Raspberry Pi Blog

This is the official Raspberry Pi blog for news and updates from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, education initiatives, community projects and more!

Working Doctor Who props with Raspberry Pi

Doctor Who fans are enjoying a richly layered Series 9 so far this autumn, with plenty of nods to classic Who and a fabulously creepy two-parter that concluded on Saturday. I resisted the temptation to share Richard Hopkinsamazing K-9 build blog here when I found it a while ago, because I thought it’d be best appreciated alongside the superb screen presence of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor to remind us what a wonderful fictional universe this is (not everyone agrees with me about Capaldi, of course; note, though, that I’ll be moderating the comments scrupulously).

Richard Hopkins' version of K-9, a robotic dog in Doctor Who

Richard Hopkins’ K-9, pictured in August with side monitor and newly functioning camera and wagging tail. Photo by Richard Hopkins | CC BY-SA 4.0

While some projects might occupy a few entries on their author’s more general blog, it’s easy to appreciate that the scope of this project, which has been ongoing since May 2014, warrants a blog all to itself. A Raspberry Pi as the brains of the robot was part of the project from the very beginning. It controls K-9’s expressive, servo-driven ears and tail as well as the scooter motors that move him around, runs Node-RED to allow browser-based control and to display a power monitoring dashboard on the panel on his side, and lets him to respond to voice commands and hold a basic conversation. A Raspberry Pi camera module on a long cable sits behind his eye panel. Who wouldn’t want to share their home with a robot like this?

K9 Progress August 2015

The addition of a wagging tail, side monitor dashboard and eye camera is significant progress.

As fantastic as Richard’s build is, it’s not the only homemade, Raspberry Pi-powered K-9. William Reichardt’s wooden-bodied K-9 is tricked out with a thermal printer in its head; and if, like me, you don’t have the time or the technical chops for a project this complex, you can still house your Raspberry Pi in a fine LEGO K-9 case.

Meanwhile, if the current series of Doctor Who has seen the Doctor swap his sonic screwdriver for a pair of sonic sunglasses (they look great, but we’re hoping they’re not forever, yes?), fans seem committed to the classic tool. I found four different Raspberry Pi-powered sonic screwdrivers for everything from door locking to a TV-B-Gone, after which I stopped counting.

Alan O’Donohoe has made a Raspberry Pi-controlled Dalek that responds to Twitter, a Doctor Who story premise that I never want Stephen Moffat to consider.

#TweetMyDalek – Raspberry Pi controlled Dalek

At our Preston Geek Up meet: A 12″ model of a Dr Who Dalek is controlled by tweets, received by a battery powered Raspberry Pi computer running Linux The RGB LED responds to colours tweeted with hashtag #cheerlights Dalek robot developed by Alan O’Donohoe, @teknoteacher

Last of all, something we can’t leave out of any conversation about Doctor Who-related Raspberry Pi projects is Dave Akerman‘s TARDIS.

The TARDIS, as seen in Doctor Who, except slightly smaller on the inside

Slightly smaller on the inside

OK, so it’s hard to call this a fully working prop; it’s pretty small on the outside to begin with, and then the inside is, if anything, a little bit smaller. However, with the help of a high altitude balloon, it did fly to the edge of space, which counts for a lot with us. This might seem like the kind of thing for which you need long experience, and it’s true that a HAB flight demands some months of preparation. But having seen our first few successful launches following this summer’s Skycademy training for educators, we know that a stratospheric TARDIS is something that’s within the reach of primary schools.

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Maker Faire Berlin 2015

James Mitchell, who for the past year and a bit has been organising a mean Raspberry Jam Berlin, kindly agreed to represent Raspberry Pi at Maker Faire Berlin 2015 last weekend. It was the first continental European Maker Faire that Raspberry Pi has been to, and it was a fantastic event! Here is James’ round-up of a really busy and very worthwhile weekend.

Last weekend, 3-4 October, Berlin saw its first Maker Faire! As the organiser of the Raspberry Jam here in Berlin I got really excited to hear that finally Maker Faire was coming to town so, I jumped at the chance to represent Raspberry Pi and Raspberry Jam Berlin.

Maker Faire Berlin 2015

The goal was to let people know what the Raspberry Pi is and what it can do. And maybe also to sneak in that there is a Raspberry Jam in Berlin for those looking for support and community.

