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!

Attend a Picademy@Google in Birmingham

This year we’ve seen an explosion of Raspberry Pi Certified Educators thanks to the number of free teacher training events called ‘Picademy’ that we’ve been able to facilitate. Aside from our own in-house training, there have been five regional Picademies, three of which have taken place in Google’s Digital Garage in Leeds. Thanks to the generosity of Google.org, we are able to offer even more continuing professional development opportunities to educators, this time in Birmingham!

digital-garage-birmingham

Picademy will be awesome at the new Google Digital Garage Birmingham!

Picademy@Google is for classroom teachers of any subject at primary, secondary or post-16 level. The courses and workshops in Leeds are run by renowned community member Les Pounder, who gives much of his time to helping adults and children create weird and wonderful projects. You may have seen some of his Picademy work on Twitter recently.

Picademy@Google Birmingham will be every bit as good! Highly regarded community member, Minecraft wizard, and creator of stuff about code Martin O’Hanlon will be leading teachers across a diamond block path to Raspberry Pi enlightenment. Here he is doing his best Steve impression:

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Martin was at the venue for the launch and said:

The opening of the Google Digital Garage at the Library of Birmingham was a great event attended by Eileen Naughton, MD of Google UK and Ireland, and Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The venue is incredible and it’s really exciting to be able to use this amazing space to bring Picademy to Birmingham – opening up the opportunity to teachers across the West Midlands to get the benefit of the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s free CPD course.

All our training events in Birmingham will take place at the latest Google Digital Garage inside Birmingham Library, and are completely free to attend. If you are interested in take part and becoming a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator, please complete this form. The following dates are available:

  • 27th – 28th August
  • 1st – 2nd October
  • 2nd – 3rd November
  • 7th – 8th December
4 Comments

Pneumatic tooth fairy

With the expanding global population, Jeff “BabyWrassler” Highsmith realised, the Tooth Fairy is probably finding it tough to keep on top of her job. He decided to help her out with a tooth transportation system using pneumatic tubes, controlled by a Raspberry Pi. This wonderful video is brought to us by Make:

Jeff’s past projects include his older son’s Mission Control Desk and his younger child’s bedroom Apollo Mission. We desperately envy these children.

5 Comments

Pigeon Pi

By day, Robert Threet is a systems manager at the University of  Southern Indiana in Evansville. But when he’s not knee-deep in network hardware, he races homing pigeons.

Credit: Robert Threet

Credit: Robert Threet

Pigeon racing, which I’d always thought was the preserve of people from the north of England with flat caps and whippets (calm yourselves, commenters: my granddad was a man from the north of England with a flat cap – no whippets – and his friends were all over this stuff; budgie shows, too) turns out to have a following in the USA as well.

Things are far more sophisticated than they were when I was a kid. Back in the 70s when my Granddad’s friends were racing, each pigeon carried a little removable rubber ring around its ankle matching the unique number on a permanent band fitted when the pigeon was a chick. The rubber band was collected manually and logged when the pigeon arrived back at its loft by placing it in a special compartment in a pigeon clock, which stamped a piece of paper with the time. I was never allowed to touch one of these endlessly fascinating pigeon clocks, and they’ve always been objects of mystery – I was really chuffed when researching this post to find that a giant database of the things exists.

1955 Jundes pigeon clock. Click image to view at the Pigeon Clock Museum.

1955 Jundes pigeon clock. Click image to view at the Pigeon Clock Museum.

Nowadays, the pigeons are kitted out with RFID tags, and counted in by an electronic clock.  The pigeons race over distances between 300 and 500 miles, depending on age and experience. Pigeons belonging to a number of different racers all start at the same location, and fly back to their home lofts. The lofts’ GPS coordinates are taken, and used to calculate the distance flown. The pigeon with the best yards-per-minute score overall wins the race.

What does this have to do with Robert Threet in Indiana? Robert has been using a Raspberry Pi to augment the pigeon experience. Whenever one of his own pigeons arrives back in the loft after a race, a Raspberry Pi (which he also uses to monitor weather and the temperature conditions in the loft) uses a motion detector to trigger a camera, so each bird gets a photo-finish.

