Scout groups pop up regularly on the Raspberry Pi blog. The special mix of enthusiastic young people, talented leaders and technology makes for brilliant projects that really sum up why the Raspberry Pi was created. The 2nd Aldershot Scout Group’s project is particularly splendid: roving robots, chicken wire, papier mache, programming, Raspberry Pis and more. It doesn’t get much better than that— we love it!
Hannah Bird of Fubra tells us what they’ve been up to:
On Monday 26th November the 2nd Aldershot Scout group landed in the Fubra Ltd offices to launch stage 2 of the Fubra Universe project.
The Fubra Universe project is a scheme set up by Fubra Ltd to introduce children to programming. Once the children have learnt basic programming on a Raspberry Pi workstation then they will be able to program a mini Mars Rover around a Mars terrain that the children created. The project has started with the 2nd Aldershot Scouts as it helps them achieve their IT badge. If it is a success then it may be rolled out nationally.
During the first stage of the Fubra Universe project the team set up 10 Raspberry Pi workstations for the Scouts to use for their annual Jamboree on the Internet. This event introduced the Scouts to Raspberry Pis and the workstations they will be using to program the mini Mars Rover in the new year.
Workstations ready for setup
This week’s second stage got the children working on the Raspberry Pi workstations again but this time to learn some programming. Using Scratch the children made a cartoon version Psy (the man behind the most memorable song in the world right now) dance to his song Gangnam Style. A few of the whiz kids sped through the course and made some cheeky amendments to the program, making Psy a sniper’s target for shooting practice!
Programming in Scratch
While half of the Scout group worked on destroying a poor old cartoon version of Psy, the other half got their hands dirty creating a Mars terrain. They created the terrain out of MDF, chicken wire, boxes, newspaper and papier mache. In the new year, once the children have learnt more about programming, they will be able to program a mini Mars Rover and navigate the robot over the terrain they created.
It was a particularly messy evening creating the terrain but the children (and supervising adults) seemed to love an excuse to get their hands dirty throwing glue and paper over the terrain. They also got into creating some lumps and bumps in the terrain to make it more realistic. Since the event the Scout leaders said they got some great feedback from the parents of the Scouts, many of whom told them their children could not stop talking about the project.
Making a Mars-scape from chicken wire and papier mache
This coming Monday stage 3 of the project will be initiated; painting the Mars terrain with sand and spray paint and starting the children on a Codecademy course. Follow @FubraUniverse to keep up to date with the project.
We’ve had some people send us some great stuff this week – if you’re working on something cool that you think we might feature in a grab bag post, please mail me at email@example.com.
First up, some video. Linus Torvalds has been talking about Raspberry Pi (we will forgive him his insistence on calling it Raspberry P.I. because he is a massive hero of ours, and the fact that he ever mentions us at all is beyond fantastic.) The question about Raspberry Pi starts at 52m 19s. (The Nvidia bit earlier on is, broadly speaking, NSFW.)
Steve Jones from iMica has put AROS, an open-source implementation of Amiga OS on the Raspberry Pi.
Greg Macaree has been using the Raspberry Pi as a crucial piece of wedding reception audio equipment, the whole setup nearly jeopardised by a milking machine (seriously). He says:
For those not familiar, Sonos is a multi-room streaming hifi system. The Connect:Amp incorporates a media player with a 55w stereo amplifier and a 2 port network switch. It connects to your router, network storage device (if you have one) and speakers so you can listen to your music collection or Internet radio feed wherever you have a zone player setup. They also have the ‘Sonos Control’ an ip based wireless remote control which connects directly to the system.
I’ve had a few Sonos zones setup in my house for a couple of years now, generally playing a rock related Internet feed whenever I’m at home! So it was situation normal a few months ago when Becky, my fiancée had one of her mates over to chat about her forthcoming wedding. The music was probably on the loud side, so Becky picked up the Sonos remote to turn the volume down… And so the conversation began, that ended in me volunteering to provide the music for the wedding reception!