With a lot of help from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, community leaders like Les Pounder, Jam members and Jam sponsors, plus a whole lot of understanding from my wife, I set about building the booth and the little displays and demos:

  • Motorised spinning flower
  • Jedi or Sith detector
  • Conway’s Game of Life demo
  • Sense HAT demo
  • Internet Connected Goal: with camera, thermal printer and Twitter
  • Tweeting Photobooth
  • Robots: Line-following and Wiimote-controlled
  • Workstations with Minecraft, Scratch and Sonic Pi
  • Timelapse Cameras
  • Cheer Light Demo

Phew – that was a lot of work to set up!

It was extremely important to keep things simple but still show off the potential of the Raspberry Pi. The spinning flower, for example, might not look like much to veteran Pi users, but to someone new it’s showing the start of robotics. It’s showing that with a couple of wires and a motor you can make things move. Each display showed a key feature found in most Raspberry Pi projects: interface, data collection, connectivity and feedback.

Jedi OrSith detector at Maker Faire Berlin 2015

A Raspberry Pi-based Jedi Or Sith detector

A child explains something to an adult at the Raspberry Pi booth at Maker Faire Berlin 2015

A child explains what it’s all about to an adult

To avoid just having a mess of Pi’s on the table I made some display plates (painted 4mm MDF with a lot of holes, held up by sticks). Thanks also goes to Pimoroni for making acrylic versions for me! This kept things neat and also at eye level for kids who would be coming to the booth.

James Mitchell’s post on Vine

Watch James Mitchell’s Vine taken on 4 October 2015. It has 0 likes. Vine is the best way to see and share life in motion. Create short, beautiful, looping videos in a simple and fun way for your friends and family to see.

Both days got really busy!

Crowd at Maker Faire Berlin 2015

There was a constant stream of people interested in the Pi. Special thanks go to my great team who helped out at the booth: Richard Ruston, Dr. Nana Schön and Florian Merz. Without their help and sunny disposition I don’t think our booth at the Faire would have run nearly as smoothly as it did.

Cannybots at Maker Faire Berlin 2015

Cannybots are programmable robots that you can control with your Pi

Visitors to the Raspberry Pi/Raspberry Jam Berlin booth at Maker Faire Berlin 2015

I did mention further up that we had timelapse cameras running…

Raspberry Pi at Maker Faire Berlin 2015

Raspberry Pi booth timelapse for Maker Faire Berlin October 2015 Music: www.bensound.com

We also won a Maker of Merit ribbon. How awesome is that?

Maker of Merit ribbon at Maker Faire Berlin 2015

What I can take away from the Maker Faire and the people I met is that education is very important to parents in Germany. They are looking for the resources and platforms to equip their kids for today’s technological world, and there are lots of choices out there. But it is all a little fragmented and maybe not always easy to learn. I found appreciation for the Raspberry Pi and what the Foundation is out to achieve. I found kids with wide eyes willing to learn, teachers desperate to teach and makers willing to share. This honestly validates the work that is going into the Raspberry Jam Berlin and makes it clear that I am on the right track.

If you want to help, just get out there, go to your Jams, help out at your Maker Faires, volunteer at your local schools. Keep things simple but awesome. Engage with people and spread the word!

Enormous thanks to James and his team for all the hard work that we know went into representing us at Maker Faire Berlin and showing people what they can do with Raspberry Pi. Everything we’ve seen tells us that it was a great first European Faire, and we’re sure there’ll be more to come!


A lunar eclipse time-lapse

A total lunar eclipse was visible from large parts of the world on 27-28 September 2015: a supermoon lunar eclipse, no less, since it occurred while the Moon was in the part of its elliptical orbit that takes it closest to Earth. Norbert Heinz, aka HomoFaciens, made a time-lapse film of the event using his Raspberry Pi and camera module together with a 100-300mm zoom lens.

lunar eclipse 2015 recorded with a Raspberry Pi camera module

Table of Contents: 00:16 Connecting the camera to a zoom lens 02:20 First shot of the full moon 03:06 Entering the umbra 06:36 Leaving the umbra 08:14 Plane before moon The project page: http://www.homofaciens.de/technics-miscellaneous-lunar-eclipse-2015_en_navion.htm

Norbert’s narration takes you through how he prepared his set-up, which required a bit of modification to the camera board, and discusses its limitations. As we’ve come to expect with his projects, you can also watch a German-language version.

