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!

Building Computer Labs in Western Africa

Back in 2014, Helen covered the story of Dominique Laloux and the first Raspberry Pi computer room in Togo, West Africa.

Having previously worked alongside friends to set up the Kuma Computer Center, Dominique and the team moved on to build another computer room in Kuma Adamé.

Both builds were successful, proving the need for such resources within an area where, prior to 2012, 75% of teachers had never used a computer.

Dominique has since been back in contact via our forum; he informed us of another successful build, again in Togo, converting an old toilet block into a Raspberry Pi computer lab.

Togo RPi Lab

The blank canvas…

The team had their work cut out, stripping the building of its inner walls, laying down a new concrete floor, and installing windows. 

Togo RPi

Some serious climbing was needed…

Electricity and LAN were installed next, followed by welded tables and, eventually, the equipment.

Togo RPi

Local teachers and students helped to set up the room

The room was finally kitted out with 21 Raspberry Pis. This would allow for one computer per student, up to a maximum of 20, as well as one for the teacher’s desk, which would power an LED projector.

The room also houses a laptop with a scanner, and a networked printer.

The project took four weeks to complete, and ended with a two-week training session for 25 teachers. 

Togo RPi

Forget the summer holidays: each teacher showed up every day

Dominique believes very strongly in the project, and in the positive influence it has had on the area. He writes:

I am now convinced that the model of Raspberry Pi computer labs is an ideal solution to bring ICT to small schools in developing countries, where resources are scarce.

Not only is he continuing to raise funds to build more labs, he’s also advising other towns who want to build their own. Speaking of the growth of awareness over the past year, he explained, “I was so happy to advise another community 500 km away on how to install their own microcomputer room, based on the same model.”

And his future plans?

My goal is now to raise enough funds to set up one computer room in a school each year for the foreseeable future, hoping that other communities will want to copy the model and build their own at the same time.

We love seeing the progress Dominique and his team have made as they continue to build these important labs for communities in developing countries. Dominique’s hard work and determination is inspiring, and we look forward to seeing the students he and his team have helped to nurture continue to learn.

Togo RPi

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Docker comes to Raspberry Pi

If you’re not already familiar with Docker, it’s a method of packaging software to include not only your code, but also other components such as a full file system, system tools, services, and libraries. You can then run the software on multiple machines without a lot of setup. Docker calls these packages containers.

Mayview Maersk by Flickr user Kees Torn

Mayview Maersk by Flickr user Kees Torn

Think of it like a shipping container and you’ve got some idea of how it works. Shipping containers are a standard size so that they can be moved around at ports, and shipped via sea or land. They can also contain almost anything. Docker containers can hold your software’s code and its dependencies, so that it can easily run on many different machines. Developers often use them to create a web application server that runs on their own machine for development, and is then pushed to the cloud for the public to use.

While we’ve noticed people using Docker on Raspberry Pi for a while now, the latest release officially includes Raspbian Jessie installation support. You can now install the Docker client on your Raspberry Pi with just one terminal command:

curl -sSL get.docker.com | sh

From there, you can create your own container or download pre-made starter containers for your projects. The documentation is thorough and easy to follow. You can also follow this Pi-focused guide by Docker captain Alex Ellis.

Docker Swarm

One way you can use Raspberry Pi and Docker together is for Swarm. Used together, they can create a computer cluster. With Swarm containers on a bunch of networked Raspberry Pis, you can build a powerful machine and explore how a Docker Swarm works. Alex shows you how in this video:

Docker Swarm mode Deep Dive on Raspberry Pi (scaled)

Get all the details @ http://blog.alexellis.io/live-deep-dive-pi-swarm/

You can follow along with Alex’s written tutorial as well. He has even taken it further by using Pi Zero’s USB gadget capabilities to create a tiny Docker Swarm:

Alex Ellis on Twitter

Look ma, no Ethernet! 8 core @Docker 1.12 swarm boom USB OTG @Raspberry_Pi @pimoronipic.twitter.com/frlSQ9ePpr

The Raspberry Pi already makes many computing tasks easier; why not add deploying remote applications to that list with Docker?