Robert plans to set the Pi up to automatically tweet those pictures, but for now, there’s a problem: his WiFi doesn’t extend to the pigeon loft. Please drop us a line when your setup is tweeting, Robert (as opposed to cooing softly); we’d love to be able to watch what your pigeons are doing.

7 Comments

Roberts R300 Reinvention

Liz: today’s guest post comes from Gordon at IQAudIO, who makes and sells audio accessories for the Pi, which we really, really like – with one of his DACs you can turn your Pi into a proper audiophile-approved piece of kit. Gordon had made a project we really liked the look (and sound) of when we last saw him, so I asked him to write it up. Over to Gordon:

When my grandmother passed away many years ago I was asked if there was anything of hers I’d like to have in order to remember her by. The choice at the time was pretty easy for me – her bright red Roberts radio. This radio sat on her kitchen worktop, and whenever we visited I was always being told off for touching it, tuning it to some other radio station and spinning the whole thing around on its turntable base far too quickly.

The radio, somewhat the worse for wear.

The radio, somewhat the worse for wear.

My grandmother was affectionately called “Granny Hi-Tech”, simply because she was always the first to get hold of gadgets, most of which I assume she bought having seen them being demonstrated at the large department store in Glasgow where she worked during the 1960’s and 70’s.

The original intention on receiving the Roberts radio was to get it working again and keep everything authentic, but I really didn’t know where to start, so it was placed in a box and forgotten about. It’s moved house with us six times since, and was rediscovered, grubby and broken, during our last house move eight months ago.

A bit of a state

I did finally find a spare wet afternoon, but on taking the radio from the box and giving it a good look over, it was obvious I’d been seeing it through rose tinted glasses – it was much worse than expected, and although I may have been able to restore the inner workings, what stations can you pick up on Long and Medium Wave these days?

It was decided that a sympathetic transplant was called for, keeping the aesthetics of the original radio but delivering a modern music playback solution. Some parts of the radio were okay, some terrible and overall it had lost that lovely red colour that I fondly remembered. One of the dials had lost its brass cover, the grill was dented, the Roberts logo was yellow and broken, and the inside had corrosion in places.

A Roberts R300 with Airplay

I could have bought a cheap bluetooth speaker and transplanted the workings into the R300, but I wanted the original radio buttons to work as expected (on/off, volume) and wanted it to have some real musicality to surprise. I also wanted the ability to have synchronous playback across the house with my other HiFi systems. Overall it should look and feel like an original Vintage 1960s radio but in terms of audio performance I wanted it to sound awesome.

Enter the Raspberry Pi

There are several add-on boards for the Raspberry Pi, and we develop and sell a few of these ourselves. For this transplant I used our Pi-DigiAMP+. This Raspberry Pi HAT board takes the digital audio signals (I2S) from the Pi’s 40-way header, and delivers high-quality stereo audio up to 192MHz/24bit resolution – you just need to add speakers and a suitable power input to complete the job. The DigiAMP+ is designed to drive bookshelf or larger speakers – we usually pair it with QAcoustics 2010i or 3020 speakers, and it sounds simply brilliant. We demonstrated this very combination at the recent CamJam and also at the Recursion Computer show in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

dac

The IQaudIO Pi-DigiAMP+ can run from 5v -> 18v, and has on-board circuitry to power the Raspberry Pi too. Here we have used a 15v/3.3amp power brick from XP Power – this will allow the Pi-DigiAMP+ to deliver 2x20watts into 4ohm speakers, with a little less into 8ohm drive units – more than enough for a bedroom or kitchen radio.

Using the Raspberry Pi allows us to take advantage of the many Linux-based music playback solutions available. We could have gone for Volumio, RuneAudio, Moode, PiCorePlayer, Pi MusicBox, Max2Play or others; but for this build we went with Mike Brady’s Shairport Sync. Mike is a computer science lecturer at Trinity College Dublin and has posted his source code on GitHub making it easy to build and modify if needed. We’ve been running Raspberry Pi-based Shairport Sync systems for a while with great reliability and ease of use. Thanks Mike!

