Astro Pi: Mission Update 2

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Time for an Astro Pi update! The ‘big idea’ phase of the competition, where students were only required to submit an idea, closed at the beginning of April. The fully anonymised judging process took place over two long days at York’s National STEM Centre on the 17th of April.

Nearly 200 teams from primary schools and code clubs all over the UK submitted ideas for experiments and games to be run on Tim Peake’s Astro Pi on board the International Space Station (ISS) later this year. He will set the winning experiments running, collect the data generated and then download it to Earth where it will be distributed to the winning teams.

Tim Peake has announced the primary school winners in a video message from Star City, where he is currently training. The secondary school competition is still open until the end of June.

Hannah Belshaw from Cumnor House Girl’s School in Croydon won top place with her idea to represent data from the Astro Pi in the world of Minecraft. The Cranmere Code Club team from Esher were also winners with their idea to investigate whether the Astro Pi can detect the presence of astronauts on the ISS using the temperature and humidity sensors.

Both schools will now receive a class set of Astro Pi kits which they’ll start coding on. They’ll also use them to get involved in the data logging activities once Tim starts his mission.

Major Tim Peake - photo provided by UK Space Agency under CC BY-ND

Major Tim Peake – photo provided by UK Space Agency under CC BY-ND

Hannah Belshaw’s Minecraft idea was the top entry overall in the primary school category. The code will be written by us at Raspberry Pi under her guidance and, in addition to getting it flown and run on the ISS, a British satellite will be realigned to take a picture of her school from space! They can all go outside into the playground and make a huge space invader perhaps?

We all recognised that Hannah’s idea is an ingenious way to represent abstract sensor data captured by the Astro Pi in a way that would allow children to gain an intuitive understanding. The terrain in Minecraft will be used to visualise magnetometer and gyroscope measurements downloaded from the ISS and can then be replicated by anyone who owns a Raspberry Pi.

Jonathan Bell, one of our software ninjas, said:

“We anticipate that we will have as much fun programming (and testing) this entry as children will have exploring a game world created from data captured in space.”

Cranmere Code Club’s concept of investigating whether or not multiple sensors from the Astro Pi could be used to detect the nearby presence of an astronaut appealed to everyone because it exploits so much of the Astro Pi hardware. Cranmere Code Club will use the visible camera to take a photograph when an increase in temperature and humidity is detected, and will review the images to see if they caught anyone!

Pat Norris from CGI said:

“the Cranmere entry was very clearly and comprehensively presented. It included a statement of the objective of what is effectively a scientific experiment and of the approach proposed to achieve that objective, and complemented this with logic flowcharts and a diagram. Part of the activity takes place on the ISS and part on the ground after the data has been collected, giving the Cranmere Code Club an opportunity to participate directly in the experiment. The judging panel was impressed by the sophistication of the entry, demonstrating an appreciation of the scientific method (hypothesis tested by experiment) and a thorough analysis of the logic involved.”

The standard of entries was so high that we also created a ‘highly commended’ category to reward outstanding effort. These entrants will individually receive an Astro Pi kit too.

Doug Liddle from SSTL said:

“The standard of entries was tremendously high. Ultimately, the winning teams had to propose ideas that were creative, practical and useful to stand a chance of winning. I hope that most of these talented primary school teams also decide to get involved in the next stage of the competition and give the secondary schools a run for their money.”

In the secondary school age group, the competition is running across three age categories, one for each of Key Stages 3, 4 and 5. Competitors have already submitted their ideas for experiments and applications with the best submissions in each age category winning an Astro Pi kit on which to code their idea and the two most promising ideas in each category winning a class set of kits. The teams who have earned a class set of kits are:

Key Stage 3 and equivalent:

Key Stage 4 and equivalent:

Key Stage 5 and equivalent:

Phase two of the Astro Pi competition is all about secondary schools realising their ideas from phase one in code, testing it, refining it and eventually submitting it via the competition website by the 29th of June. Primary schools are not required to do this, but those that want to code will be put into the lowest age category for the secondary school competition.

If you missed phase one, you can still enter! In fact, if you really wanted, you could turn up on the 28th of June with your code ready to go, enter, and submit the code on the same day! (That would be cutting it a bit fine though…)

Go here to enter!

After the end of June the entries will be judged for the last time. The best two from each key stage will then have their code flown on Tim Peake’s Astro Pi when he launches in November. The existing primary school entries will also be judged alongside these to be in with a chance to win the UK Space thematic prizes.

