Laser Dog Monitor

Dave Young lives in Denver with a baby, a wife, and a dog called Penny. Penny’s a good dog (good dog, Penny!) – she’s a softie around the baby, walks to heel, and doesn’t destroy things. All that good dog stuff.

But Penny has one weak spot. Dave says:

Her only issue is that she goes BONKERS for food. My wife and I have done a great job training it out of her when we’re around so we no longer have to worry about a cheese board sitting on the low coffee table, but I know she gets on the counters any time we are away. Sounds like a job for a machine!

How’s it work? There’s a laser tripwire, which triggers audio of Dave saying “Hey!” in a COMMANDING MANNER. The setup also takes a picture of Penny’s infraction using the Raspberry Pi camera board.

Full instructions are available over at Element14 so you can make your own. I’m already thinking about ways you could expand this project: Mooncake, the Raspberry Pi cat, doesn’t respond well to voice commands, but we think a Pi-powered water pistol could be just the ticket on those days we want to defrost prawns. Ideas for your own feature-creep in the comments please!

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Naturebytes wildlife cam kit

Liz: The wildlife cam kit has landed. If you’re a regular reader you’ll know we’ve been following the Naturebytes team’s work with great interest; we think there’s massive potential for bringing nature to life for kids and for adults with a bit of smart computing. Digital making for nature is here.

Naturebytes is a tiny organisation, but it’s made up of people whose work you’ll recognise if you follow Raspberry Pi projects closely; they’ve worked with bodies like the Horniman Museum, who have corals to examine; and with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Pis watching for rhino poachers in Kenya? Pis monitoring penguins in Antarctica? People on the Naturebytes team have worked on those projects, and have a huge amount of experience in wildlife observation with the Pi. They’ve also worked closely with educators and with kids on this Kickstarter offering, making sure that what they’re doing fits perfectly with what nature-lovers want. 

Today’s guest post is from Naturebytes’ Alasdair Davies. Good luck with the Kickstarter, folks: we’re incredibly excited about the potential of what you’re doing, and we think lots of other people will be too.

We made it! (quite literally). Two years after first being supported by the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Education Fund and the awesome folk over at Nesta, we finally pressed the big red button and went into orbit by launching the Naturebytes Wildlife Cam Kit – now available via Kickstarter.
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This is the kit that will fuel our digital making for nature vision – a community of Raspberry Pi enthusiasts using the Pi to help monitor, count, and conserve wildlife; and have a hell of a lot of fun learning how to code and hack their cam kits to do so much more – yes, you can even set it up to take chicken selfies.

We’ve designed it for a wide range of audiences, whether you’re a beginner, an educator, or a grandma who just wants to capture photos of the bird species in the garden and share them with her grandchildren – there’s something for everyone.

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This was the final push for the small team of three over at Naturebytes HQ. A few badgers, 2,323 coffees, 24 foxes,  and a Real Time Clock later, we signed off the prototype cam kit last week, and are proud of what we’ve achieved thanks to the support of the Raspberry Pi Foundation that assisted us in getting there.

We also get the very privileged opportunity of appearing in this follow-up guest blog, and my, how things have changed since our first appearance back in September 2014. We thought we’d take you on a quick tour to show you what we’ve changed on the kit since then, and to share the lessons learnt during our R&D, before ending with a look at some of the creative activities people have suggested the kit be used for. Suggest your own in the comments, and please do share our Kickstarter far and wide so we can get the kits into the hands of as many people as possible.

Then and now – the case.

Our earlier prototype was slick and thin, with a perspex back. Once we exposed it to the savages of British weather, we soon had to lock down the hatches and toughen up the hinges to create the version you see today. The bird feeder arm was also reinforced and a clip on mechanism added for easy removal – just one of the lessons learnt when trialing and testing.

The final cam kit case:

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The final cam kit features:

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Schools and Resources

A great deal of our development time has focused on the creation of a useful website back end and resource packs for teacher and educators. For Naturebytes to be a success we knew from the start that we’d need to support teachers wishing to deliver activities, and it’s paramount to us that we get this right. In doing so, we tagged along with the Foundation’s Picademy to understand the needs of teachers and to create resources that will be both helpful and accessible.