Remove the unnecessary and rework the rest

Taking the radio to pieces was pretty simple; there were none of those annoying plastic clips you break when attempting to open a modern device. Here it’s mostly wood screws with the occasional brass nut and bolt. We carefully removed the innards and stripped down the radio to its bare components, unsoldered the 60s electronics and removed protruding and unnecessary metal that would make the overall transition more difficult.

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 12.39.25

Obviously, a 40-year-old paper mono speaker wasn’t going to cut the mustard, so we removed that too, replacing it with a pair (to give us both left and right channels) of full range Balanced Mode Radiator (BMRs) drive units – not only do these fit in the available space, but they sound good too.

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 12.42.21

Now left with a bare carcass, it needed a good old clean and polish, but what we didn’t expect was for the carrying handle’s leather strap to disintegrate, which was one of the key aesthetics, along with the base turntable, we really wanted to keep. A quick Google search and subsequent calls to Roberts themselves resulted in some replacement (but modern) parts being received next day, although we ended up only using the new silver “Roberts” logo, as the beautiful replacement red handle was just too big a colour difference.

Rebuilding the radio was just like a Haynes manual (refitting is the reverse sequence to removal). We cut an MDF support panel for the speaker drive units.

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 12.42.21

 

The analog volume potentiometer of the original was replaced with a simple 3-pin rotary encoder, wired to the Pi’s GPIO.  We used the sample code from the IQaudio GitHub repository to take the Rotary Encoder pulses and convert them into Linux ALSA volume commands.

Adding the Raspberry Pi and Pi-DigiAMP+ was the easiest part. The speakers were connected to the Pi-DigiAMP+ and the Official Raspberry Pi WiFi Dongle was added.

pianddac

From the outside you wouldn’t know anything had changed, and to keep the functionality of the radio’s Off/Long Wave/Medium Wave selector, we wired it in-line to the positive power from the external power brick. Selecting either Long Wave or Medium Wave powers the Pi-DigiAMP+ and Pi, while selecting Off cuts the power to both – we added a simple power barrel connector onto the back of the radio so it wasn’t always tethered and didn’t have a flying lead.

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 12.50.42

Finally, we replaced the wooden wedges and measured up the display window (ordering another to be laser-cut from www.podbox.co.uk at the same time). We also added some sound damping from an old speaker we had lying around. The handle was repaired using some similar covered vinyl.

finished

As with all good builds, there were a few extra pieces left over…

ewaste

How does it sound?

Surprisingly good, way better than expected. It really makes us smile streaming Deezer/Apple Music to radio that’s nearly half a century old. Having the physical volume control just adds an extra retro feel too.

What’s left to do?

Having used the Raspberry Pi/IQaudio Radio for a while now, we’ve decided there are a few additional tweaks to perform when we find the time. These include:

  • Tuning Knob: We need to make the tuning dial do something. This may end up driving some RGB LEDs, delivering mood lighting OR capturing the dial’s position (via ADC), and converting that into one of several fixed radio streams, selecting each in turn simply by “re-tuning.”
  • Power LED: Although we do tend to leave the radio powered up permanently, it would be good to know if the kids have turned it off rather than the toaster.
  • The radio’s handle/strap needs work and this is where we’ll likely take the modern replacement purchased from Roberts Radio and re-colour it to match the original radio’s dulled finish. We’ve even found a shop called RevivedRadios on Etsy who can recover the Roberts radio in your chosen fabric. [Liz interjects – goddammit, I wish I hadn’t clicked that link. I really want one of those now.]
  • Better WiFi signal: Although we’ve got good range already with the Official USB dongle placed in the radio’s enclosure, it may be worth exposing the Raspberry Pi’s USB socket on the back of the radio case (for better signal reception) along with the Ethernet socket, allowing for direct network connection in suitable locations.
  • EQ/Bass boost: We could look at diving into the Pi-DigiAMP+’s integrated DSP and program it to get the best from the BMR drive units in the Roberts Radio case.
  • Battery operation: I’m thinking of adding a battery power source and charging circuit. It’s just too nice a radio to have it tied to a mains socket – it also stops me being able to spin the radio around and around listening to music as I did 40 years ago!