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Call me Ishmael

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. “When Gregor Samsa woke one morning from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed right there in his bed into some sort of monstrous insect”. “It was the day my grandmother exploded”. The opening line of a novel can catch our attention powerfully, and can stay with us long after the book itself is finished. A memorable first line is endlessly quotable, and lends itself to parody (“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains”). Sometimes, a really cracking first line can even inspire a group of talented people to create a unique and beautiful art object, with a certain tiny computer at its heart. 

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Stephanie Kent demonstrates the Call Me Ishmael Phone at ALA 2016

If you read the roundup of our trip to ALA 2016, you will already have caught a glimpse of this unusual Pi-powered project: the Call Me Ishmael Phone. The idea originated back in 2014 when founders Logan Smalley and Stephanie Kent were discussing their favourite opening lines of books: they were both struck by Herman Melville’s laconic phrase in Moby Dick and began wondering, “What if Ishmael had a phone number? What if you actually could call him?” Their Call Me Ishmael project began with a phone number (people outside the US can Skype Ishmael instead), an answering machine, and an invitation to readers to tell Ishmael a story about a book they love, and how it has shaped their life. The most interesting, funny, and poignant stories are transcribed by Stephanie on a manual typewriter and shared on social media. Here’s a playlist of some of the team’s favourites: 

Having created Ishmael’s virtual world, Stephanie and Logan collaborated with artist and maker Ayodamola Okunseinde to build the physical Call Me Ishmael Phone. Ayo took a commercially available retro-style telephone and turned it into an interactive book recommendation device. For the prototype, he used a Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, but the production model of the phone uses the latest Pi 3. He explains: “We have a USB flash drive connected to the Pi that holds audio files, configuration, and identification data for each unit. We also have a small USB-powered speaker that amplifies the audio output from the Pi”. The Pis are controlled by a Python script written by programmer Andy Cavatorta.

CMI-Phone-in-Shop_Steph_Andy_Ayo-min-min

Stephanie, Andy, and Ayo in the workshop

The phone can be installed in a library, bookshop, or another public space. It’s also loaded with a number of book reviews, some mapped to individual buttons on the phone, and some which can be selected at random. When a person presses the dial buttons on the phone, the GPIO pins detect the input, which triggers an audio file to play. If, during play, another button is pressed, the Pi switches audio output to the associated button. Hanging up the phone causes the termination of the audio file currently playing. The system consists of several units in different locations that have audio and data files pushed to them daily from a control server. The system also has an app that allows users to push and pull content from individual Pis, as well as triggering a particular phone to ring.

CMI-Phone-Avid-center-floor-stand-flush-right-min-min

The finished unit installed in a bookshop

The Call Me Ishmael Phone is a thoughtful project which uses the Raspberry Pi in a very unusual way: it’s not often that programming and literature intersect like this. We’re delighted to see it, and we can’t wait to see what uses for the Raspberry Pi the makers might come up with in future. And if you have a book which has changed your life, why not call Ishmael and share your story?

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Begin your journey with Raspberry Pi in The MagPi 49

We’ve all seen the numbers. The Raspberry Pi is selling faster and faster every year, which means there are new people getting Raspberry Pis every day. With this in mind, we decided to make a brand new beginner’s guide in issue 49 of The MagPi, out now.

Get started with Raspberry Pi with The MagPi 49!

Get started with Raspberry Pi with The MagPi 49!

The Raspberry Pi beginner’s guide takes you from selecting your Raspberry Pi all the way through setting it up and getting to know the Raspbian OS that powers it. We’re also using it to jump-start a beginner’s tutorial that will be a monthly feature in The MagPi from now on.

#49 Apollo Pi

Set your Pi up so it can take you to the moon! (Moon rocket not included)

As well as the cover feature, we also have a feature on the recently released Apollo 11 source code and how you can emulate a virtual Apollo computer on your Raspberry Pi, along with some historical factoids about making and programming a computer to take people to the moon. There’s also our usual range of amazing tutorials, projects, and product reviews for you to read about as well, including Mike Cook’s rhythmic gymnastics project in the Pi Bakery.

