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!

Raspberry Pi and CoderDojo join forces

We’ve got some great news to share today: the Raspberry Pi Foundation is joining forces with the CoderDojo Foundation, in a merger that will give many more young people all over the world new opportunities to learn how to be creative with technology.

CoderDojo is a global network of coding clubs for kids from seven to 17. The first CoderDojo took place in July 2011 when James Whelton and Bill Liao decided to share their passion for computing by setting up a club at the National Software Centre in Cork. The idea was simple: provide a safe and social place for young people to acquire programming skills, learning from each other and supported by mentors.

Photo: a mentor helps a child at a CoderDojo

Since then, James and Bill have helped turn that idea into a movement that reaches across the whole world, with over 1,250 CoderDojos in 69 countries, regularly attended by over 35,000 young Ninjas.

Raspberry Pi and CoderDojo have each accomplished amazing things over the last six years. Now, we see an opportunity to do even more by joining forces. Bringing together Raspberry Pi, Code Club, and CoderDojo will create the largest global effort to get young people involved in computing and digital making. We have set ourselves an ambitious goal: to quadruple the number of CoderDojos worldwide, to 5,000, by the end of 2020.

Photo: children and teenagers work on laptops at a CoderDojo, while adults help

The enormous impact that CoderDojo has had so far is down to the CoderDojo Foundation team, and to the community of volunteers, businesses, and foundations who have contributed expertise, time, venues, and financial resources. We want to deepen those relationships and grow that community as we bring CoderDojo to more young people in future.

The CoderDojo Foundation will continue as an independent charity, based in Ireland. Nothing about CoderDojo’s brand or ethos is changing as a result of this merger. CoderDojos will continue to be platform-neutral, using whatever kit they need to help young people learn.

Photo: children concentrate intently on coding activities at a CoderDojo event

In technical terms, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is becoming a corporate member of the CoderDojo Foundation (which is a bit like being a shareholder, but without any financial interest). I will also join the board of the CoderDojo Foundation as a director. The merger is subject to approval by Irish regulators.

How will this work in practice? The two organisations will work together to advance our shared goals, using our respective assets and capabilities to get many more adults and young people involved in the CoderDojo movement. The Raspberry Pi Foundation will also provide practical, financial, and back-office support to the CoderDojo Foundation.

Last June, I attended the CoderDojo Coolest Projects event in Dublin, and was blown away by the amazing projects made by CoderDojo Ninjas from all over the world. From eight-year-olds who had written their first programs in Scratch to the teenagers who built a Raspberry Pi-powered hovercraft, it was clear that CoderDojo is already making a huge difference.

Photo: two girls wearing CoderDojo t-shirts present their Raspberry Pi-based hovercraft at CoderDojo Coolest Projects 2016

I am thrilled that we’re going to be working closely with the brilliant CoderDojo team, and I can’t wait to visit Coolest Projects again next month to meet all of the Ninjas and mentors who make CoderDojo possible.

If you want to find out more about CoderDojo and how you can get involved in helping the movement grow, go here.

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Make with Minecraft Pi in The MagPi 58

Hey folks, Rob here! What a busy month it’s been at The MagPi HQ. While we’ve been replying to your tweets, answering questions on YouTube and fiddling with our AIY Voice Project kits, we’ve managed to put together a whole new magazine for you, with issue 58 of the official Raspberry Pi magazine out in stores today.

The front cover of The MagPi 58

The MagPi 58 features our latest Minecraft Pi hacks!

Minecraft Pi

The MagPi 58 is all about making with Minecraft Pi. We’ve got cool projects and hacks that let you take a selfie and display it in the Minecraft world, play music with Steve jumping on a giant piano, and use special cards to switch skins in an instant. It’s the perfect supplement to our Hacking and Making in Minecraft book!

AIY Voice Projects

It’s been great to see everyone getting excited over the last issue of the magazine, and we love seeing your pictures and videos of your AIY Voice projects. In this issue we’ve included loads of ideas to keep you going with the AIY Projects kit. Don’t forget to send us what you’ve made on Twitter!