Print your own

We’ve always wanted to make it as easy as possible for experienced digital makers to join in, so the necessary 3D print files will now be released as open source assets. For those with their own Pi, Pi cam and custom components, we’ve created a developer’s kit too that contains everything you need to finish a printed version of the cam kit (note – it won’t be waterproof if you 3D print it yourself).

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You can get the Developer’s Kit on Kickstarter.

The Experience

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Help us develop a fantastic experience for Naturebytes users. We hope to make a GUI and customised Raspbian OS to help users get the most from the cam kit.

It’s not much fun if you can’t share your wildlife sightings with others, so we’re looking at how to build an experience on the Pi itself. It will most likely be in the form of a Python GUI that boots at startup with a modified Raspbian OS to theme up the desktop. Our end goal is the creation of what we are calling “Fantastic Fox” – a simple-to-use Raspbian OS with pre-loaded software and activities together with a simple interface to submit your photos etc. This will be a community-driven build, so if you want to help with its, development please contact us and we’ll get you on board.

Creative activities

This is where the community aspect of Naturebytes comes into play. As everyone’s starting with the same wildlife cam kit, whether you get the full complete kit from us or print your own, there are a number of activities to get you started. Here are just a few of the ones we love:

Participate in an official challenge

We’ll be hosting challenges for the whole community. Join us on a hedgehog hunt (photo hunt!) together with hundreds of others, and upload your sightings for the entire community to see. There will be hacking challenges to see who can keep their cams powered the longest, and even case modification design competitions too.

Identify another school’s species (from around the globe!)

Hook up a WiFi connection and you’ll be able to share your photos on the internet. This means that a school in Washington DC could pair up with a school in Rochdale and swap their photos once a day. An exciting opportunity to connect to other schools globally, and discover wildlife that you thought you may never encounter by peeking into the garden of school a long way away.

Build a better home (for wildlife)

It’s not just digital making that you can get your hands into. Why not build a garden residence for the species that you most want to attract, and use the camera to monitor if they moved in (or just visited to inspect)? A great family project, fuelled by the excitement of discovering that someone, or something, liked what you build for them.

Stamp the weather on it

There’s an official Raspberry Pi weather station that we love – in fact, we were one of the early beta testers and have always wanted to incorporate it into Naturebytes. A great activity would be connecting to the weather station to receive a snapshot of data and stamping that on to the JPEG of the photo your camera just created. Then you’ll have an accurate weather reading together with your photo!

Time-lapse a pond, tree or wild space

It’s fantastic to look through a year’s worth of photographic data within 60 seconds. Why not take a look at the species visiting your pond, tree or a wild space near you by setting up a time-lapse and comparing it with other Naturebytes users near you?

We’d love to hear your ideas for collaborative projects – please leave a note in the comments if you’ve got something to add!

 

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The MagPi issue 35 – next month we’re in print!

Issue 35 of The MagPi is here. It’s rammed full of projects, and features some of the most amazing builds and hacks we’ve seen so far this year. We’ve got 22 pages of step-by-step tutorials and the chance to win a beautiful Raspberry Pi robot (thanks to Dawn Robotics).

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For me, the absolute highlight this month is Mike Cook’s sprinting game, which will have you building physical controllers you operate with jogging feet. This is something you’ll be able to put together as a fun physical computing project with friends or as part of an after school club or Raspberry Jam. Here’s Mike to demonstrate.

Your feedback on The MagPi has been fantastic, and we’re working to make it better every month. So far, we’ve had 100,000 downloads for issue 31 (we’ve had nearly 300,000 downloads overall since we started the new version of the magazine).

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 13.25.39

And we’ve got some news: next month, The MagPi goes into print. We are absurdly excited.

Russell "If I'd known you were taking photos I'd have shaved" Barnes

Russell “If I’d known you were taking photos I’d have shaved” Barnes

Russell Barnes, editor/Babbage owner, says:

The MagPi magazine has already proved itself to be one of the most successful new technology magazine launches of the year and I couldn’t be happier. It’s not every day that a digital magazine goes to print, but that’s exactly what we’re doing next issue. The Official Raspberry Pi magazine will be available throughout the UK and America, with plans to branch out into other territories and languages as soon as possible.