Rhythmic Gymnastics Ribbons

Inspired by the Rio Olympics Gymnastic display of ribbon twirling. In the MagPi 49 – September 2016, https://www.raspberrypi.org/magpi/ twirl your own virtual ribbons.

You can grab the latest issue of The MagPi in stores today from WH Smith, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Asda in the UK, and it will be in Micro Center and selected Barnes & Noble stores when it comes to America. It’s also available in print online from our store, and digitally on our Android and iOS app.

Get a free Pi Zero
Want to make sure you never miss an issue? Subscribe today and start with issue 47 to get not only the Astro Pi poster and mission patch, but also a Pi Zero bundle featuring the new, camera-enabled Pi Zero, and a cable bundle that includes the camera adapter.

Free Pi Zeros and posters: what’s not to love about a MagPi subscription?

Free Creative Commons download
As always, you can download your copy of The MagPi completely free. Grab it straight from the issue page for The MagPi 49.

Don’t forget, though, that like sales of the Raspberry Pi itself, all proceeds from the print and digital editions of the magazine go to help the Foundation achieve its charitable goals. Help us democratise computing!

I also want to remind you that we’re running a poll to find out what you, the community, think are the top 20 Raspberry Pi projects to be included in our 50th issue spectacular. Get voting!

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You’re a (chess) wizard, Bethanie

By recreating the iconic Wizard’s Chess set from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (sorry America, it’s Philosopher, not Sorcerer), 18-year-old Jambassador Bethanie Fentiman has become my new hero.

wizard's chess

Ron, you don’t suppose this is going to be like… ‘real’ wizard’s chess, do you?

Inspired by an idea she’d had last year, Bethanie decided to recreate the chess board from the book/movie as part of her A-Level coursework (putting everything I ever created at school to utter shame), utilising the knowledge and support of her fellow Jammers from the Kent Raspberry Jam community.

After searching through the internet for inspiration, she stumbled upon an Instructables guide for building an Arduino-powered chess robot, which gave her a basis on which to build her system of stepper motors, drawer runners, gears, magnets, and so on.

Wizard's Chess

Harry Potter and the ‘it’s almost complete’ Wizard’s Chess board

The next issue she faced in her quest for ultimate wizarding glory was to figure out how to actually play chess! Without any chess-playing know-how, Bethanie either needed to learn quickly or… cheat a bit. So she looked up the legal moves of each piece, coding them into the programme, allowing her to move on with the project without the need to monotonously learn the rules of the game. 

wizard's chess

Hermione would never approve.

There were a few snags along the way, mainly due to problems with measuring. But once assembled, everything was looking good.

Wizard's Chess

We’ve got our fingers crossed that Bethanie replaces the pieces in time with some battling replicas from the movie.

On a minimal budget, Bethanie procured her chess pieces from a local charity shop, managing to get the board itself laser-cut for free, thanks to her school’s technology department.

Now complete, the board has begun its own ‘Wizard Chess Tour’, visiting various Raspberry Jams across the country. Its first stop was in Harlow, and more recently, Bethanie has taken the board to the August Covent Garden Jam.

Wizard's Chess gif

MAGIC!

You can find out more about the Wizard’s Chess board via the Kent Jams Twitter account and website. And if you’d like the board to visit your own Raspberry Jam event, send Bethanie word by owl and see what she says!

l5XXMbH

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Vote for the top 20 Raspberry Pi projects in The MagPi!

Although this Thursday will see the release of issue 49 of The MagPi, we’re already hard at work putting together our 50th issue spectacular. As part of this issue we’re going to be covering 50 of the best Raspberry Pi projects ever and we want you, the community, to vote for the top 20.

Below we have listed the 30 projects that we think represent the best of the best. All we ask is that you vote for your favourite. We will have a few special categories with some other amazing projects in the final article, but if you think we’ve missed out something truly excellent, let us know in the comments. Here’s the list so you can remind yourselves of the projects, with the poll posted at the bottom.