Parts list

  • Your Gran’s vintage radio
  • 1x Raspberry Pi
  • 1x Official Raspberry Pi USB WiFi adapter
  • 1x IQaudIO Pi-DigiAMP+
  • 1x XP Power 15v power supply (VEH60US15 / VEF50US15 or similar)
  • 1x ALPHA 3 pin Rotary Encoder (RE160F-40E3-20A-24P)
  • 2x HiWave 2x12w BMR speakers (RS Online stock no: 761-4265)
  • 1x 2.5mm / 5.5mm Barrel power socket ( DC-008-B-R)
  • SD card with Mike Brady’s Shairport Sync (available pre-configured with rotary encoder volume support from iqaudio.com/downloads)
  • Some wire
  • Some basic soldering skills
24 Comments

Bedbot – furniture with a tech twist

Fine woodwork has always been a mystery to me. I blame the church summer camp I went to when I was nine, where the boys got to build wooden doorknockers shaped like woodpeckers, and the girls – you guessed it – got to paint them with flowers. (This also meant that half the children didn’t get to take a doorknocker home with them at the end of the week. Very poorly thought out, Rev H.)

I once made a shelf to go inside an airing cupboard.

Perhaps I assign too much value to things I could never, ever contemplate making myself. But I’ve a suspicion that the rest of you will also think this project is pretty darn amazing: here is Bedbot, created by Peter Roca, the sort of person who can casually say, “The drawer front is a ¾″ thick piece of curly maple that I had laying around”.

bedbot

Peter calls Bedbot a Daytime Initialisation Assistant. In short, Bedbot is there to ease Peter from sleep into a state of energised morning wakefulness. It is a very over-engineered alarm clock.

insideCLose

 

Peter did a gorgeous job of constructing the furniture itself. He then designed and built the hardware that lives inside Bedbot, wrote the software (which includes a rather snazzy user interface in QT), put in a touchscreen from Adafruit, and an OLED screen to tell the time with.

Peter says:

It tells time
It can wake me up in the morning
It can play FM radio (f*** AM)
It can play internet audio streams
It can play audio from a headphone jack in the back
Anything else you can think of that requires the internet, speakers, a touchscreen or a radio antenna.

main

He’s made an online Board Explorer to show you around the hardware (beware: this won’t work on mobile devices) which is well worth your time. There’s also video of Bedbot in action which we can’t embed here, which Peter has made part of his exceptionally thorough build diary and writeup – go and check it out. You’ll find all the software he used on GitHub.

Thanks for the writeup, Peter – we love it. It’s a beautiful object: we hope it continues to cheer up your mornings for a long time to come.

17 Comments

A new board member

Sherry Coutu CBE has been a member of the board of Raspberry Pi Trading for a couple of years now; she’s an exceptionally valuable member of the team, and we’re very grateful to her for donating her time  and expertise to our organisation.

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Today we’re really excited to be welcoming Sherry to join the board of the Raspberry Pi Foundation as well, so she’s now going to be working across both the trading and charitable sides of the organisation. Sherry’s extraordinary. This month she was placed in the top ten of Computer Weekly’s Most Influential Women in Tech list. She sits on the board of the London Stock Exchange (when she and Joanna Shields were taken on, they were the first women to be appointed); she’s also on the boards of Zoopla, the University of Cambridge‘s Finance Board, Cambridge Assessment, Cambridge University Press, and Cambridge Temperature Concepts. And because she’s somehow managed to cram more hours into the day than the rest of us are given by nature, she’s also on the advisory boards of Linkedin, the Natural History Museum and the Royal Society.

Phew.

Thanks Sherry – we’re really glad you’ve come on board on the Foundation side of the organisation too. It’s terrific to be able to have access to your skills across the whole spectrum of what we do here at Raspberry Pi, and we’re looking forward to working more with you.