The video shows the eerie, inky shadow of Earth creeping across the face of the Moon, and towards the end of his recording, Norbert captured some very pleasing shots of a passenger jet crossing the field of view. He didn’t succeed in picking the correct combination of values for light sensitivity, aperature and exposure time to record the Moon’s surface in the Earth’s umbra, so the video doesn’t show the reddish glow of the blood moon (he intends to upgrade his kit before the next time he tries this, in 2018). However, f varas-genestier captured some lovely images of a 2014 lunar eclipse with his low-cost Pi + Pi camera build, so it certainly can be done. [Edited to add: François Varas tells us that these Moon photographs weren’t in fact taken during an eclipse. We’re sorry; we were led astray by the way they were referenced elsewhere on the web. They’re still lovely photos, though, François!]

Meanwhile, forum member “mntmst” had a completely different project for the lunar eclipse. They describe a very interesting experiment they undertook with their children to investigate changes in the moonlight during the eclipse, using a Raspberry Pi, seven solar panels, an ADC and an original Gertboard. The information and images they’ve shared, and their results, are well worth a look.

If you’d like to try out a lunar photography set-up similar to Norbert’s, you’ll find useful information in his project pages, available in both English and German. But if you’re new to the camera module, a good place to start is with the time-lapse set-up worksheet in our Resources section. These projects are a great way to achieve really appealing results with a simple set-up, and their variations are limited only by your imagination.


A new version of Scratch for Raspberry Pi: now with added GPIO

There are many excellent things to be found in last week’s release of Raspbian Jessie and we’ve been keeping one of the best ones tucked under our big Raspberry Pi-shaped hat. In the Programming menu on the desktop you’ll find a new version of Scratch, our favourite programming language for beginners.

Breadboard and Scratch on Raspberry Pi

Connect buttons, sensors, cameras, LEDS, goblin sticks and other gubbins to your Pi using Scratch

Tim Rowledge, who has been “vigorously wrangling Scratch into shape over the last couple of years” (thanks Eben), tells us what’s new:


Along with the new Raspbian release we are including the latest Scratch system update. It might have seemed a bit quiet on the Scratch front since March, but lots has happened here in the rainforests of Vancouver Island. There are two primary changes you will notice:

  • a significant increase in speed
  • the addition of a built-in GPIO server.

Speedier Scratch

One of the big projects last year was to modernize the Scratch code to run in a current Squeak Smalltalk system rather than the very old original version; this improved performance a fair bit all on its own, since the newer Squeak benefited from a lot of work over the years. [The Scratch world is created using Squeak, a dialect of the Smalltalk programming language, and Squeak itself runs on a software emulation of a computer system called a virtual machine -Ed.] It also built us a Scratch that could run on the very latest Squeak virtual machines that have dynamic code translation, generating machine code at run-time. Along with work to improve the Squeak code that implements Scratch, we then had a noticeably faster system.

A major project this year has been building such a virtual machine for the Pi; until now, only x86 machines have been able to run this version. With a very generous amount of support from Eliot Miranda – the original author of the Cog virtual machine and all-round software deity – the ARM Cog VM has been whirring away since around June.

Benchmarks are always a nastily slippery subject, but we feel that Squeak performance is typically between 3 and 10 times faster, obviously depending on what exactly one is measuring. Things will get even faster in the future as we iron out wrinkles in the code generation, and soon we hope to start benefiting from another project that does code optimization on the fly; early hints suggest at least a doubling of performance. Since Scratch uses a lot of graphics and UI code it doesn’t always speed up so much; but we already did a lot of graphics speed improvements for prior releases.

Our favourite “scary big demo” is Andrew Oliver’s implementation of Pac-Man. The original release of Scratch on the Raspberry Pi Model B could manage almost one frame per second, at best. The same Model B with the latest Scratch system can manage about 12-15 frames per second, and on a Raspberry Pi 2 we can get a bit over 30, making a very playable Pac-Man.


The new GPIO server for Pi Scratch is a first pass at a new and hopefully simpler way for users to connect Scratch to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins or to add-on boards plugged into them. It is modelled on the mesh/network server and uses the same internal API so that either or both can be used at any time – indeed, you can have both working and use a Pi as a sort of GPIO server or data source. We have not introduced any new blocks at this point.

The server also allows access to the Pi camera, IP address and date and time and allows complex functionality. For example, the following scripts (along with a suitably configured breadboard) provide the ability to turn LEDs on and off according to a button, to take a photo with a countdown provided by a progressively brightening LED, and ways to check the time etc.