From paper boats to hybrid sports cars

From paper boats to hybrid sports cars

  1. SeeMore – a huge sculpture of 256 Raspberry Pis connected as a cluster
  2. BeetBox – beets (vegetable) you can use to play sick beats (music)
  3. Voyage – 300 paper boats (actually polypropylene) span a river, and you control how they light up
  4. Aquarium – a huge aquarium with Pi-powered weather control simulating the environment of the Cayman Islands
  5. ramanPi – a Raman spectrometer used to identify different types of molecules
  6. Joytone – an electronic musical instrument operated by 72 backlit joysticks
  7. Internet of LEGO – a city of LEGO, connected to and controlled by the internet
  8. McMaster Formula Hybrid – a Raspberry Pi provides telemetry on this hybrid racing car
  9. PiGRRL – Adafruit show us how to make an upgraded, 3D-printed Game Boy
  10. Magic Mirror – check out how you look while getting some at-a-glance info about your day
Dinosaurs, space, and modern art

Dinosaurs, space, and modern art

  1. 4bot – play a game of Connect 4 with a Raspberry Pi robot
  2. Blackgang Chine dinosaurs – these theme park attractions use the diminutive Pi to make them larger than life
  3. Sound Fighter – challenge your friend to the ultimate Street Fight, controlled by pianos
  4. Astro Pi – Raspberry Pis go to space with code written by schoolkids
  5. Pi in the Sky – Raspberry Pis go to near space and send back live images
  6. BrewPi – a microbrewery controlled by a microcomputer
  7. LED Mirror – a sci-fi effect comes to life as you’re represented on a wall of lights
  8. Raspberry Pi VCR – a retro VCR is turned into a pink media-playing machine
  9. #OZWall – Contemporary art in the form of many TVs from throughout the ages
  10. #HiutMusic – you choose the music for a Welsh denim factory through Twitter
Robots and arcade machines make the cut

Robots and arcade machines make the cut

  1. CandyPi – control a jelly bean dispenser from your browser, without the need to twist the dial
  2. Digital Zoetrope – still images rotated to create animation, updated for the 21st century
  3. LifeBox – create virtual life inside this box, and watch it adapt and survive
  4. Coffee Table Pi – classy coffee table by name, arcade cabinet by nature. Tea and Pac-Man, anyone?
  5. Raspberry Pi Notebook – this handheld Raspberry Pi is many people’s dream machine
  6. Pip-Boy 3000A – turn life into a Bethesda RPG with this custom Pip-Boy
  7. Mason Jar Preserve – Mason jars are used to preserve things, so this one is a beautiful backup server to preserve your data
  8. Pi Glass – Google Glass may be gone, but you can still make your own amazing Raspberry Pi facsimile
  9. DoodleBorg – a powerful PiBorg robot that can tow a caravan
  10. BigHak – a Big Trak that is truly big: it’s large enough for you to ride in

Now you’ve refreshed your memory of all these amazing projects, it’s time to vote for the one you think is best!

The vote is running over the next two weeks, and the results will be in The MagPi 50. We’ll see you again on Thursday for the release of the excellent MagPi 49: don’t miss it!

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The Carputer

Meet Benjamin, a trainee air traffic controller from the south-east of France.

Benjamin was bored of the simple radio setup in his Peugeot 207. Instead of investing in a new system, he decided to build a carputer using a Raspberry Pi.

Carputer

Seriously, you lot: we love your imagination!

He started with a Raspberry Pi 3. As the build would require wireless connectivity to allow the screen to connect to the Pi, this model’s built-in functionality removed the need for an additional dongle. 

Benjamin invested in the X400 Expansion Board, which acts as a sound card. The board’s ability to handle a variety of voltage inputs was crucial when it came to hooking the carputer up to the car engine.

Car engine fuse box

Under the hood

As Benjamin advises, be sure to unplug the fusebox before attempting to wire anything into your car. If you don’t… well, you’ll be frazzled. It won’t be pleasant.