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Welcoming our new CEO

Liz: As regular readers will know, Raspberry Pi is a charity. We’re split into two parts: the Raspberry Pi Foundation is the charitable body, and it owns Raspberry Pi Trading, the part of the organisation that develops the hardware you all buy. All the profit we make in Raspberry Pi Trading goes straight to the Raspberry Pi Foundation, where it’s spent on our charitable aims.

Philip Colligan is the new Chief Executive Officer of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, working with Eben, who remains CEO of Raspberry Pi Trading. He’s been here for two weeks now, and he’s already got us all very excited about the direction he’s taking the organisation in. Here’s Philip to tell you what he’s been up to. Welcome Philip: we’re so glad you’ve joined us!

As I come to the end of my first couple of weeks as the newest member of the Raspberry Pi team, I wanted to write a quick blog post to say a big thank you to everyone who has made me feel so welcome.

Philip "please crop out my shorts" Colligan, mid-meeting

Philip “please crop out my shorts” Colligan, mid-meeting. (He’s the one on the right.)

In many ways, arriving at the Raspberry Pi Foundation feels more like joining a community than starting a new job. Ever since Liz announced my appointment on this blog at the end of April, I’ve been inundated with good wishes and offers of help from people from all sorts of backgrounds who have been inspired by Raspberry Pi. From volunteer activists to the CEOs of multi-national businesses, the openness and generosity I’ve experienced in these first few weeks has been humbling. Thank you.

It’s been a whirlwind of meeting people and learning as much as I can.  Some highlights:

  • Joining the judges of Astro Pi – our competition for kids to run experiments on a Raspberry Pi that we’re putting on the International Space Station (ISS).  It’s all possible because of our friends at the UK Space Agency and the UK’s first astronaut in 25 years, Major Tim Peake. Seriously though: a Raspberry Pi on the space station running experiments written by school kids. How cool is that?
  • Attending Picademy – our teacher training programme – at Pi Towers in Cambridge. Not only did I get to see the Foundation team in action (and they are awesome by the way), but I got to join an amazing group of 30 primary and secondary teachers as they came up with creative ideas to bring digital making into the classroom. Brilliant.
  • Hanging out at CamJam – the Cambridge Raspberry Jam – with my seven-year-old son. OK, this is cheating a bit because it happened a few weeks before I started, but it was a great introduction to the community of makers in Cambridge, and I am looking forward to meeting more of you at Jams across the UK and internationally.  My son loved it and can’t wait for the Pi Wars robot competition later this year.

And I’m already blown away by the incredible range of projects that are being powered by the Raspberry Pi. Nature cameras, weather stations, art installations, robot gardeners, beer brewing kits – I’ve heard stories of people all over the world using the Raspberry Pi to solve problems, have fun and learn new skills.

I’ve also been out and about meeting the other organisations that are part of this growing movement to get young people involved in computing and digital making – Code Club, Apps for Good, Coder Dojo, Freeformers and Computing at School – hearing about the great work they’re doing and cooking up plans for future collaborations.

All that and I managed to find the toilets and only set off the office burglar alarm once.  A busy first couple of weeks, and a great start to my induction into the Raspberry Pi community.

One of my main jobs over the next couple of months is to lead a process to map out the next stage of the Foundation’s development. A bit like the Raspberry Pi itself, we’re small but we’ve got huge potential.

And in much the same way that the community has shaped the development of the hardware and software, I want to make sure that the community shapes the development of the Foundation and helps us realise that potential. 

More to follow on that shortly. In the meantime, please get in touch and let me know what you think, show off your awesome projects or just point me at things I should see or read. 

@philipcolligan

18 Comments

Boombox Blaster

Now, I often reflect to myself smugly that Pi Towers is a really cool place to work. We’ve got an arcade machine, a fake hamster (Emma has forbidden all pets of the higher orders) in a real cage, brine shrimp (Emma’s OK with those), a Portal Turret, Pac-Man dress-up gear, juggling clubs, about fifty Rubik’s cubes, Biscuits the Robot, a drone whose whirling blades we use to keep Eben’s remaining hair short, a cupboard full of ramen, many remote-control cars, a Hornby train set, Cake Tuesdays, a hydroponic windowsill garden, a Tardis that’s been to space, and Gordon.