As the event got closer the technical aspects became more apparent, the venue – a marquee on their family farm would certainly not have an Internet connection or even a reliable power supply that I’d want to plug a pc into.
Sat at my desk I looked down and had the light-bulb moment, the Sonos system requires two things from a network – an ip address and a music source.. Sat in front of me was my recently delivered Raspberry Pi which could deliver those.. or could it?
I needed to have dhcp and file server services but having only dabbled in Linux (I’ve been a Windows user since 3.11 ) it was going to be a small challenge, although I knew it should be possible.
I started by downloading the Debian image from www.raspberrypi.org This gave me the bare bones of the server. Next job was to share a folder that I could fill with mp3′s. The Sonos devices need a windows style share, so after some research online I found that the tool for this task is an app or daemon called samba. Using apt-get I soon had samba installed and configured and I attempted to connect from my windows laptop. Before i could even attempt this i needed to know the current ip address of the Pi. Ifconfig soon displayed the answer and success! I could see the share. However I couldn’t write anything to it. Google soon came up trumps and chmod 777 was run on the folder – I could now copy the mp3′s onto the sd card of the Pi.
I then attempted to connect to the share from Sonos and it happily connected straight away, but with the Pi as a dhcp client I had to remain connected to my home network. Again Google came to the rescue, a static ip address was setup and dhcp3 was downloaded, installed and configured. I disconnected the Pi from my home lan and plugged it directly into my Sonos Amp. I rebooted both and nothing.. My remote wouldn’t talk to the amp although I thought it should be ok and the activity port on the amp was showing activity – I couldn’t connect.
I was just about to pull the setup apart to check everything when the remote then popped into life, showed a message box – “new ip address, reboot now?” so I quickly clicked ok and up it came with its new ip – it then connected to the amp and in turn the amp connected to the Pi! Blimey, it works! I selected a track and hit play.. Lo and behold, music came blaring from the speakers and the problem was resolved. I had the solution I needed!
Come the day, I setup the Pi, Sonos & speakers in the marquee.. But there was no power, the kitchen had ‘borrowed’ it – I couldn’t test anything so had to disappear to the wedding hoping that all was well.
Several hours later, after the sit down meal, the power arrived and I plugged the Sonos and Pi into the extension – disaster.. The Sonos wouldn’t boot. To cut a long story short, the milking parlour on the farm was now in full production and that didn’t leave enough juice for us.. Once milking time was over I tried again and success.. It was a few minutes later than planned but the reception was soon rocking and it kept on rocking into the early hours!
Congratulations to Lyndsey & Alan – a fantastic day, assisted by a small slice of Pi!
And finally, Warrington Collegiate have been working on getting Windows 7 (!) running on the Raspberry Pi using the VMware View Open Client. We think they’re the first people to have done this – they’re calling it Magnum Pi, because we all love moustaches and Hawaiian shirts. Nick Smeltzer, their Director of IT Services, emailed me to say that Microsoft already know about it…
Microsoft have seen it too and politely reminded us about licencing – ie connecting to a Windows 7 virtual machine from a Linux device. It’s a no no. But fine with Hyper V funnily enough. They were still impressed though….
Biz, age 12, is a member of the Boreatton Scouts Robo Club. When we featured them in a post a few weeks ago, we had a number of requests for instructions on making the LEGO Raspberry Pi case she’d created. She’s sent me some instructions and photos – thanks Biz!
The Scouts are in Mannheim, Germany today. They’re representing the UK in the FIRST LEGO League Open Robot Championship; judging is taking place today. We thought you’d like to see the extremely swanky uniforms they’re using for the contest, and Cazz, another Scout, agreed to model them here. (Note left arm.)
Over to Biz for case instructions. Thanks again, Biz; and good luck to all of you in Germany!
First make a two layer base – we had to use blue and red because that’s what we had – it is 13 splots by 9 (awkward!)
Now we add some flat bits to hold the Pi so the solder bits don’t get scraped when we plug things in and out.
You can load the RasPi in now or wait until the end!
Now build the walls – one layer at a time! Again we just used what bits we had.