Though many touchscreens are available on the market, Benjamin chose to use his Samsung tablet for the carputer’s display. Using the tablet meant he was able to remove it with ease when he left the vehicle, which is a clever idea if you don’t want to leave your onboard gear vulnerable to light-fingered types while the car is unattended.

To hook the Pi up to the car’s antenna, he settled on using an RTL SDR, overcoming connection issues with an adapter to allow the car’s Fakra socket to access MCX via SMA (are you with us?). 

Carputer

Fakra -> SMA -> MCX.

Benjamin set the Raspberry Pi up as a web server, enabling it as a wireless hotspot. This allows the tablet to connect wirelessly, displaying roadmaps and the media centre on his carputer dashboard, and accessing his music library via a USB flashdrive. The added benefit of using the tablet is that it includes GPS functionality: Benjamin plans to incorporate a 3G dongle to improve navigation by including real-time events such as road works and accidents.

Carputer

The carputer control desk

The carputer build is a neat, clean setup, but it would be interesting to see what else could be added to increase functionality while on the road. As an aviation fanatic, Benjamin might choose to incorporate an ADS-B receiver, as demonstrated in this recent tutorial. Maybe some voice controls using Alexa? Or how about multiple tablets with the ability to access video or RetroPie, to keep his passengers entertained? What would you add?

Carputer with raspberry pi first test

For more details go to http://abartben.wordpress.com/

 

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FarmBot, the open-source CNC farming robot

What do you imagine the future of farming to look like? The FarmBot team, located along the California coast in San Luis Obispo, is exploring just that. The team has set out to create humanity’s first open-source CNC farming machine to put the power of polycrop farming into the smallest of spaces.

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The FarmBot structure fixes directly on top of any standard raised planter box. You can think of it like a 3D printer, but instead of extruding plastic, the tool head deposits seeds, delivers water and rids the box of weeds, all by moving across a gantry. Powered by a Raspberry Pi 3, an Arduino Mega and a motor control shield, the FarmBot brings agricultural automation within the reach of the committed hobbyist.

FarmBot Electronics

FarmBot’s interchangeable tooling set is impressive and has been carefully designed so that you may print tools with any hobbyist-level 3D printer.

The universal tool mount features 12 electrical connections, three liquid/gas lines and magnetic coupling. Ready-to-print attachment tools include the seed injection mount, the water nozzle specially designed for efficient watering, and the weed suppression tool which detects and destroys weeds at the root. FarmBot has documented detailed technical specifications of the universal tool mount, to encourage community members to design additional custom mounts that are specific to their particular farming needs.

Check out the tech specs of the tooling attachments for further nerding out!

FarmBot’s drag-and-drop web-based platform allows you to design and build your planter box farm easily. No coding is required; in fact, it has an almost game-like interface. Once your design is complete, the sequence builder and scheduler will help to allocate appropriate care to each plant.

Web-App-on-Different-Devices

It’s evident from looking at the design structure, documentation, CAD files, and detailed BOM that the creators of the FarmBot took to heart the idea of open source. By selecting off-the-shelf products and tools, they ensured this system is as accessible as possible. I’m really happy to see the Raspberry Pi 3 at the heart of FarmBot and I can’t wait to see how this community grows.

If you’re someone who’s serious about getting a good crop return from your small space, and you’re as mesmerized by FarmBot as I am, there’s still time to place a pre-order to receive one of the first batches ready to ship in February!

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New MagPi Essentials book: simple electronics

Less than a month has passed since we released Hacking & Making in Minecraft and we’re back again with our seventh Essentials book!

Simple Electronics with GPIO Zero is dedicated to helping you build your own electronics projects in easy steps – everything from push buttons to Raspberry Pi robots, and from laser-powered trip wires to motion-sensing alarms.

Essentials-07-GPIO-ZERO_Flat_Cover

Those GPIO pins aren’t as daunting as they might first appear!