Sadly, I think we’ve been out-cooled by an outfit called Neo-Pangea (even their name is cooler than ours). These guys have standing desks. And ceilings made from scaffolding and pallets. And an office dog. And nerf guns. And a much cooler name than ours. They play music in the offices all day long (try that round here and James will likely come over and bludgeon you to death with the base of the soldering station). They are a Digital Boutique. We’re not quite sure what that is, but it sounds cool.

And they’ve used a Raspberry Pi to make office music selection much, much cooler.

Pi Towers: we need to get a Mexican wrestling mask.

Neo-Pangea say:

We turned our pressure-sensitive target into a tiny house that is carried into the clouds by a hot air balloon. Now, when those dreaded tunes pollute our atmosphere, Neo-Pangea’s residents can take aim to do something about it. After being hit by a Nerf projectile, the floating house lights up to acknowledge the successful hit. The balloon lights up with LED flames and is reeled into the clouds by a servo. This luminous aerial ballet is a physical representation for the signal traveling to the Sonos API on our Raspberry Pi that skips the player to the next song. The Boombox Blaster now resides in the very heart of the office and in the hearts of those dedicated, slightly mad team members who labored for countless hours to transform this music-fueled fever dream into a useful, blastable reality.

You’ll find a build diary, along with some Node JS script to control Sonos via your Pi, over at Neo Pangea’s blog.

I have just noticed that they also have a guy with a top hat. Pi Towers, we need to up our game.

13 Comments

PatternCraft

Carrie Anne looked over my shoulder when I was researching this post. “I love kids with tools.”

These particular kids with tools are using traditional wooden mallets and punches to make a very special set of punchcards, which they’re reading with a Raspberry Pi that creates a CSV file of 0s and 1s, and then interprets that data in the Minecraft universe.

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This workshop project is the work of Gemma May Latham, a collaborative maker, and David Whale, who, with Martin O’Hanlon, wrote the most excellent Adventures in Minecraft. Gemma has a particular interest in the Jacquard loom and punchcard technology, and worked with David to make a Pi-based card reader for kids to import data from a piece of paper into the Minecraft world.

Gemma says:

Housed in a laser cut plywood box, and built using a Pro Micro Arduino, IR LEDs and Phototransistors, the reader is set up to read rows of holes with an additional registration hole at the end for patterns where a row has no punched hole. The reader is then attached to a Raspberry Pi via the USB port allowing for the input of designs into Minecraft Pi via Python.

You can build your own reader; Gemma will be putting instructions online soon (we’ll update this post when she does), and all the code you’ll need is available at David’s GitHub.

There are no words for how much we approve of programming that involves hammers.

The project was a big hit at Liverpool MakeFest – Gemma and David will be running the workshop again on a bigger scale at MOSI MakeFest in Manchester in August, so head along if you’d like to have a play yourself.

 

21 Comments

Astro Pi: Mission Update 4

Astro_Pi_Logo_WEB-300px

Just over a week ago now we closed the secondary school phase of the Astro Pi competition after a one week extension to the deadline. Students from all over the UK have uploaded their code hoping that British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake will run it on the ISS later this year!

Last week folks from the leading UK Space companies, the UK Space Agency and ESERO UK met with us at Pi Towers in Cambridge to do the judging. We used the actual flight Astro Pi units to test run the submitted code. You can see one of them on the table in the picture below (look closely!):

The standard of entries was incredibly high – we were blown away by how clever some of them were!

Doug Liddle of SSTL said:

“We are delighted that the competition has reached so many school children and we hope that this inspires them to continue coding and look to Space for great career opportunities”

British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake - photo provided by UK Space Agency under CC BY-ND

British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake – photo provided by UK Space Agency under CC BY-ND

Jeremy Curtis, Head of Education at the UK Space Agency, said:

“We’re incredibly impressed with the exciting and innovative Astro Pi proposals we’ve received and look forward to seeing them in action aboard the International Space Station.