Issue 57 of The MagPi, showing the Google AIY Voice Projects Kit

Show us what you’ve made with your AIY Voice Projects Kit

The best of the rest in The MagPi 58

We’ve also got our usual selection of reviews, tutorials, and projects. This includes guides to making file servers and electronic instruments, along with our review of Adafruit’s Joy Bonnet handheld gaming kit.

You can get started with GUIs in The MagPi 58

You can grab the latest issue in stores in the UK right now, from WHSmith, Sainsburys, Asda, and Tesco. Copies will be arriving very soon in US stores, including Barnes & Noble and Micro Center. You can also get a copy online from our store, or digitally via our Android or iOS app. Don’t forget, there’s always the free PDF as well.

We hope you enjoy the issue! Now if you’ll excuse us, we need a nap after all the excitement!

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The Pi Who Loved Me

Fancy yourself as James Bond? In honour of national treasure Roger Moore, we think it’s high time we all became a little more MI5 and a little less MIDoneYet?

James Bond GIF

It’s been a while and M is worried you’re a little…rusty. Best head back to training: go and see Q. He has everything you need to get back in shape, both physically and mentally, for the challenges ahead!

Training Camp

Q here. Good to have you back.

James Bond Q

First things first: we need to work on your skills and get you ready for your next assignment. Let’s start with your reaction times. Quick reactions are critical in handling stealthy situations and avoiding detection.

Head into my office and grab a Raspberry Pi, an LED, and a button to build your own Python Quick Reaction Game. Not only will it help you brush up on your quick thinking, it’ll also teach you how to wire a circuit, use variables, and gather information. This could be key in getting you out of some sticky situations further down the line if you find yourself without one of my gadgets.

James Bond Q

Though speaking of…have you seen our See Like a Bat echolocation device? I’m rather proud of it, even if I do say so myself. Now, even in the darkest of times, you can find your way through any building or maze.

Gathering Intel

We’ll need you to gather some important information for us. But what can you do to make sure no one steals your secret intel? We’d like you to build a Secret Agent Chat Generator to encrypt information. Once you have completed it, send the information to M via this Morse Code Virtual Radio.

To do this, you’ll need a Morse Code key. You can find them online or at your local war museum, though they may not care for your taking theirs. But we’re spies. And spies are experts in taking forbidden artefacts. After all, this is what your Laser Tripwire training was for. Oh, you haven’t completed it yet?

James Bond GIF

Well, get to it. Time’s a-wasting!

Locks and Detection

You’re done? Good. Back to the intel.

Until you can find a Morse Code key, why not hide the information in this Sense HAT Puzzle Box. It’s a wonderful tool to help you learn how to create loops and use conditional statements and functions to create ‘locks’.

You’ll also need to…wait…did you hear that? Someone is listening in, I’m sure of it. Check the Parent Detector to see who is trying to spy on us.

Surveillance

James Bond GIF

Are they gone? Good. Phew, that was a close one. We can’t be so careless in the future. Let’s set up a Raspberry Pi Zero Time-Lapse Camera for constant surveillance of the training camp. You could also attach the camera to your glasses. No one will notice, and you’ll be able to record images of your missions – vital for debriefing.

James Bond seal of approval

Right. That’s all from me. Report back to M for your mission. And remember, this blog post will self-destruct in five…wait, wrong franchise.

Good luck!

Roger Moore GIF

Puns

Other Raspberry Pi/James Bond puns include:

  • Live and Let Pi
  • MoonBaker
  • GoldenPi – Starring Pi-s Brosnan
  • Pifall
  • You Only Live Pi-ce
  • Tomorrow Never Pis
  • Pi Another Day
  • Pi-monds Are Forever
  • For Your Pis Only

Any more?

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Hello World issue 2: celebrating ten years of Scratch

We are very excited to announce that issue 2 of Hello World is out today! Hello World is our magazine about computing and digital making, written by educators, for educators. It  is a collaboration between the Raspberry Pi Foundation and Computing at School, part of the British Computing Society.