So here’s a date for your diaries: the print magazine is coming on 30th July.

The magazine will be even bigger and better than ever, with 100 pages of Raspberry Pi projects, tutorials features and reviews. You’ll be able to buy the magazine in store and online; in the UK it’s £5.99 UK. Other territories will vary.

The magazine will be available to buy in store from WHSmith, WHSmith Travel, Barnes & Noble and Micro Center, and all good newsagents. You’ll also be able to order a copy online from the Swag Store from July 30. 

Subscriptions are open now! If you want to be among the first people to receive the magazine you can subscribe today. You can get six issues of the magazine from £30 and 12 issues from £55. It’s available online by visiting www.bit.ly/MagPiSubs, by calling +44 (1)20 258 6848, or by printing out the form on pages 28 and 29 of this month’s issue

Why subscribe?

  • Never miss an issue
  • Get it delivered to your door
  • Get it first (before it hits the shelves)
  • Save up to 25% on the cover price. 

The MagPi is (and always will be) free to download as a PDF. Russell says:

While we’ve been getting hundreds of requests for the magazine in print over the last six months, The MagPi has always been available as a Creative Commons-licensed PDF, and that’s the way it’s going to stay! You can download every issue of The MagPi from raspberrypi.org/magpi and you’ll soon be able to join a mailing list to get the issue delivered to your inbox every issue.

We hope you enjoy this month’s magazine as much as we enjoyed making it.

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A chicken incubation system

As Chicken Week here at Pi Towers draws to a close, we are all thinking deep thoughts about roasting temperatures and the very best fillings for omelettes.

White_chicken_egg

The eggs Dennis Hejselbak is working with are not for omelettes.

Dennis, who lives in Denmark, has built a Raspberry Pi-powered incubator, complete with camera. Chicken eggs take about 21 days to hatch, and today is day 11 of the incubation period, so if you keep an eye on the stream on his eggs page, you should be able to watch them hatch in ten days’ time.

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When you’re hatching eggs, there are a few variables you’ll need to keep an eye on. There’s heat, which in this incubator is controlled by a light bulb (the box is polystyrene, so it’s well insulated) and an old CPU fan. Dennis needs to make sure the box is humid enough – that’s what the sponges are doing in the picture above, while a hygrometer attached to the Pi checks for humidity levels – and he turns the eggs manually two or three times a day, which is vital for a successful hatch. (He says that he’s hoping to automate the turning for the next batch of eggs he raises in this incubator.) Temperatures and humidity are captured on the live stream (this is a static image: click on the picture for the real stream on Dennis’ website).

home

 

Why would you build your own incubator? It’s much cheaper than commercial alternatives; you can add features like that camera; and the satisfaction you get out of building something like this yourself is enormous. This project is well within the grasp of schools: Dennis has made complete build instructions, with all the Python code and wiring schematics you’ll need available. (If you do start an incubator at school, make sure someone has access to the classroom at weekends to turn the eggs three times a day if you haven’t automated turning; chickens do not stop incubating outside school hours.)

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Frankly, I’d rather like to start a chicken incubator at Pi Towers, but Emma has already forbidden office dogs, hamsters and anything more highly evolved than brine shrimp, so I’m guessing we may be out of luck.

This marks the end of Chicken Week.

 

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Chickens redux

Regular readers with an interest in poultry will be all agog to find out what we’re posting about today; yesterday’s post covered a chicken coop with automated doors, and we promised more chickens today. (AND TOMORROW! It’s all chickens all the way down at Pi Towers this week.)

Darren Steele, a Pi owner from Lancashire, was faced with the same chickens/predators problem that Eric Escobar dealt with in yesterday’s post by mechanising the coop door, and programming it to shut after dark.

It turns out that a couple of years ago, Darren also automated his chicken coop to solve the same problem.

The way he automated it is perhaps not the first solution that might have sprung to your mind or to mine; but that’s why Darren got a spot on the BBC news and you and I didn’t.