Examples of using Scratch to control the camera module, control LEDs connected to the Raspberry Pi's GPIO pins, and check the time

Examples of using Scratch to control the camera module, control LEDs connected to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins, and check the time

Add-On Hardware

We can also plug in Pi add-on cards such as the Sense HAT, Pibrella, Explorer HAT, PiFace, PiLite and Ryanteck motor board.

Each card has its own set of commands layered on top of the basic GPIO facilities described above.

Demo project scripts

In the Scratch Examples directory (found via the File-->Open dialogue and then the Examples shortcut) you will find a Sensors and Motors directory; several new GPIO scripts are included, including the one above.


Closing notes from Clive

We’re really pleased that GPIO is now built in to the Pi version of Scratch. It means that users can use access the GPIO pins “out of the box,” and so get into physical computing that much more easily. We’ve also introduced the GPIO pin numbering system also known as BCM numbering for consistency across our resources, and having our own version of GPIO support gives us finer control over functionality and support for add-on boards in future.

All of our resources using Scratch will use this version from now on, and existing resources will be rewritten. Tim’s reference guide details all of the commands and functionality, and there will be a simplified beginner’s tutorial along this week.

Last of all, there’s no way I can end this post without taking the opportunity to thank our community who have supported (and continue to support) GPIO in Scratch on the Pi. In particular, a big thanks to Simon Walters, aka @cymplecy, for all of his work on Scratch GPIO over the last few years.


Meet my Pixel Pals from Soldering Sunday

I’m always on the lookout for fun physical computing gadgets to teach young people basic electronics, soldering skills, and of course how to code. If they work with a Raspberry Pi then I get even more excited. Some time last year I happened across a Kickstarter campaign that ticked all my STEAM boxes from a small company called Soldering Sunday established by a group of adventurous makers from Monroe, New Jersey, USA. Their campaign was called CHIP – an electronics kit with character and immediately grabbed my attention. Thankfully I was not alone and the campaign was successfully kickstarted.

Thanks to @solderingsunday for my #chip kit. I upgraded his leds to multi colour!

A video posted by Miss Philbin (@missphilbin) on

Chip is part of a group of ‘Pixel Pals’ designed to grab the attention of young makers, encouraging them to explore new skills and to play with technology in a new way. He consists of a circuit board, two LEDs, two resistors and some connecting pins. I had to build him myself before connecting him to the Raspberry Pi GPIO pins and programming his eyes with Python. I enjoyed the activity so much that Chip now accompanies me everywhere.

In fact, he has made many a long trip. He appeared in Australia for PyCon as part of my Physical Computing talk to teachers and has even featured in the background of a BBC Technobabble episode back home in Cambridge! I’ve been worrying that during my travels, Chip might be getting a little lonely. Lucky for me then that Soldering Sunday have launched their latest Pixel Pal, called Buzz!

Buzz – A New Pixel Pal

Soldering Sunday is raising funds for Buzz – A New Pixel Pal on Kickstarter! Buzz is an easy and fun educational kit that builds STEAM / STEM skills and grows from a project to a friend you can program.

The latest Pixel Pal kit includes a Buzz kit (like Chip but with a buzzer), a Pixel Power Kit, and a Pixel Pal Pi adapter kit. Its creators say:

When you plug Buzz into a Raspberry Pi or an Arduino, you can control his eyes and his sounds with programming. Buzz is an excellent way to get kids involved in Computer Science and take part in the Hour of Code initiative. We already have Arduino and Raspberry Pi tutorials online for Chip and with your support we will have the Buzz tutorials available shortly.

Please help to support the Buzz Kickstarter campaign so that I have more toys to play with. You won’t be disappointed!


World Maker Faire New York 2015

If you can believe it, it’s been four years since Raspberry Pi’s first appearance at World Maker Faire New York in Queens. These days, when we go to Maker Faire, we aren’t only introducing people to Raspberry Pi for the first time. We also want to show something new to those of you who know us well. And at this year’s event, we had a lot of shiny new gear to show off.

The Maker Faire booth crew (L-R) Roger, Matt, Eben, Philip, Russell, Rachel, and Ben.

The Maker Faire booth crew (L-R) Roger, Matt, Eben, Philip, Russell, Rachel, and Ben.

