Scooter with blinkenlights

Alex Markley, a programmer, writer and comedian, has a young relative who, thanks to a Model A Raspberry Pi, some Adafruit Neopixels, some sensors and a scooter is currently the world’s happiest nine-year-old.

I asked Alex if he’s written the project up – he says he’s working on it. We’ll add a link to any build instructions he produces as soon as they’re available.

Robot volcanology

Earlier this week, we talked about Raspberry Pi robots under the sofa. Today, we’ve got a Raspberry Pi robot under a volcano to show you.

carolynparcheta

Dr Carolyn Parcheta studied volcanology in Hawaii, and now works as a NASA postdoctoral fellow in Pasadena. Her particular area of study is the geometry of volcanic fissure vents: something that’s very hard to map, because they’re inaccessibly narrow, coated with sharp glass from eruptions, and are often destroyed when magma flows through them.

Learning about that geometry is crucial in building an understanding of how eruptions work: how magma flows, and how gas escapes. So with the help of a Raspberry Pi, Dr Parcheta has built a wall-climbing robot to go where humans can’t, and is using it to model cracks and vents in much more detail than has been possible before.

She made this video about the project for a National Geographic award last month, where she placed in the finals.

Dr Parcheta’s eventual goal is to 3d-map all of the fissures in Kilauea, an active volcano on Hawaii. There are 54 in all, and she completed maps of two in May this year. We’ll be keeping an eye on her progress – and on the progress of that brave little robot!

Eben at Techcrunch Disrupt

Eben was speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt in London yesterday, where he had a display board and HAT to show off, and some other bits of news. You’ll get to see a PiTop (a laptop kit that’s currently going great guns on Indiegogo), be tantalised with some details about the A+, and learn about what we think is important if you’re growing a hardware business: enjoy!

ToyCollect. A robot under the sofa.

On Saturday December 6 (we’re letting you know ahead of time so you’ve got absolutely no excuse for not finishing your build in time), there’s going to be a special event at the Cambridge Raspberry Jam, held at the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy. Pi Wars is a robot competition: unlike the televised Robot Wars you’ve seen in the past, though, nobody’s robot is going to be destroyed. There are a number of challenges to compete in (none of which involve circular saws, which will please some of you and sadden others), some additional prizes for things like innovation and feature-richness – along with the Jim Darby Prize for Excessive Blinkiness, and more. We’re absurdly excited about it. You can listen to Mike Horne, the organiser of the Cam Jam (and writer of The Raspberry Pi Pod blog, and occasional helper-outer at Pi Towers) explain more about what’ll happen on the day, on this episode of the Raspi Today podcast.

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 12.33.12

Mike’s expecting people to come from all over the country (it’s amazing how far people travel to come to the Cam Jam – I bumped into friends from Sheffield and from Devon at the last one). It should be a blast. We hope to see you there.

I was thinking about Pi Wars this morning, when an email arrived from Austria, complete with some robot video. Dr Alexander Seewald used a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino to build a tiny little robot, small enough to fit under the sofa, to rummage around and rescue his two-year-old daughter’s lost toys. (I do not have a two-year-old daughter, but I do have cats, who take great delight in hiding things under the sofa. Once, horrifyingly, we found a mummified burger down there. It had been some months since we’d eaten burgers. I could use one of these robots.)

The robot has a Pi camera on the front, with a nice bright LED, so the operator (using a tablet) can see where the bits of LEGO are. The voiceover’s in German, but even if you don’t speak the language you should be able to get a clear idea of what’s going on here.

Dr Seewald has made complete instructions available, so you can make your own ToyCollect robot: there’s everything you need from a parts list to code on his website (in English). It’s a nice, complete project to get you started on building a robot that has some use around the house – let us know if you attempt your own. And see you at Pi Wars!

Seeking the next Alan Turing – the Bebras Computational Thinking Challenge

Last week saw the London Film Festival open with the premier of The Imitation Game, a film which chronicles the awe-inspiring work of Alan Turing cracking the German naval Enigma machine at Bletchley Park, Britain’s code breaking centre during WWII.

Alan_Turing_photo

Alan Turing was a man of startling intellect and one of the founding fathers of computer science. After his work at Bletchley, Alan Turing went on to make significant contributions to the development of ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) at National Physical Laboratory (NPL), and later on the Manchester Mark 1 at Manchester University. Turing was a mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, computer scientist, mathematical biologist, and also a marathon and ultra-distance runner (all qualities to which I can only aspire and fail to measure up on every count). Of course, the tragedy of his life is how he was persecuted and prosecuted for his sexuality, which ultimately led to him taking his own life. This injustice was eventually recognised by the British Government in 2012, leading to a posthumous pardon by HM Queen Elizabeth in 2013. To this day Alan Turing remains one of the most notable figures in the development of computing in the UK.

Enigma-G

As an undergraduate at King’s College Cambridge, Alan Turing studied mathematics. It was during this time he did his seminal work on computation. Turing devised a methodology of describing hypothetical abstract machines, and demonstrated such machines are capable of performing any mathematical computation if it could be represented as an algorithmTuring machines are a central object of study in the theory of computation. Building on this earlier work in 1949 Turing proposed an experiment, the Turing test. In this test Turing attempted to understand and define the basis of machine “intelligence”. Turing’s assertion was that a computational device could be said to be “intelligent” if a human interrogator could not distinguish between the responses from the machine and that of another human being, through conversation alone. To this day the Turing test continues to spark debate around the meaning of artificial intelligence, so in homage of his work we’ve created an educational resource – a whole scheme of work for KS2 and KS3 – for teachers to explore the Turing experiment.

Turing Test lesson plan

At Bletchley, Turing had a bit of a reputation. He was nicknamed “The Prof” in recognition of his curious mannerism, his intellect and his understanding of computation. Here at Pi Towers, we are keen on all things computing, and we are always looking for ways to grow the next generation of Turings, so in conjunction with ARM Holdings and Oxford University we are proud to support and sponsor the UK Bebras Computational Thinking Challenge.

beaverUK2[1]

The Bebras Computational Thinking Challenge is open to all schools in the UK, for pupils from Year 2 to Year 13, and runs during the week beginning November 10. The challenge is free to enter, takes about 40 minutes and is completed online. If you are not sure what to expect, you can have a go at questions from previous year’s competitions here, but if you are interested in taking part in this year’s competition your school must register by October 31. Not in the UK ? Don’t worry, this is only the UK chapter of an international competition, so you can find out your national organising body at the Bebras site under countries.

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!