Speechless.

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Mechanise your chickens

My friend Tony always excuses himself early from parties, because he has to get home at dusk to shut his chickens in their coop. Tony, this one’s for you so that next time, you get to stick around for dessert.

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Chickens are birds of habit. You don’t need to shepherd (bird-herd?) them into their coops when the sun goes down; they’re programmed to head to their perches as night falls. Foxes and other predators, unfortunately, take advantage of this to chew on stationary, sleeping chickens, so the door of the coop needs to be firmly closed once all the birds are roosting, and opened again at a repellently early hour in the morning. Usually a human will go and do that job. (When I was a kid, I had to do the same for our family’s ducks. I hated those ducks.)

Let’s face it: given a chance to exercise a bit of laziness, most of us will jump at it. (Metaphorically. Lazy people don’t like jumping.)

Eric Escobar has a very neat Pi-powered solution to the problem of night-time chicken imprisonment, which is safer than some others we’ve seen, which use linear actuators. This door’s lowered using gravity, so there will be no very, very, very slow and eventually deadly crushing of any chickens or small children with Eric’s setup. The door is programmed to be lowered at a certain time of day, once it’s dark enough for all the chickens to have moved indoors.

Everything you need to replicate it yourself, right down to schematics, is at Eric’s GitHub.

The nice thing about using a Pi for this sort of thing is that it enables a certain amount of feature-creep. Now the basic functionality’s there, Eric (or you) can add things like the ability to count chickens in and out of the coop; a camera; automated feeding…I’m trying to come up with a way to get the Pi to collect eggs, too, but I’ve got nothing. Ideas in the comments please!

Chicken-owners will be pleased to hear that we’ve got more chicken-husbandry content for you coming up tomorrow. And something that’s a bit like a chicken for Friday. We’re all about the poultry this week at Pi Towers.

 

 

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A Big Year for Dwarf Planets

Liz: For us, one of the most powerful features of the Wolfram Language is the way it understands real-world (or, in this case, real-solar-system) objects, making it easy to incorporate data on all kinds of things into your projects. In this rather lovely instance from the good people at Wolfram, you can calculate and visualise the relative size of a number of those things on your Raspberry Pi, including the state of Texas, the dwarf planet Ceres, the former dwarf planet Pluto, and the Moon.
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2015 is shaping up to be an interesting year in space exploration. For the first time, we will get up-close views of a dwarf planet. In fact, two different spacecraft will visit two different dwarf planets. The Dawn spacecraft is nearing its second primary target, Ceres, later this week. Later this year, the New Horizons spacecraft will visit Pluto.

Dawn-deep-space-probe-data

New-Horizonas-Deep-Space-probe-data

Of course, related to all of this is the public controversy over the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) “demotion” of Pluto from planet status. Regardless of your view on the matter, Pluto is still there, just as it always was, and nothing has changed concerning its existence. It doesn’t really matter what we call it. I won’t go into great detail to explain why Pluto was demoted, but we can use the Wolfram Language to explore some of the primary reasons.

One of the requirements for being labeled a planet according to the IAU definition is that the object must have cleared its orbit of other bodies. Planets have typically either absorbed or thrown out intruders so that they dominate their orbital zones. In the case of Ceres and Pluto, both bodies violate this requirement. Here is a graphic showing the orbit paths of Jupiter and Mars in orange, several large asteroids in blue, and the orbit of Ceres in red. As you can see, Ceres lies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, along with many other objects, all classified as dwarf planets, asteroids, minor planets, or small solar system bodies, depending on your preference (or in the case of Ceres, by IAU definition).

Ceres-Orbit

 

A similar analysis can be done for Pluto. In the following example, you can see that all of the planets’ orbits (in orange) are relatively nice and concentric until you get to Pluto (in red), which crosses Neptune’s orbit. In addition, there are a number of other known “Plutoids” (in blue) that cross orbits with Pluto. And in fact, there are many more such objects. So if Pluto is a planet, then all of these objects, and many more, could potentially be declared planets, and that would be a nightmare for educational books to keep up with. The traditional question of “How many planets are there in the solar system?” becomes a large number that keeps growing as more objects are discovered.