Since the new touch display and Sense HAT just started shipping, it was only fitting that we brought along some demos. We had a Kivy-based multitouch demo to show off the new touch display. There was also a quick demo of the functions of the Sense HAT. For those that wanted to get more hands on with Raspberry Pi and the Sense HAT, we had workstations setup for creating animations with Sense HAT’s 8×8 RGB LED Matrix. We owe a huge thanks to Raspberry Pi Certified Educator Richard Hayler for his work on RPi_8x8GridDraw, which we forked for Maker Faire.

Maker Faire attendees using Raspberry Pis to program animations onto the new Sense HAT.

Maker Faire attendees using Raspberry Pis to program animations onto the new Sense HAT.

Mounted to some swanky new mounting hardware we picked up from B&H, we also had the Astro Pi flight hardware on display. It was neat to show attendees how you have to pack up a Pi to ship to to space. We were absolutely chuffed (did I use that word correctly?) that Astro Pi won Best In Class from the editors of Make:

Philip Colligan on Twitter

We won best in class at #makerfaire – go @Raspberry_Pi pic.twitter.com/TBAqJeg0Gb

Maker Faire was also an excellent opportunity to share The MagPi in print with our fans. We have a great new subscription offer for the US, but we also wanted attendees to know that they can now find the official Raspberry Pi community magazine on the shelves at Barnes & Noble and Micro Center across the United States.

As with other Maker Faires, Raspberry Pis were spread far-and-wide throughout the event. In fact, one of the main showpieces used Raspberry Pi… 256 of them to be precise:

Watch the @Raspberry_Pi kinetic art in action, Zone 1 #WMF15 @makerfaire

Watch MAKE’s Vine “Watch the @Raspberry_Pi kinetic art in action, Zone 1 #WMF15 @makerfaire” taken on 26 September 2015. It has 12 likes. Vine is the best way to see and share life in motion. Create short, beautiful, looping videos in a simple and fun way for your friends and family to see.

Read more about Sam Blanchard and team’s SeeMore here.

Thanks to everyone who came by to see us! See you next year, New York!


Astro Pi: Mission Update 6 – Payload Handover

Those of you who regularly read our blog will know all about Astro Pi. If not then, to briefly recap, two specially augmented Raspberry Pis (called Astro Pis) are being launched to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake’s mission starting in December. The launch date is December the 15th.

Britsh ESA Astronaut Tim Peake with Astro Pi

British ESA astronaut Tim Peake with Astro Pi – Image credit ESA

The Astro Pi competition

Last year we joined forces with the UK Space Agency, ESA and the UK Space Trade Association to run a competition that gave school-age students in the UK the chance to devise computer science experiments for Tim to run aboard the ISS.

Here is our competition video voiced by Tim Peake himself:

Astro Pi

This is “Astro Pi” by Raspberry Pi Foundation on Vimeo, the home for high quality videos and the people who love them.

This ran from December 2014 to July 2015 and produced seven winning programs that will be run on the ISS by Tim. You can read about those in a previous blog post here. They range from fun reaction-time games to real science experiments looking at the radiation environment in space. The results will be downloaded back to Earth and made available online for all to see.

During the competition we saw kids with little or no coding experience become so motivated by the possibility of having their code run in space that they learned programming from scratch and grew proficient enough to submit an entry.

Flight safety testing and laser etching

Meanwhile we were working with ESA and a number of the UK space companies to get the Astro Pi flight hardware (below) certified for space.

An Astro Pi unit in its flight case

An Astro Pi unit in its space-grade aluminium flight case

This was a very long process which began in September 2014 and is only now coming to an end. Read all about it in the blog entry here.

The final step in this process was to get some laser engraving done. This is to label every port and every feature that the crew can interact with. Their time is heavily scheduled up there and they use step-by-step scripts to explicitly coordinate everything from getting the Astro Pis out and setting them up, to getting data off the SD cards and packing them away again.

Astro Pi in laser-etched flight case

An Astro Pi in its flight case, showing off a beautifully laser-etched Raspberry Pi logo

So this labelling (known within ESA as Ops Noms) allows the features of the flight cases to exactly match what is written in those ISS deployment scripts. There can be no doubt about anything this way.

Astro Pi in laser-etched flight case

An Astro Pi in its freshly laser-etched flight case, all inputs and outputs clearly labelled

In order to do this we asked our CAD guy, Jonathan Wells, to produce updated drawings of the flight cases showing the labels. We then took those to a company called Cut Tec up in Barnsley to do the work.

They have a machine, rather like a plotter, which laser etches according to the CAD file provided. The process actually involves melting the metal of the cases to leave a permanent, hard wearing, burn mark.