Oops! A bit fuzzy!
Now we need a lid – again the lego sizes are a bit inconvenient and so we have a notch in the bottom edge and a corresponding hole that we were short of bits to fill.
Actually that turned out to be quite handy as we have an easy detachable half lid that gives access to pinouts and test points.
Now for the cute bit...
Here are the bits...
Had to make it double thickness and again ran out of a splot - but that doesn't show!
And finally a round mini-splot to attach to the case (and hide the hole in the roof).
Liz: A little while ago, we had an email from Alan Herbert, who helps run the Boreatton Scout troop. The troop had been hoping to get their hands on a Raspberry Pi but hadn’t been lucky with the first batch. They’re a pretty special troop, who have a real affinity with things technological; they’ve been busy winning robotics prizes and building rockets, and we decided they were just the sort of kids we wanted to see get an early start with the Raspberry Pi. We warned them that the software stack isn’t complete yet, and that there would be bugs in there which are being ironed out in time for the educational release – in particular, we’re working on X drivers at the moment to speed up scrolling and so on, which can make things aggravatingly slow for some, but Alan assured us that they’d be able to work around any problems.
The scouts have had their Raspi for a just under a month now: I asked Alan if he’d write something for us about how they’ve been getting on, and he’s really gone to town on it. An enormous thank you to Alan and all the scouts – we hope to feature more of what they’ve been up to with the Raspberry Pi as they develop their mind-control robot project. (And be sure to read down to the end, where there’s some video from some of the scouts on what they’ve been doing.)
The Boreatton Scouts Engineering and Science Team
My scout troop likes doing science projects and competitions – I think most kids do if they have an enthusiastic leader or teacher – and they take part in the First Lego League robotics competition. This year they did well and won their Regional Finals at Manchester University, and went on to win the National Finals Robot Design Prize at Loughborough University. We were chosen as one of the teams to represent the UK at the European Open Championships in Germany in June. Part of the competition is a research project, and the scouts have been busy experimenting in ways to preserve raspberries (see the connection coming!), so my house is filling up with bottles of gases for controlled atmosphere packaging, raspberries pickling in Coca-Cola and generally lots of raspberries in various states of decay! In the international competitions we want to show off some cool Lego-robotics ideas in our base camp, and we started planning what to do just as the Raspberry Pi was launched. Perfect! Especially as, although we missed the front of the queue to buy one, Liz at the Raspberry Pi Foundation liked our idea and sent us one of the very first!
So how have we got on? It’s great! The scouts love it and are very proud to be part of the community that is helping test and develop the Pi.
With all our techy projects, it is important to have a goal and to know what we want to do. That’s easy – we want a mind-controlled Lego NXT robot that is portable and independent of big bulky wired computers, and the Raspberry Pi looks just the job. We want it to be fun too – if it’s a computer then it must have some good games too. That’s what computers are for, right?
So what do we need from the Pi? It needs to do the basic computer things – internet, games, PowerPoint, more games…and it needs to look cool!
Putting it together
First things first – we made a Lego case! It is our Raspberry Pi now! The case is quite easy: the Pi fits into seven splots by eleven splots, and to allow for the the USB and LAN ports we need it to be three bricks high.
The Boreatton Scouts' custom-built Lego Raspberry Pi case
The SD card operating system download now has good detailed instructions. We bought a cheap Sony 8Gb SD card from Maplin, and had no problems once we remembered to resize the partitions after copying the image. We decided to use a old BlackBerry 700mA charger; an mini-USB, light-up keyboard; and a mini light-up mouse; all connected to a newish LCD TV through HDMI. Everything worked right out of the box (our new Lego box that is!). Wired LAN worked right away, and we were on the internet.