We’ve been extremely fortunate to be granted an exclusive interview with Mitch Resnick, Leader of the Scratch Team at MIT, and it’s in the latest issue. All around the world, educators and enthusiasts are celebrating ten years of Scratch, MIT’s block-based programming language. Scratch has helped millions of people to learn the building blocks of computer programming through play, and is our go-to tool at Code Clubs everywhere.

Cover of issue 2 of hello world magazine

A magazine by educators, for educators.

This packed edition of Hello World also includes news, features, lesson activities, research and opinions from Computing At School Master Teachers, Raspberry Pi Certified Educators, academics, informal learning leaders and brilliant classroom teachers. Highlights (for me) include:

  • A round-up of digital making research from Oliver Quinlan
  • Safeguarding children online by Penny Patterson
  • Embracing chaos inside and outside the classroom with Code Club’s Rik Cross, Raspberry Jam-maker-in-chief Ben Nuttall, Raspberry Pi Certified Educator Sway Grantham, and CPD trainer Alan O’Donohoe
  • How MicroPython on the Micro:bit is inspiring a generation, by Nicholas Tollervey
  • Incredibly useful lesson activities on programming graphical user interfaces (GUI) with guizero, simulating logic gates in Minecraft, and introducing variables through story telling.
  • Exploring computing and gender through Girls Who Code, Cyber First Girls, the BCSLovelace Colloqium, and Computing At School’s #include initiative
  • A review of browser based IDEs

Get your copy

Hello World is available as a free Creative Commons download for anyone around the world who is interested in Computer Science and digital making education. Grab the latest issue straight from the Hello World website.

Thanks to the very generous support of our sponsors BT, we are able to offer a free printed version of the magazine to serving educators in the UK. It’s for teachers, Code Club volunteers, teaching assistants, teacher trainers, and others who help children and young people learn about computing and digital making. Remember to subscribe to receive your free copy, posted directly to your home.

Get involved

Are you an educator? Then Hello World needs you! As a magazine for educators by educators, we want to hear about your experiences in teaching technology. If you hear a little niggling voice in your head say “I’m just a teacher, why would my contributions be useful to anyone else?” stop immediately. We want to hear from you, because you are amazing!

Get in touch: contact@helloworld.cc with your ideas, and we can help get them published.

 

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Fail your way to perfection

As educators and makers at Raspberry Pi, we think a lot about failure and how to deal with it constructively. Much has been written about the importance of failure to design and engineering projects. It is undoubtedly true that you can learn a lot from your mistakes, like getting the wrong size of part, mistyping your code, or not measuring when doing your DIY. The importance of failure has even become a bit of a common trope: just think of those slightly annoying inspirational quotes attributed to famous historical figures which you find all over social media.

I-have-not-failed—Edison

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. Thomas Edison.

Failure can be good!

But, as with many a cliché, there is an underlying truth that it is worth revisiting. Designing, engineering, and creating all involve making mistakes along the way. Even though failures feel bad, by reaching out when something goes wrong, you can call on the expertise of your community, learn, and make the final result better.

However, we often think failing also makes us look bad, so we don’t talk about it as an essential part of the process that got us to the end stage. We make things shiny and glossy to big-up our success, putting all the focus on the result. This tendency is, however, not necessarily helpful if we want to help educate others. As Jonathan Sanderson of NUSTEM puts it:

Jonathan Sanderson on Twitter

stem educators: worth noting: confessions of rank stupidity in digital making get responses, sympathy, offers of help on Twitter. (1/2)

Jonathan Sanderson on Twitter

yet our write-ups only feature the things we did right. Mis-steps and recovery from failure are key parts of process. (2/2)

The NUSTEM team truly believes in this: when sharing their builds, they include a section on what they would do differently next time. By highlighting the journey, and the mistakes made along the way, they are not only helping those that also want to go on that journey, they are also demystifying the process a bit.