They engraved four of our ground Astro Pi units (used for training and verification purposes) followed by the two precious flight units that went through all the safety testing. Here is a video:

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After many months of hard work the only thing left to do was to package up the payload and ship it to ESA! This was done on Friday of last week.

Raspberry Pi on Twitter

The final flight @astro_pi payload has left the building! @gsholling @astro_timpeake @spacegovuk @esa pic.twitter.com/cwU9Sko7gT

The payload is now with a space contractor company in Italy called ALTEC. They will be cleaning the units, applying special ISS bar codes, and packaging them into Nomex pouch bags for launch. After that the payload will be shipped to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to be loaded onto the same launch vehicle that Tim Peake will use to get into space: the Soyuz 45S.

This is not the last you’ll hear of Astro Pi!

We have a range of new Astro Pi educational resources coming up. There will be opportunities to examine the results of the winning competition experiments, and a data analysis activity where you can obtain a CSV file full of time-stamped sensor readings direct from Tim.

Tim has also said that, during the flight, he wants to use some of his free time on Saturday afternoons to do educational outreach. While we can’t confirm anything at this stage we are hopeful that some kind of interactive Astro Pi activities will take place. There could yet be more opportunities to get your code running on the ISS!

If you want to participate in this we recommend that you prepare by obtaining a Sense HAT and maybe even building a mock-up of the Astro Pi flight unit like the students of Cranmere Primary School did to test their competition entry.

Richard Hayler ☀ on Twitter

We’ve built a Lego version of the @astro_pi flight case to make sweaty-astronaut testing as realistic as possible. pic.twitter.com/pYETedeWgn

It’s been about 25 years since we last had a British Astronaut (Helen Sharman in 1991) and we all feel that this is a hugely historic and aspirational moment for Great Britain. To be so intimately involved thus far has been an honour and a privilege for us. We’ve made some great friends at the UK Space Agency, ESA, CGI, Airbus Defence & Space and Surrey Satellite Technology to name a few.

We wish Tim Peake all the best for what remains of his training and for the mission ahead. Thanks for reading, and please watch this short video if you want to find out a bit more about the man himself:

Tim Peake: How to be an Astronaut – Preview – BBC Two

Programme website: http://bbc.in/1KgRjWC An intimate portrait of the man behind the visor – British astronaut Tim Peake. Follow Tim Peake @BBCScienceClub, as he prepares for take off. #BritInSpace

The Astro Pis are staying on the ISS until 2022 when the coin cell batteries in their real time clocks reach end of life. So we sincerely hope that other crew members flying to the ISS will use them in the future.


Columbus ISS Training Module in Germany – Image credit ESA


Kids! Teachers! Developers! PyConUK was a blast!

PyConUK is one of the Education Team’s favourite events of the year. We love the fact that as well as being a great community developer event, they also run an Education track for kids and teachers to learn and share.


It started with one of the organisers, Zeth, humorously holding up a wall clock saying “This is not a bomb” referencing the recent case of 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed clock incident, and it ended with evacuation from the building due to the discovery of an unexploded WWII bomb.

On the Friday, teachers were invited to the Education Track (bursaries to get teachers out of school sponsored by the Bank of America) to participate in workshops and discussion sessions. A teachmeet took place to give teachers a chance to give a short talk, presentation or demonstration of a great idea or teaching tool.

Saturday was the kids’ day. Our big interest at the moment is Astro Pi – we’re keen to see what people can do with the Sense HAT, the hardware that’s going to the International Space Station this December. Carrie Anne and Marc led workshops giving kids the chance to experiment with the board and learn about the physical world through activities using the sensors and LED display with Python.


Nicholas interviewed a few kids and parents about their experience at the event:

PyCon UK Education Track 2015 – a Mum’s perspective

Uploaded by Nicholas Tollervey on 2015-09-21.

As well as our Sense HAT workshops there were other activities for the kids – Minecraft Pi with Martin O’Hanlon, and the Internet of Toys with Alan O’Donohoe. Meanwhile, a group of teachers from Skycademy did their own high altitude Pi balloon launch and James tethered a balloon at the venue to take birds-eye-view photos:

At the end of the day some of the the kids were asked to present what they’d done on the conference’s main track:

PYCON UK 2015: Lightning PyKids

PYCON UK 2015: Saturday 19th September 2015

Also on the main track I gave a talk on Physical Computing with Python and Raspberry Pi:

PYCON UK 2015: Python Projects on the Raspberry Pi

Talk by Ben Nuttall PYCON UK 2015: Friday 18th September 2015

(see the slides)

The next day I gave a lightning talk on the story of pyjokes. There was also a talk on teaching using PyGame Zero by Tim Golden. Read about his experiences on his blog.