Because the software is still in development, it is very slow at the moment! You need patience when browsing in LXDE windows through Midori. I guess it is important to realise what you are trying to do with the Pi, and it you want a netbook or a laptop – that’s not the Pi. But you do need to be able to connect to the internet, and we needed to be away from the wired LAN which is in a room that we can’t devote to the scouts. This is where we ran into problems – the nano-usb WiFi dongles didn’t have drivers available that I could find in Debian, and nor did the full size D-link 54G dongle, so we took the tiny WiFi dongle back to Maplins and exchanged for a Netgear N150 full sized dongle that had been shown to work.
Not for me! Everything worked as per the instructions on the Raspberry Pi website up to the point where it is supposed to connect. This is now well documented as a USB power related issue, and lead eventually to trying a range of power supplies and hub combinations. In the end we found that cheap powered USB travel hubs (the ones that say power port available in case your devices need extra power) try to take power from the hub, and that WiFi and Bluetooth dongles seem to need more than the 150mA that is enough to trip the polyfuses protecting the board at the USB ports. You need a hub that does not connect unless it is powered. I also got quite adept at whipping the lid off the case and checking voltage on the board. The BlackBerry charger seems to deliver slightly low voltage, the iPad charger with a USB to micro-usb (BlackBerry) cable delivers too much voltage (5.3V). So does my Maplin external laptop battery. Quite frustrating.
In the end I gave up messing with random chargers and hub combinations and got a digital bench power supply (cheaper than the cost of petrol driving back and forth to Maplin, who, while not necessarily offering the cheapest price or most comprehensive range, were very helpful and allowed me try and exchange any of the peripherals if they didn’t work). That delivers 5.07V which drops a bit by the time it arrives at the test point. I use an old Belkin powered four-port hub that is not connected to the USB 5V line for WiFi or Bluetooth, and a cheap travel hub for keyboard and mouse. We generally have to boot the Raspberry Pi first then plug in the travel hub. There are still issues, and in particular, the Pi likes me to restart on average 3.14 times before booting up with WiFi working, but at least I can always get up and running now.
Introducing BERT5e, the Boreatton Scouts' prize-winning robot
We do want to be free of heavy accessories, so for going to our Lego competition we have bought an OPTOMA PK320 pico projector that works great from batteries or mains, and takes AV out or HDMI (although the HDMI port is very close to the mains plug, and I have to run off batteries if using my HDMI-mini-HDMI adaptor on the projector). It will be nice to sort our battery power for the Raspberry Pi and its hubs in due course, but for now we run with the bench power supply and the powered hub. I guess I should get the scouts to make up a little regulator circuit to see what happens when we try to run from four AA batteries…
As for drivers, the Debian wiki gives pretty good instructions and I found that the www.wiki.debian.org/WiFi and www.wiki.debian.org/BluetoothUser gave clear instructions that worked for the Netgear N150 WiFi dongle (Atheros chipset, also my WiFi is not secured so I needed to give the essid name directly in the configuration file rather than using a WEP configuration file – the Debian wiki has more general instructions than the ones on the forum links) and for an Abe UB22S Bluetooth dongle. We use the ALSA drivers and the modprobe command sudo modprobe snd-bcm2835 (searched for sound on the forum). Video works through VLC (www.videolan.org) but with rather odd colours (this is a known issue for the old Debian “squeeze” image).
We can also get the Raspberry Pi to drive the Lego robot through nxt-python (Hurrah!) www.code.google.com/p/nxt-python/ gives instructions to get the source and run from the Python IDE in LXDE. We ran one of the demo examples and BERT5e obligingly drove forward 3cm! One small step for BERT5e, and then we stopped for the day so as to end on a win!
Last but not least, we have the Quake III demo working.
Some of it works, some of the time – just not all of it works all of the time
Actually, with the above setup, we can get all of it to work, just not all of it at once – it is still not happy at having WiFi, Bluetooth, mouse and keyboard all together… [Liz: I'm going to butt in here, scouts, and suggest you replace the backlit mouse and keyboard with something that requires less power, and see how you get on with that setup.] I’ve parked that issue for now as we can set it up to do whatever we want now and just reboot when we want to change the setup. Hopefully that will be sorted out by the Educational release. Our next target is to get Puzzlebox Brainstorms. This works well from our laptops with an Emotiv EEG headset, and the Brainstorms software is written in Python. We probably need to get a NeuroSky EEG headset though as the Emotiv drivers are commercial and not yet available for Linux.
