jim Darby Prize for Excessive Blinkiness
  • Most innovative robot
  • Most visually appealing robot

We’re also hoping to have some non-competing robots in our Show-and-Tell area.

A robot

We are expecting (okay, hoping!) to have 16 robot competitors. This will give us a nice sized competition without having so many that we’re there until midnight :-) We’re even hoping that it will be an international competition – we’ve already had interest from a team in Egypt! Obviously, we’ll also have tickets available for spectators, of which we’re expecting between 100 and 150.

We are looking for sponsors to supply prizes for the competition and you can get more information on that by visiting this page.

Registration for the competition opens on 15th September and registration for spectator tickets will open sometime in late October/early November. We’re hoping that it will be an extremely popular event… Who knows? This could be the start of an annual event!

If you’d like to read more about Pi Wars, visit www.piwars.org.

Upcoming Picademy Dates – Get Teachers Applying Now!

It’s the summer holidays, and I know teachers will be enjoying a well earned break from thoughts of planning lessons and marking homework. But here at Pi Towers, the Education Team are already busy thinking about the new academic year and the start of term. In particular, we are busy planning the next series of Picademies, and we want to make sure that your favourite teacher doesn’t miss out!

Dates for new academic year diaries are:

  • 29th & 30th September 2014
  • 27th & 28th October 2014

Note: We have changed the date for September’s Picademy from 1st & 2nd September to 29th & 30th, because many schools have Inset days at the start of the month.

So are you a teacher? Do you know a great teacher? Today is ‘Poke a teacher to apply for Picademy day’ (totally official). We need your help to track down wonderful educators to tell them about our free training course known as Picademy and ask them to apply to join the fast-growing ranks of Raspberry Pi Certified Educators (they get a badge and everything!)

Babbage with his Raspberry Pi Certified Educator Badge

Babbage with his Raspberry Pi Certified Educator Badge

Raspberry Pi Academies for Teachers (Picademies) take place in Cambridge, UK. We invite practising teachers with any subject specialism (we’ve had art, design tech, science and even history teachers attend), who teach any age group between 5 and 18 years old, to come to Pi Towers for two days of fantastic fun learning for free. There are no strings. The Raspberry Pi Foundation is an educational charity – offering free CPD to teachers is part of our charitable mission.

Want to know what actually happens at a Picademy? Then read Clive’s report about Picademy 3 or check out the Picademy section on the official Raspberry Pi forums.

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What will you learn? Don’t miss out, apply today!

September’s Picademy will look favourably on applications from teachers in the South West of England, because I love clotted cream, but also because we’re very aware of regional accessibility to training and support, and so occasionally we will focus on specific regions. So if you are a teacher in the South West, we would love to have you here. This does not mean applications are open to teachers in the South West only! Please apply, teachers, wherever you are. And because we’ve had so many requests from teachers overseas, we are also now accepting applications from practising classroom teachers outside the UK too!

Applications for September Picademy will close on Friday 5th September. If you have been successful, we will let you know via the email address that you supplied in your application, no later than two weeks prior to the event. Applications for October will close on Friday 10th October.

What are you waiting for? Go grab a teacher and APPLY HERE NOW! (Do it!)

Smartphone rocket launcher

Teenage electronics enthusiast Lewis Callaway thought that an ad in which actors launch rockets from their iPhones was really cool, but he couldn’t find out how it was done, so he decided to start from scratch himself, using (of course) a Raspberry Pi.

Model rockets are launched by passing an electric current through an igniter, a device that includes a thin piece of wire in contact with the rocket’s propellant; the current causes the wire to heat up, igniting the propellant. Lewis used a relay board and jumper leads to complete the circuit between a 9V battery and the model rocket’s igniter, and connected power and signal wires between the relay board and his Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins so he could flip the switch on the 9V circuit with a signal from the GPIO.

To allow him to send the launch command from a smartphone, he installed the WebIOPi framework on the Pi. A custom web page hosted on the Pi contains a nice, big, orange LAUNCH button; pressing it runs a Python script which, in turn, controls the GPIO. A portable router provided the wifi hotspot necessary to view the web page on the phone.

Testing the system

Lewis also talks about his fantastic project in this Adafruit Show and Tell (starting at 7m55s), and shows how the system can be tested without actually launching anything—important if, like Lewis, you are working indoors.

We know that every day, Raspberry Pis lie idle when they could be launching rockets, and this makes us feel sad. Read the article Lewis wrote for Make: including links to his code and the parts that he used, and try it for yourself!

Slice – a media player using the Raspberry Pi Compute Module

We revealed the Raspberry Pi Compute Module back in April, and released the Compute Module Development Kit in the middle of June. Since then we’ve had a lot of interest and will shortly start shipping the Compute Module in volume to a variety of manufacturers who have already designed it into their products.

One of our goals with the Compute Module was to enable a generation of “Kickstarter consumer electronics” startups to develop commercial-quality products at relatively low volume. We’ve already we’ve seen the OTTO point-and-shoot camera, which was the first ever Kickstarter using the Compute module, and today marks the launch of another campaign which we hope will be even more successful.

Slice media player and remote

Slice media player and remote

Slice is an XBMC media player built around the Compute Module, with simple custom skin, a shiny milled-aluminium case, and a cute ring of 25 RGB LEDs for (and I quote) “visual feedback and wow factor”. It’s been developed by Mo Volans, our old friends Paul Beech and Jon Williamson from Pimoroni, and our very own Gordon Hollingworth and James Adams; they’ve been burning the candle at both ends to get Slice to where it is now, and the prototypes are looking pretty drool-worthy.

Head on over to Kickstarter to see for yourself why we’re excited about Slice!