Nicholas Tollervey launched the Education track and it’s grown over the last few years, reaching hundreds of teachers and kids

On Sunday, James and Marc drove to the National Space Centre in Leicester to do a balloon launch with a Sense HAT collecting data throughout the flight. You can download the data as a CSV file – see if you can do anything interesting with it and let us know in the comments!

Carrie Anne was part of a panel discussing the state of Python and its future before the closing of the main event, and James presented some photos taken by the Pi he sent up that morning:


On the final day we joined in with the sprints, where we invited developers to help work on some education focused projects. We had teams working on PyGame Zero, GPIO Zero and porting PITS (Pi in the Sky) software to Python.

Humongous thanks go out to the organising team, and particularly to Zeth Green who took on the running of the conference part way through the year when the long-standing chairman John Pinner sadly passed away, and Nicholas who organised the Education track.

2015-10-01 14.05.02

What a good idea! Thanks John!


Wordclock Redux

Readers who’ve been with us since the beginning of this year might remember Bernd Krolla’s beautiful and elegant Raspberry Pi-based Wordclock. Since we last wrote about it, Bernd and friends have continued to work on the project, and they’ve added a few new features, which Bernd introduces here.

Presenting new features of a Raspberry Pi based wordclock

Source code: https://github.com/bk1285/rpi_wordclock Documentation: http://rpi-wordclock.readthedocs.org/en/latest/index.html

The main change since January is that all the Wordclock’s software is now plugin-based. By default it uses one that indicates the time in words; other plugins allow other display functionality, with a new menu button to switch between them. A number of new plugins use the Wordclock’s letters as pixels to display low-res images and animations: you can view sunrise and sunset along with appropriate time information, the current phase of the Moon, and a basic local weather forecast with icons.

The coolest plugin, in Bernd’s opinion and in ours too, is by new project co-author Markus, and lets you play a classic ’80s game.

Wordclock Tetris

Bernd and the rest of the team would like as many people as possible to experience the joy of Wordclock, so you can find all the code used on GitHub, and there’s comprehensive documentation covering both the hardware and the software the project uses. If you want to optimise a Wordclock layout for a different language (or a different shape of display), Miniature Giant Space Hamster’s instructions are the place to start.


Jessie Is Here


Jessie is here? Who’s Jessie? Wasn’t she the cowgirl doll in “Toy Story 2” – you know, the one who got abandoned in a park to that Sarah McLachlan song, resulting in at least one software engineer finding he had something in his eye at that point…?

Yes, it is that Jessie, but not in that context. The Raspbian operating system is based on Debian Linux, and the different versions of Debian are named after characters from the “Toy Story” films. Recent versions of Raspbian have been based on Debian Wheezy (the penguin who’s lost his squeaker in “Toy Story 2”), but Raspbian has now been updated to the new stable version of Debian, which is called Jessie.

So what’s new?

Many of the changes between Wheezy and Jessie are invisible to the end-user. There are modifications to the underlying system to improve performance and flexibility, particularly as regards the control of system processes, and as with any update, there are numerous bug fixes and tweaks. And at the same time as the upgrade to Jessie, we’ve added a bunch of changes and improvements to the desktop user interface.

Look and feel

The first thing anyone starting the new Jessie image from scratch will notice is that the default behaviour is to boot straight to the desktop GUI, not to the Linux command line. This was a decision taken because this is the expected behaviour for all modern computers; the default interface for a personal computer in 2015 is a desktop GUI, not just text on a screen. It is still possible to set the Pi to boot to the command line for people who prefer that – just toggle the relevant setting in the Raspberry Pi Configuration application described below.

When the desktop launches, you might notice some slight tweaks to the appearance of things like menus, check boxes and radio buttons. This is because the appearance of Raspbian is now based on version 3 of GTK+, the user interface toolkit used for the LXDE desktop environment. The older version 2 of GTK+ is slowly being replaced with version 3 in many applications, so this change was inevitable at some point – the new appearance isn’t a huge change, but does look slightly more modern. Many of the applications in Raspbian are still using GTK+ version 2, but the PiX theme for GTK+2 has been changed to bring it into line with that for GTK+3.