The scouting movement has really come on since I (Liz) was a girl, when it was gender-segregated, and, for my Girl Guides troop, all about making tea, washing up properly (I had the badge and everything) and learning what amounted to basic nursing skills. These scouts get to go mud-rafting, prepare pheasants for cooking, shoot bows and arrows, and go mountaineering. I think I was born a quarter of a century too early.
But finally, I can leave the scouts to just have a play on their Pi and be confident that they will be able to do things and explore. I do not know Scratch, but they have seen it at school and very quickly made some programs to chase a raspberry fish around the screen (you always lose, but can run and hide in the corners for a while); and a smiley face maze game where you have to hide from Pac-Man-type monsters that patrol their corners of the maze. They can all, of course, beat my attempts at Quake III.
A couple of them came across last Sunday to make an electric pickup for their guitar (a piezoelectric transducer disk for 99p), and to see what they could do on the Raspberry Pi. They had to be dragged away from the game they had made, and were busy changing and improving it as their parents finally prized them away from it – that’s what it’s about isn’t it!
The scouts’ games are pretty basic compared to downloaded games and anyone else would get bored with them in no time at all, but it is completely different when it is your game that you’ve written yourself, or a game your mate has written. The fun is in planning how to make it better and problem-solving to get the code to do that. GUI programming languages like SCRATCH and the Lego robotics NXT-G mean that my scouts can get to that point and enjoy developing something that is working straight away. They could do that on any computer, and it is a little bit intangible exactly what makes the Raspberry Pi so much cooler than a laptop. But when you can see the board and put it in your pocket it seems much more real. With the Pi they can have their own computer that will be able to go anywhere and it doesn’t matter if they mess things up – they can recreate the whole system by recopying the SD card. Developing the operating system and installing hardware is, for them, more like getting apps from the App Store than upgrading Windows. They will be able to share that with each other in the same way as they recommend new apps to each other. And they like the idea that when they have one each (they all want one each and several are in the queue already) they can just swap SD cards and will have recreated their computer with all their projects.
The initial development release of the Raspberry Pi has had some frustrations as the software and hardware gets sorted out, but that is part of the fun of this stage of the Pi. The scouts can see what I am doing to get it working (with the help of everyone on the troubleshooting forum!) and enjoy the small wins as we make progress.
Should everyone have a slice of the Pi?
How will the Raspberry Pi work for other groups? Obviously, I have a great group of scouts who win national STEM competitions and are a pretty unique bunch, but what makes them succeed? They come from a decent state school and are an ordinary mix of 10-14 year olds. They are not selected in any way other than wanting to join the team, so it’s not just for ‘gifted and talented’ kids. But the leaders enjoy science projects and we generally find that it is very easy to enthuse the scouts at everything that we are enthusiastic about ourselves. They are doing it in their own time and are having fun and not ‘being taught’. They have learned that if they put in the effort they can do really well at whatever they are doing, and now that they know they can succeed, that enthusiasm and confidence means they usually do! I think that formula will work for most groups of kids if they find an enthusiastic teacher or leader. They will be able to do all sorts of great things with a Raspberry Pi, and the price means that once they are widely available, it will be cheap enough for practically any group to get involved – just check out the Projects and Collaboration Forum.
As for the teacher/leader, you do not need to be a computing expert. You need to be reasonably computer literate at this stage obviously, but the Raspberry Pi Forum works well and there are plenty of people out there who will help you through getting to know Linux. The wider Debian community has produced a lot of walk-through instructions to do most things. I think the main requirement is to have some long term objective of what you want to do as a class/group and to want to do it!
Hear from the scouts themselves, and see the BERT5e the robot in action, as well as a game Doc has written in Scratch on the Raspberry Pi. The scouts here are Matt Farrow, Matty (Doc) Smith, Isabelle (Biz) Herbert and Ben Thomas.