Celebrate your fails

Because failure feels bad, we don’t routinely celebrate it. But there are niches where failure is celebrated: Simone Giertz’s (slightly sweary) YouTube videos are a great example. And then there is Hebocon, the Japanese competition for cruddy robots. In fact, the organisers of Hebocon make a great point: crafts that do not go as intended are interesting.

This is as much true when working with young people as it is in the wider world. In Pioneers, we also want to do our bit to celebrate failure. Our judges don’t just watch the teams’ videos to see how they overcame what went wrong along the way, they also have an award category that celebrates wrong turns and dead ends: ‘We appreciate what you’re trying to do’. Our first challenge‘s winning entry in this category was PiCymru’s We Shall Overcomb:

PiCymru : Make us Laugh Challenge

The video of the PiCymru teams Pioneer challenge entry! The team wasn’t able to get things to work the way they hoped, but wanted to share the joy of failure :)


The category name was suggested by our lovely judge from the first cycle, stand-up comedian Bec Hill: it’s one of the accepted heckles the audience can shout out at her stand-up scratch nights. Scratch nights are preview events at which a comedian tests new material, and they are allowed to fail on stage. We may not often think of comedy as embracing failure, but comedians do scratch nights specifically to learn from their mistakes, and to make the final product all the better for it. Interestingly, scratch nights are hugely popular with audiences.

So, if you’re working with a group of young people, what can you do to encourage learning from failure and not let them give up?

Helping you to fail better

In our book Ideas start here, for Pioneers mentors, we’ve given a few tips and phrases that can come in useful. For example, if someone says, “It isn’t working!”, you could respond with “Why not? Have you read the error log?” RTFM is a real thing, and an important skill for digital life.

We agree with engineer Prof Danielle George, who believes in being honest about your failures and highlighting their importance to where you’ve got now. “I fail a lot,” she says. “The trick is to embrace these failures; we don’t have to succeed the first time. We learn from our mistakes and move forwards.”

If, as a mentor, you’re not sure how to encourage and support those not used to failing, this article also has some more tips.

If nothing else helps, but you need to feel inspired, think about what someone said to Karen, who sucks at surfing:

Karen, you are actually pretty good at surfing. Keep in mind that billions of other humans wouldn’t dare even try.

How about you? If you have a story of what you learned from failure in one of your projects, share it in the comments!

Mistakes GIF – Find & Share on GIPHY

Discover & Share this Mistakes GIF with everyone you know. GIPHY is how you search, share, discover, and create GIFs.

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Weaponising a teddy bear

At primary school, I loved my Tamagotchi: it moved, it beeped, it was almost like I could talk to it! Nowadays, kids can actually have conversations with their toys, and some toys are IoT devices, capable of accessing online services or of interacting with people via the Internet. And so to one of this week’s news stories: using a Raspberry Pi, an eleven-year-old has demonstrated how to weaponise a teddy bear. This has garnered lots of attention, because he did it at a cybersecurity conference in The Hague, and he used the Bluetooth devices of the assembled experts to do it.

AFP news agency on Twitter

Eleven-year-old “cyber ninja” stuns security experts by hacking into their bluetooth devices to manipulate teddy bear #InternetofThings https://t.co/bx9kTbNUcT

Reuben Paul, from Texas, used a Raspberry Pi together with his laptop to download the numbers of audience members’ smartphones. He then proceeded to use a Python program to manipulate his bear, Bob, using one of the numbers he’d accessed, making him blink one of his lights and record an audio message from the audience.

Reuben has quite of bit of digital making experience, and he’s very concerned about the safety risks of IoT devices. “IoT home appliances, things that can be used in our everyday lives, our cars, lights, refrigerators, everything like this that is connected can be used and weaponised to spy on us or harm us,” he told AFP.

Apparently even his father, software security expert Mano Paul, was unaware of just how unsafe IoT toys can be until Reuben “shocked” him by hacking a toy car.