The book boasts 12 chapters and 100+ pages of GPIO Zero – but wait, hang on… just download the free PDF and get reading already! If you can’t grab it straight away, here are a few of the chapter highlights:

  • Program LED lights
  • Add push buttons to your project
  • Build a motion-sensing alarm
  • Create your own distance rangefinder
  • Make a laser-powered tripwire
  • Build a Raspberry Pi robot
  • Create a motion-sensing alarm
  • and much more!

We think our latest Essentials book is a great introduction to using the GPIO pins on your Raspberry Pi and programming them with the fab GPIO Zero Python library. It unlocks a whole new world of potential for your projects and it’s much easier to learn than you might think!

You can also buy Simple Electronics with GPIO Zero in our app for Android and iOS. The print version is coming soon too. In fact, we’re just off to have a word with the printers now…

Simple Electronics with GPIO Zero is freely licensed under Creative Commons (BY-SA-NC 3.0). You can download the PDF for free now and forever, but buying digitally supports the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s charitable aims.

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Raspberry Shake – your personal seismograph

There are some applications for the Raspberry Pi that were a very long way from our minds back in 2009, when we were trying to come up with a computer to get kids programming again. I think it’s fair to say that we did not think we were building a personal seismograph.

Raspberry Shake has blown past its Kickstarter target of $7,000 to raise ten times that amount, and it’s still got a couple of days to go.

Raspberry Shake is sensitive enough to detect earthquakes of magnitude 2 and higher at a distance of 50 miles, and earthquakes of magnitude 4 or greater from 300 miles away. Angel Rodriguez, the maker, says:

It will also record earthquakes of larger magnitudes farther away but it will miss some of the subtleties. Raspberry Shake can detect and record short period (0.5 – 15 Hz) earthquakes; the farther away an earthquake, the less of that range of frequencies can be recorded.

Raspberry Shake seismograph

At the heart of this kit is a geophone: a device that converts movement into voltage. (Think of it as being a bit like a microphone for geology.) Inside the little geophone a coil moves relative to a magnet, creating current. Angel has a nice demonstration of how a geophone works:

What’s inside a Geophone

In order to get data coming from the ground we need a sensor able to detect these data. A geophone is a ground motion transducer that convert ground movement into voltage. Raspberry Shake use a geophone and in this video we are going to show you what’s inside of it.

The little add-on board amplifies and digitises the signal from the geophone, and feeds it to your Raspberry Pi.

The Raspberry Pi time-stamps the data and stores it in a seismic industry standard format and sends it in answer to client requests. Those requests are displayed on your smartphone or computer monitor. The complete system is called a seismograph.

Angel and the other instrument builders behind the Raspberry Shake make seismographs and other equipment for a living. This device is the little brother of a seismograph his team makes for universities and other earthquake observers. It runs the same open-source software that the United States Geological Survey (USGS) uses.

Angel says:

Don’t be fooled by the size and the price. Raspberry Shake is better than many of short-period seismometers in current use by the local networks of the USGS and many developing countries. Several software vendors have, for the first time, provided personal no-cost licenses for this project.

Raspberry Shake will make observatory quality data that can be shared in the worldwide standard SEED format. All modern automated seismology programs used by observatories can use the data from the Raspberry Shake. It’s the Volkswagen of seismometers – yes there are Lamborgini seismographs but both the Lamborghini and the Volkswagen will get you from point A to point B.

To prove it, here’s some data from a Raspberry Shake ($99 if you back the Kickstarter now) against data from a $50,000 professional seismograph. In this image the Raspberry Shake’s data is displayed at the top. Both devices are showing data from the same regional earthquake.

Raspberry Shake (upper) and Nanometric Trillium Compact (lower)

Data from Raspberry Shake (top) and Nanometric Trillium Compact (bottom)

Bringing the affordability of a piece of kit like this down to consumer levels is a real achievement: previously this sort of equipment has only been available to universities, governments and other bodies with the ability to make very big investments. As you’ve probably gathered, we love it: head over to back Raspberry Shake on Kickstarter quickly, before the opportunity’s gone!

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