Pluto-orbit

Something else that is interesting to explore is size. Many people don’t really comprehend the sizes of Ceres and Pluto. The only size restriction provided by the IAU definition for a planet is that the body must be large enough for gravity to have pulled it into a spherical shape. This seems to be the case for both Ceres and Pluto, but this alone doesn’t make them planets. But it’s still interesting to visualize the sizes of these bodies by comparing them to something we are more familiar with. We can make use of GeoGraphics to put the size of these bodies into perspective. Here is a 2D map of the United States, with Texas highlighted in red. The inner disk represents the size of Ceres projected against Texas, the middle disk represents the size of Pluto, and the outer disk represents the size of our Moon. So the cross-section of Ceres is about the same size as Texas. Both Ceres and Pluto are noticeably smaller than our Moon.

size-of-dwarf-plantets

With a bit more exploration, we can move this visualization into three dimensions by using texture mapping to move the above map onto a sphere.

First, we define a couple of geographic entities we will need:

geographic-input-texas

Next, we use GeoGraphics to construct our 2D map and then convert it to an image:

geographic-input-texas

 

Then we obtain several radius values we need, making sure they are all using the same units:

geographics-radius-data1

 

For positioning things, it’s useful to determine a center point for our map:

center-point

 

We need to position Ceres, Pluto, and the Moon near the center point of the map and offset them to appear as if they are sitting on the surface of Earth at that point:

radius-from-spherical

dawrf-planets-radius-from-spherical

 

 

We can apply the map as a texture on a sphere that represents the Earth using ParametricPlot3D:

dwarf-planets-textured-map

 

Finally, we can combine the pieces and compare the sizes of Ceres, Pluto, and the Moon to the Earth:

size-of-dwarf-planets-on-map

 

In the coming days and weeks, the Dawn spacecraft will provide us with the first close-up views of the dwarf planet Ceres. Later this year when New Horizons passes Pluto, we will get our first close-up views of the more controversial member of this group of objects. Nothing we discover will result in Pluto being reinstated as a planet, as the reasons for its demotion are still there. But we will obtain more data on these small objects than has ever been gathered before, and it will give us a new understanding of these often under-appreciated members of our solar system. Dwarf planets are worthy of study regardless of what they are called.

Download this post as a Computable Document Format (CDF) file.

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Skycademy – Free High Altitude CPD

We’re looking for 24 teachers (or youth leaders) to take part in a FREE two-and-a-half day Continuing Professional Development (CPD) event aiming to provide experience of high altitude ballooning to educators, and demonstrating how it can be used as an engaging teaching opportunity.

Over the last few year I’ve seen many awesome uses of the Raspberry Pi, but one of my favourites by far is seeing the Pi used as a payload tracker for High Altitude Ballooning (HAB) projects.

One of the most prolific HAB enthusiasts is Dave Akerman, who has launched many flights using the Raspberry Pi, from the first flight back in 2012

…to the launch of a potato for Heston Blumenthal’s “Great British Food”…

…and even capturing some amazing images of the recent Solar Eclipse from 30km up.

Many schools are also seeing the opportunities for learning that a HAB flight presents, incorporating physics, maths, computing and geography into one project.

Here’s a project from William Howard School in Cumbria, whose students built their own tracker connected to a Pi.

In my previous life as a teacher, I organised a launch with my own students, and we had help from Dave Akerman on the day. This turned out to be super helpful, as it takes some planning and there’s a lot to remember.

One of the hardest parts of running a flight is the number of different aspects you have to plan and manage. You can test the hardware and software to a certain point, but there’s limited opportunity for a practice flight. Having experience is really helpful.

For this reason we’re running our first “Skycademy”, during which we will be giving attendees hands-on experience of a flight. The event will be free to attend and will be spread over two and a half days between the 24th and 26th of August.

  • Day 1 – Planning and workshop sessions on all aspects of HAB flights.
  • Day 2 – Each team launches their payload, tracks, follows and recovers it.
  • Day 3 – Teams gather together for plenary morning.