You’ll notice on the menu bar that there is now an eject icon at the top right – this is a new plug-in that allows USB drives and the like to be safely ejected without the risk of losing data. It’s slightly risky to just pull out a USB drive, particularly if you have just copied a file to it, as the system manages the write to a drive in the background, and the write takes a finite amount of time. If you pull the drive out before the write has finished, you’ll corrupt the file and lose data – clicking the eject icon and then selecting the drive to remove waits for any pending writes to complete and then prompts that it is safe to remove the drive.

Office applications

One of our main aims with regard to Raspberry Pi is not just to make it a great cheap computer for education, but also to make it a great cheap computer in its own right. To this end, we want to make it possible to use a Pi to do the sort of things you’d do on a Mac or a PC, so we’re including some more applications that we think people will find useful. In this release, we have added the LibreOffice suite and Claws Mail.



LibreOffice is a full-featured office suite which is compatible with Microsoft Office files – it includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation graphics, vector drawing and database programs, all of which should feel familiar to anyone used to using Office. It has had some optimisation for Pi, and runs pretty well, particularly on Pi 2.

Claws Mail is an email client for those of us who are old-fashioned enough to prefer not to do email through a browser – it supports all common email protocols, and offers all the functionality of a standalone mail client like Windows Mail or Thunderbird.

Java tools


There are also two new applications in the Programming category – these are two new environments for writing Java applications, called BlueJ and Greenfoot (from the University of Kent and Oracle). If you’re interested in learning Java, or already a Java programmer, have a look at them. There are some sample projects for both in the /home/pi/Documents directory.

Settings and configuration

There are a couple of new settings dialogs in this release, found under the Preferences entry in the main menu. The first is Raspberry Pi Configuration – this is a GUI version of the old raspi-config command-line application, which provides all the same functionality in a nicer interface. (The old raspi-config is still on the system and can be accessed from the command line by typing “sudo raspi-config”, but it shouldn’t be necessary to do so any more.)


The new Raspberry Pi Configuration allows you to enable and disable interfaces, tweak performance and configure internationalisation options, such as timezone and keyboard. It also allows some more control over boot options than was available in the past, with the option to automatically log in as the “pi” user available when booting to both CLI and desktop.


There is a new keyboard setting dialog, accessed from the Localisation tab, but hopefully many people won’t need this – the system will detect some common keyboards sold for use with Pi and set up the GUI keyboard driver correctly. If that doesn’t happen, it’s now easy to choose the right country and keyboard type in this dialog.


The other new setting dialog is the Main Menu Editor. This is a Pi version of a menu editor called Alacarte, written in Python – this should make it easier for people to add or remove items to the main menu. (And, by popular demand, the Other menu is back on the system – but it will now only appear if applications are installed that don’t appear in any other categories…)

Updated applications

There are updates to several of the applications that used to come with Raspbian. There are new versions of Scratch, Sonic Pi, and the Epiphany web browser; none of these have changed fundamentally in operation, but they all include bug fixes and performance improvements.

Support has been added for some of the new Pi peripherals that have been released recently, including the Sense HAT as used in Astro Pi – this is now supported under Scratch and Python.

Python users used to have to launch Python with sudo in order to allow access to the GPIO lines – Python can now access GPIOs as a standard user. Also for Python, the Pygame Zero game environment is installed by default – have a look at pygame-zero.readthedocs.org for information on what it can do.

One final small thing – if you want to get a screenshot of your Pi, just press the Print Screen button on your keyboard. A PNG file will be put in your home directory, thanks to the (slightly strangely named) scrot utility.

Where can I get it?

This is a major version upgrade – due to the large number of changes to the underlying operating system, we strongly recommend using Jessie from a clean image, so you’ll need to download a new Jessie image from the downloads page on our site. (Some people have had problems extracting the zip files, as the large size of the image file causes zip to use a different format internally. They can be successfully unzipped with 7-Zip on Windows and The Unarchiver on Mac – both are free applications.)

Starting with a clean image is the recommended way to move to Jessie. If you really need to update a Wheezy image, we have tried an unsupported upgrade path which is documented on the forums here. This has been shown to work on a vanilla Wheezy image, but we can’t predict what effect it may have on any packages or data that you have installed, so this is very much at your own risk. Feel free to add your experiences and improvements to the upgrade process to the forum so others can benefit.

As ever, your feedback on the release is very much welcome – do add a comment below, and I’ll try to respond to as many as I can.