Not only will these students be learning incredibly useful coding skills, but will get the chance to translate those skills into real experiments that will take place in the unique environment of space.”

When Tim Peake flies to the ISS in December he will have the two Astro Pis in his personal cargo allowance. He’ll also have ten specially prepared SD cards which will contain the winning applications. Time is booked into his operations schedule to deploy the Astro Pis and set the code running and afterwards he will recover any output files created. These will then be returned to their respective owners and made available online for everyone to see.

Code was received for all secondary school key stages and we even have several from key stage 2 primary schools. These were judged along with the key stage 3 entries. So without further ado, here comes a breakdown of who won and what their code does:

Each of these programs have been assigned an operational code name that will be used when talking about them over the space to ground radio.

Ops name: FLAGS

  • School: Thirsk School
  • Team name: Space-Byrds
  • Key stage: 3
  • Teacher: Dan Aldred
  • The judges had a lot of fun with this. Their program uses telemetry data provided by NORAD along with the Real Time Clock on the Astro Pi to computationally predict the location of the ISS (so it doesn’t need to be online). It then works out what country’s territory the ISS is above, and shows its flag on the LED matrix, along with a short phrase in the local language.

Ops name: MISSION CONTROL

  • School: Cottenham Village College
  • Team name: Kieran Wand
  • Key stage: 3
  • Teacher: Christopher Butcher
  • Kieran’s program is an environmental system monitor that could be used to cross check the ISS’s own life support system. It continually measures the temperature, pressure and humidity, and displays these in a cycling, split-screen display. It has the ability to raise alarms if these measurements move outside of acceptable parameters. We were especially impressed that code had been written to compensate for thermal transfer between the Pi CPU and Astro Pi sensors.

Andy Powell of the Knowledge Transfer Network said:

“All of the judges were impressed by the quality of work and the effort that had gone into the winning KS3 projects and they produced useful, well thought through and entertaining results”

Ops name: TREES

  • School: Westminster School
  • Team name: EnviroPi
  • Key stage: 4 (and equivalent)
  • Teacher: Sam Page
  • This entry will be run in the cupola module of the ISS with the Astro Pi NoIR camera pointing out of the window. The aim is to take pictures of the ground and to later analyse them using false colour image processing. This will produce a Normalised Differentiated Vegetation Index (NDVI) for each image which is a measure of plant health. They have one piece of code which will run on the ISS to capture the images and another that will run on the ground after the mission to post process and analyse the images captured. They even tested their code by going up in a light aircraft to take pictures of the ground!

Ops name: REACTION GAMES

  • School: Lincoln UTC
  • Team name: Team Terminal
  • Key stage: 4 (and equivalent)
  • Teacher: Mark Hall
  • These students have made a whole suite of reaction games, complete with a nice little menu system to let the user select them. The games also record response times, with the eventual goal being to investigate how crew reaction time changes over the course of a long-term space flight. This entry caused all work to cease during the judging for about half an hour!

Lincoln UTC have also won the prize for the best overall submission in the Secondary School completion. This earns them a photograph of their school taken from space by an Airbus or SSTL satellite. Go and make a giant space invader please!

Ops name: RADIATION

  • School: Magdalen College School
  • Team name: Arthur, Alexander and Kiran
  • Key stage: 5 (and equivalent)
  • Teacher: Dr Jesse Petersen
  • This team have successfully made a radiation detector using the Raspberry Pi camera module, the possibility of which was hinted at during our Astro Pi animation video from a few months ago. The camera lens is blanked off to prevent light from getting in, but this still allows high-energy space radiation to get through. Due to the design of the camera, the sensor sees the impacts of these particles as tiny specks of light. The code then uses OpenCV to measure the intensity of these specks and produces an overall measurement of the level of radiation happening.

What blew us away was that they had taken their Astro Pi and camera module along to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and fired a neutron cannon at it to test it was working!