Our aim is to support and inspire teachers and other adults working with young people. The hope is that those that attend will return to lead a project with their groups that will do something amazing.

Attendees will be supported throughout the course by experienced HAB enthusiasts and the Raspberry Pi Education Team. If you are a UK teacher or work with young people (scout leader, youth leader etc), you can apply here.

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Outernet

Through working with the UK Space Agency on the Astro Pi project we’ve learnt about something called Outernet. Internet, Outernet – see what they did there? Outernet is a small company started by Syed Karim that broadcasts the most useful stuff from the internet via satellites in geostationary orbit.

Anyone receiving the broadcast then has access to all that stuff for free! The idea is that you can receive it in locations around the world where there is little or no internet infrastructure; or perhaps where the regime in power curtails access to information.

The UK Space Agency is working with Clyde Space, a Scottish technology company, to manufacture and launch a constellation of cube satellites to extend Outernet’s global coverage.

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The content is the kind of thing you would find in a public library, with resources on human health, anatomy, encyclopaedias, how-to guides and news feeds. The data is broadcast cyclically so that any new receiver joining the broadcast can catch up with everyone else. The content received from the satellites is cached and served out to the users via http pages, meaning that any device with a browser can be used to read it (both Ethernet and WiFi are supported). It’s worth noting this is only one-way content, because you can’t send messages back up to the satellites.

Outernet also has a board of trustees whose job is to curate which content from the internet makes it into the broadcast. They’re also planning a voting system, which will allow anybody with internet access to participate in that process.

What’s all this got to do with Raspberry Pi? Outernet offers several different kinds of receiver; and the DIY one is based on a Raspberry Pi! After learning this, we decided to get one up and running at Pi Towers to evaluate the tech! So I contacted Syed Karim, and he generously sent us three DIY receiver kits to play with.

IMG_5793

The main piece of hardware you need is a USB DVB-S2 dongle. The one included in the kit was designed specifically by Outernet to keep costs down. The dongle allows you to plug in the coaxial cable from a satellite dish and consume the data on the Pi.

In Europe, the Outernet broadcast is delivered through the Hotbird satellite, which has a footprint covering all of Europe, North Africa and parts of the Middle East. Because of its orbital position you need a slightly larger than normal dish to receive it. 60cm or larger is required, so we just ordered an 80cm one from Amazon.

Here it is installed on the roof of Pi Towers:

IMG_2042

Aligning a satellite dish correctly can be a bit of a dark art, so we hired a professional with his own equipment to come and make sure it was pointing in the right direction.

It’s then simply a matter of burning a special SD card image provided by Outernet to an SD card, and booting the Pi up. This is essentially a minimal Linux ARM distro that has everything required to make the reciever work; it’s not Raspbian based and currently only works for the Pi 1 CPU.

Here’s our one:

IMG_2048

The DVB-S2 dongle on the top plugs in via USB and has its own mains power supply. Currently, we think, we’re the first receiver online in the UK (up since the 2nd of June).

The software you use to access the downloaded content is called Librarian, and looks like this:

outernet

At the moment, it’s mostly news articles that are being broadcast. Each row in the list above is a different article, and each has one or two medium-resolution images along with the text.

There is also a nice configuration page allowing you to choose which satellite you’re using, and to monitor how large the database has grown.

outernet_dash

New content coming down from the satellites is held prior to being added to your library, allowing you to choose which items to keep or discard.

outernet_updates

Currently about 200MB of data per day is delivered through the broadcast; however, in the future they hope to offer up to 1GB per day.

We see this technology as being a fantastic solution to the problems with offline web servers that go out of date over time. When something is updated on the internet, the Outernet service can just retransmit the new version and all the receivers will update their local copies. We’re also aware that various NGO charities are already using Raspberry Pi networks in remote places with equipment like RACHEL-Pi (which we’ve covered here before). This system could easily be dropped into a network like that as an additional resource, providing a great source of searchable information.

We’re going to be watching Outernet with interest in the future,12-1 and we are considering the possibility of having some of our educational resources broadcast by their service.

If you want to buy a DIY reciever they’re available in the Outernet online store now.

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