We are also providing support through the Astro Pi forum and you can still apply for a free Astro Pi HAT (on its own) if you didn’t win a kit. Oh oh! Yes… free stuff is up for grabs.

If you want to get one you need to send an email application to…

request@astro-pi.org

…describing what you intend to do with the hardware. Hint: those who intend to enter the Astro Pi secondary school competition will be looked upon favourably. You should provide a good description of what your entry will do for Tim Peake on the ISS. This will not entitle you to a board though! There are only a limited number of them so we will be selecting based on what you write in your application. So choose your words carefully.

In the future we hope that the European Space Agency will want to repeat the Astro Pi competition on a larger scale and so, currently, the UK competition is like a pilot. ESA are watching this with interest and they will be looking for the number of entries received and the number of students reached. Please do your bit by getting your school involved.

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MagPi issue 33 – out now!

I can’t believe we’re on our third issue of the new MagPi already. Your free Raspberry Pi magazine is ready to download here. This month’s magazine is a doozy, with 70 pages of tutorials, some incredible projects to build, reviews, and much, much more.

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One feature in this month’s magazine has me jumping up and down like a schoolgirl (bear with me here; we did trampolining at school).  Mike Cook is an electronics wizard extraordinaire and an absolute childhood hero of mine thanks to his regular Body Building column in Micro User Magazine. Mike has joined the MagPi team to start a new column called Mike’s Pi Bakery, where, just like in the good old days, he’ll be creating little electronic projects which will be well within the grasp of beginners. This month he’ll show you how to make an interactive PiGlow reaction game, for which you’ll be building your own controller. I had the good fortune to get to hog a lot of Mike’s time at our 3rd birthday party in February, where he taught me a great deal about why specific blues are less easy to recall than specific reds; about different generations of LEGO motors; and that I have a pathetically limp wrist when it comes to dealing with ketchup bottles with attached accelerometers.

There are more amazing Minecraft tips and tricks from Martin O’Hanlon; an interview with one of my favourite people in UK computing (who? You’ll have to download the magazine to find out); a super-test of four popular Raspberry Pi desktops; a competition to win £200 of PiBorg goodies; and much, much more – like this magic retro gaming glove.

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As always, the magazine is completely free to download. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we’ve enjoyed making it!

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Windows 10 for IoT

Back in February, when we launched Raspberry Pi 2, the sharp-eyed among you will have noticed the folks at Microsoft making an announcement about bringing Windows 10 for IoT to the Raspberry Pi. We’re excited to share that it landed today – along with a ridiculously cool demo. The chap in the video is HoloLens designer Alex Kipman.

I’m guessing that this video will leave a lot of you wanting to get your hands on a version of Windows 10 for IoT (called Windows 10 IoT Core) that you can use with your own Pi 2. This is all in Insider Preview mode still, so it comes with all the usual stability warnings. Microsoft has made the instructions on how to download the Windows 10 IoT Core Insider Preview and install it on your Pi 2 in one nice, tidy HTML page here. (I know a couple of our forum mods did so overnight because I got excited messages about robots from them which I found when I woke up this morning). The page is on GitHub, so you can issue pull requests. And yes, you will also need to have a copy of Windows 10 on your PC. You can get that by signing up to the Windows 10 Insider Program.

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Steve Teixeira at Microsoft says:

We’re embracing the simple principle of helping Makers and device builders do more by bringing our world-class development tools, the power of the Universal Windows Platform, direct access to hardware capabilities, and the ability to remotely debug, update, and manage the software running on Raspberry Pi 2 devices. This Insider Preview release of Windows 10 IoT Core is our conversation-starter. Our goal is to give Makers the opportunity to play with the software bits early and to listen to the feedback on what’s working well and what we can do better. You may notice some missing drivers or rough edges; we look forward to receiving your feedback to help us prioritize our development work. We’ll be incorporating the feedback we receive into regular software updates along with additional drivers, bug fixes and new features. Those looking for a commercial-quality release should wait for general availability this summer.

Matt Richardson, who is at the Build conference (hanging out with that little robot: B2 is spending the next day living on the Raspberry Pi stand with Matt, and we fully expect Matt to have trained him to make tea by the time the conference is ready to wrap up), and who was able to have a bit of a play with the setup while we in the UK were all fast asleep, seems impressed.

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Matt’s new best friend

We’ll be watching to see what the community does with Windows 10 for IoT on the Pi with great interest.

 

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Welcome Philip!

The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that a couple of months back, we were advertising for a new CEO of the Raspberry Pi Foundation.  