The code can even compensate for dead pixels in the camera sensor. I am wondering if they killed some pixels with the neutron cannon, and then had to add that code out of necessity? Brilliant.

These winning programs will be joined on the ISS by the winners of the Primary School Competition which closed in April:

Ops name: MINECRAFT

  • School: Cumnor House Girl’s School
  • Team name: Hannah Belshaw
  • Key stage: 2
  • Teacher: Peter Kelly
  • Hannah’s entry logs data from the Astro Pi sensors, and visualises it later using structures in a Minecraft world. So columns of blocks are used to represent environmental measurements, and a giant blocky model of the ISS itself (that moves) is used to represent movement and orientation. The code was written, under Hannah’s guidance, by Martin O’Hanlon who runs Stuff About Code. The data logging program that will run on the ISS produces a CSV file that can be consumed later by the visualisation code to play back what happened when Tim Peake was running it in space. The code is already online here.

Ops name: SWEATY ASTRONAUT

  • School: Cranmere Primary School
  • Team name: Cranmere Code Club
  • Key stage: 2
  • Teacher: Richard Hayler
  • Although they were entitled to have their entry coded by us at Raspberry Pi, the kids of the Cranmere Code Club are collectively writing their program themselves. The aim is to try and detect the presence of a crew member by monitoring the environmental sensors of the Astro Pi, particularly humidity. If a fluctuation is detected it will scroll a message asking if someone is there. They even made a Lego replica of the Astro Pi flight case for their testing!

Obviously, the main prize for winners is to have your code flown into space and run on the ISS. However, the UK Space companies also offered a number of thematic prizes which were awarded independently of those that have been chosen to fly. Some cross-over with the other winners was expected here.

  • Space Sensors
    Hannah Belshaw, from Cumnor House Girl’s School with her idea for Minecraft data visualisation.
  • Space Measurements
    Kieran Wand from Cottenham Village College for his ISS environment monitoring system.
  • Imaging and Remote Sensing
    The EnviroPi team from Westminster School with their experiment to measure plant health from space using NDVI images.
  • Space Radiation
    Magdalen College, Oxford with their space radiation detector.
  • Data Fusion
    Nicole Ashworth, from Reading, for her weather reporting system; comparing historical weather data from the UK with the environment on the ISS.
  • Coding Excellence
    Sarah and Charlie Maclean for their multiplayer Labyrinth game.

Pat Norris of CGI said:

“It has been great to see so many schools getting involved in coding and we hope that this competition has inspired the next generation to take up coding, space systems or any of the many other opportunities the UK space sector offers. We were particularly impressed by the way Charlie structured his code, added explanatory comments and used best practice in developing the functionality.”

We’re aiming to have all the code that was submitted to the competition on one of the ten SD cards that will fly. So your code will still fly even if it won’t be scheduled to be run in space. The hope is that, during periods of downtime, Tim may have a look through some of the other entries and run them manually. But this depends on a lot of factors outside our control, and so we can’t promise anything.

But wait, there’s more!

There is still opportunity for all schools to get involved with Astro Pi!

There will be an on-orbit activity during the mission (probably in January or February) that you can all do at the same time as Tim. After the winning programs have all finished, the Astro Pi will enter a phase of flight data recording. Just like the black box on an aircraft.

This will make the Astro Pi continually record everything from all its sensors and save the data into a file that you can get! If you set your Astro Pi up in the same way (the software will be provided by us) then you can compare Tim’s measurements taken in space with yours taken on the ground.

There is then a lot of educational value in looking at the differences and understanding why they occur. For instance, you could look at the accelerometer data to find out when ISS reboosts occurred; or study the magnetometer data to find out how the Earth’s magnetic field changes as they orbit the Earth. A number of free educational resources will be provided that will help you to leverage the value of this exercise.

The general public can also get involved when the Sense HAT goes on general sale in a few weeks time.

Libby Jackson of the UK Space Agency said:

“Although the competition is over, the really exciting part of the project is just beginning. All of the winning entries will get to see their code run in space and thousands more can take part in real life space experiments through the Flight Data phase”

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