Today we’re really excited to announce that Philip Colligan will be joining us in July as the new CEO of the Raspberry Pi Foundation.  Philip will be responsible for overseeing all of our charitable activities – that’s everything from our outreach and learning resources to grant-giving and partnerships with government and other organisations.  He’ll be working closely with Eben, who continues as the CEO of Raspberry Pi Trading.  

We are concerned that Eben and Philip's very similar facial styling may cause identity problems in the office.

Philip joins us from Nesta, a charity that supports innovation, where he is the Deputy Chief Executive and Executive Director of Nesta’s Innovation Lab. In his role at Nesta, he’s supported hundreds of innovators in public services, charities and social enterprises, and has also been an adviser to government.

One of Nesta’s areas of work is helping young people get involved in digital making and creativity, so with Philip on board, we’re hoping that there will be lots of opportunities to work together in future.

Before his time at Nesta, Philip had a career in national and local government, working at the Home Office and Camden Council.  Outside of work he’s a dad, school governor and craft cider maker; a skill we plan on making full use of. (We also hope that his experience in wrangling the Home Office will be helpful when he is called to deal with the weekly détente in the office when Gordon annexes the biscuit tin.)

Philip’s perfectly qualified to come and drive the next phase of the Foundation’s charitable work; we’re delighted he’s decided to come and join us. We want to see the Foundation grow in scope and ambition, and we think he’s exactly the person to help us do that. Welcome aboard, Philip! 

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Picademy South West

Next stop on the great Raspberry Pi Education Team Tour of Great Britain is the South West of England! That’s right: we’re taking Picademy, the official Raspberry Pi Professional Development course for teachers, on the road again, thanks to our friends at Exeter Library in Devon! I’m already packing my bucket, spade and kiss-me-quick hat. As always, Picademy is completely free to attend.

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Raspberry Pi Certified Educators – April 2015 from cohort no. 8. All demonstrating their best super hero pose!

Exeter Library is an appealing venue for Picademy, with an onsite Fab Lab (fabrication workshop) equipped with laser cutters, 3D printers, and more. I expect we will see some fantastic project ideas realised on day two of the course. Maybe even ‘Biscuits’ the robot will get a shiny new hat courtesy of Clive’s mega-making skills.

Picademy South West will take place on 4th and 5th June. We have space for 24 enthusiastic teachers from Primary, Secondary and Post-16 who are open to getting hands on with their learning and having some fun. We’d like to see lots of teachers from Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, and Dorset take full advantage of this two day event. Sign-ups for teachers are open!

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Our Raspberry Pi Certified Educators Map shows that the team are needed in the South West!

Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, Portfolio Holder for Economy and Growth at Devon County Council, said:

 “We’re really pleased and excited that the Picademy is coming to Devon, as this is a fantastic opportunity for local teachers to benefit from the expertise that the two day course will offer – all for free.

We’re keen to try and spread technology training as far and as wide as possible, and have already invested in modern fabrication facilities through the Fab Lab at Exeter Library, which anyone attending the course will be able to see.

The Picademy really complements what we’re already doing here in Devon and provides an opportunity to ensure that we continue to look at new ways in which we can encourage the next generation of experts in technology development, rather than just technology consumers.”

 

For educators in and around Leeds, remember that our Picademy@Google training events are open for sign-ups too, as we continue to spread free training opportunities across the UK. In the coming months we will announce other venues as part of the Google series.

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The Wheel of (BASIC) Excuses

Back in the day, over at IEEE Spectrum magazine, the editorial elves had a sheet of paper stuck on a wall, with a spinning arm which pointed to any number of plausible excuses for not having handed in homework an article in time.

The offices were renovated last year, and Stephen Cass thought that it was time to update the paper version, bringing it kicking and screaming into the 1980s with a Raspberry Pi-based BASIC system. You can’t fit many excuses on wheel drawn on a sheet of paper. With a big enough SD card, you can fit all the excuses onto a Raspberry Pi.

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I remember struggling with getting BASIC to do things fast enough to be useful when I was at school back in the dark ages. The RISC OS version on your Pi is much evolved from the BBC BASIC we knew and loved in (squints) 1980-something; it’s also much, much faster by virtue of all that extra RAM. Stephen was pleased and alarmed by this.

Stephen didn’t put the code for the spinner in his original piece, because he had the aberrant view that nobody would be interested. Happily, he’s fixed that and pasted everything into a comment below his article. (Hit “See more” to view the whole block.)

There are, of course, plenty of non-journalist applications for this snippet of code: games for the kids, allocating chores, automating decision-making…we hope some of you will end up adapting it and letting us know what you did below.

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Plotter made from scrap computer parts

Our old friend HomoFaciens (who has the best voice of any Raspberry Pi user we’ve met) has another fantastic piece of work to share. He’s recycled old optical drives for their stepper motors, and made a tiny plotter, controlled over WiFi, from those motors, a servo, four H-bridges and a Raspberry Pi.

HF has made a full writeup, including all the source code you’ll need, available at his website. As always, he’s also made the whole video and writeup available in German. HomoFaciens’ website is one of those bits of the internet you’ll find yourself wandering around for ages if you’re even slightly interested in this sort of thing. He’s got some fascinating stuff on there; I heartily recommend giving one of his camera-equipped robots a spin via the web interface they’re hooked up to. (No prizes for guessing which is my favourite.)

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If you decide to make your own plotter, be aware that not all old optical drives have stepper motors – HomoFaciens’ hit rate was about 50% when he started pulling them apart.

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Stream PC games to your TV

Why spend hundreds of quid on a Steam Machine when you can do exactly the same thing with a humble Raspberry Pi? (The B+ is available for $25, which is about £16, at RS Components at the moment, if you’re really on a budget.)

Here are the Possibly Unsafe guys to walk you through setup.

I’ve swiped the instructions below from their YouTube channel:

Setup:
You’ll first need to install the latest Rasbian from here:
http://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads/

Next download Limelight Embedded. Grab the latest limelight.jar and libopus.so from here:
https://github.com/irtimmer/limelight…

Make sure that your gaming PC has an NVIDIA GTX 600+ graphics card and GeForce Experience installed.

Pairing:
To make things easier, enable SSH on the RPi and tunnel in to the machine. Here are some useful commands:

List compatible PCs
java -jar limelight.jar list

Pair with PC
java -jar limelight.jar pair PC-IP

Map a controller
java -jar limelight.jar map -input /dev/input/eventX mapfile.map

Start streaming
java -jar limelight.jar stream -1080/720 -60fps/30fps PC-IP -app Steam -mapping mapfile.map

Make sure to check the Limelight help file in case things have changed since this post!

Possibly Unsafe’s a rather brilliant channel; I’m making their homemade Sriracha chilli sauce just as soon as I can get my hands on enough habaneros. You can support them via their Patreon if you like the things they do.

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Benton Park Live Coding Orchestra – The Planets

The kids from Benton Park have gone on to media superstardom in this short from the BBC. You’ve met the Benton Park Live Coding Orchestra before – they live-code music in Sonic Pi for school performances. This time, they’re making music about the planets, using Holst’s Planets Suite as a jumping-off point.

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The Live Coding Orchestra kids are in years 5 and 6 (so they’re all between nine and eleven years old); the dancers in this performance are all from the Reception class and the Nursery group (aged five and under). As well as providing music for the little kids to dance to, the Live Coding Orchestra spent some time teaching them how to create music in Sonic Pi – you can see them doing some training at the start of the video.

The music sets the mood for dancing on three different planets, with a rocket trip between each planet orchestrated by Holst. Best thing we’ve seen in ages – thanks Live Coders, and thanks dancers! (If your adblocker has made the video below invisible, you can check it out at the BBC’s website.)

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Droplet photography

I get asked sometimes what my favourite projects from this blog are. Dave Hunt’s water droplet photography’s right up there: Dave rigged up a Pi to trigger a solenoid valve and a camera shutter at the same time, to take perfectly timed macro photos of water drops. You can see his original, beautiful pictures here in our archives.

Over in Germany, Markus May has based his own rig on Dave’s, with a few alterations; he’s also put a lot of effort into lighting and colour effects, with spectacular results.

Markus’ original blog post is in German, but Google Translate does a pretty bang-up job of making things understandable for idiots like me who promptly forgot all the German they knew moments after taking a GCSE exam in it. (I still remember that Zwiebel means onion, but that won’t get you far on holiday unless you really like onions.)

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We love this stuff: bringing the sort of thing you could only do with an expensive professional rig inside the budget an amateur with a DSLR might have gets us really excited.

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This rig is more involved than Dave’s original, with a couple of Mariotte’s bottles which produce an equal flow rate, however full the bottles are. Guar gum for thickening, milk for opacity and food colouring went into the liquid for extra gorgeousness.

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Markus has made a circuit diagram available, and Dave’s original post still contains everything you’ll need to make your own rig. There are more of these spectacular photographs at Markus’ Flickr, and you’ll find a great writeup of the original session, with behind-the-scenes pictures at his blog post.

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