Reuben is using his computer skills for good: he has already founded an organisation to educate children and adults about cybersecurity. Considering that he is also the youngest Shaolin Kung Fu black belt in the US and reportedly has excellent gymnastics skills, I’m getting serious superhero vibes from this kid!

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And to think that the toys that were around when I was Reuben’s age could be used for nothing more devious than distracting me from class…

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Crash Course Computer Science with Carrie Anne Philbin

Get your teeth into the history of computer science with our Director of Education, Carrie Anne Philbin, and the team at YouTube’s incredible Crash Course channel.

Crash Course Computer Science Preview

Starting February 22nd, Carrie Anne Philbin will be hosting Crash Course Computer Science! In this series, we’re going to trace the origins of our modern computers, take a closer look at the ideas that gave us our current hardware and software, discuss how and why our smart devices just keep getting smarter, and even look towards the future!

The brainchild of Hank and John Green (the latter of whom is responsible for books such as The Fault in Our Stars and all of my resultant heartbroken tears), Crash Course is an educational YouTube channel specialising in courses for school-age tuition support.

As part of the YouTube Orginal Channel Initiative, and with their partners PBS Digital Studios, the team has completed courses in subjects such as physics, hosted by Dr. Shini Somara, astronomy with Phil Plait, and sociology with Nicole Sweeney.

Raspberry Pi Carrie Anne Philbin Crash Course

Oh, and they’ve recently released a new series on computer science with Carrie Anne Philbin , whom you may know as Raspberry Pi’s Director of Education and the host of YouTube’s Geek Gurl Diaries.

Computer Science with Carrie Anne

Covering topics such as RAM, Boolean logic, CPU design , and binary, the course is currently up to episode twelve of its run. Episodes are released every Tuesday, and there are lots more to come.

Crash Course Carrie Anne Philbin Raspberry Pi

Following the fast-paced, visual style of the Crash Course brand, Carrie Anne takes her viewers on a journey from early computing with Lovelace and Babbage through to the modern-day electronics that power our favourite gadgets such as tablets, mobile phones, and small single-board microcomputers…

The response so far

A few members of the Raspberry Pi team recently attended VidCon Europe in Amsterdam to learn more about making video content for our community – and also so I could exist in the same space as the Holy Trinity, albeit briefly.

At VidCon, Carrie Anne took part in an engaging and successful Women in Science panel with Sally Le Page, Viviane Lalande, Hana Shoib, Maddie Moate, and fellow Crash Course presenter Dr. Shini Somara. I could see that Crash Course Computer Science was going down well from the number of people who approached Carrie Anne to thank her for the course, from those who were learning for the first time to people who were rediscovering the subject.

Crash Course Carrie Anne Philbin Raspberry Pi

Take part in the conversation

Join in the conversation! Head over to YouTube, watch Crash Course Computer Science, and join the discussion in the comments.

Crash Course Carrie Anne Philbin Raspberry Pi

You can also follow Crash Course on Twitter for release updates, and subscribe on YouTube to get notifications of new content.

Oh, and who can spot the sneaky Raspberry Pi in the video introduction?

“Cheers!”

Crash Course Computer Science Outtakes

In which Carrie Anne presents a new sing-a-long format and faces her greatest challenge yet – signing off an episode. Want to find Crash Course elsewhere on the internet? Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/YouTubeCrashCourse Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/TheCrashCourse Tumblr – http://thecrashcourse.tumblr.com Support Crash Course on Patreon: http://patreon.com/crashcourse CC Kids: http://www.youtube.com/crashcoursekids Produced in collaboration with PBS Digital Studios: http://youtube.com/pbsdigitalstudios The Latest from PBS Digital Studios: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL1mtdjDVOoOqJzeaJAV15Tq0tZ1vKj7ZV We’ve got merch!

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Open source energy monitoring using Raspberry Pi

OpenEnergyMonitor, who make open-source tools for energy monitoring, have been using Raspberry Pi since we launched in 2012. Like Raspberry Pi, they manufacture their hardware in Wales and send it to people all over the world. We invited co-founder Glyn Hudson to tell us why they do what they do, and how Raspberry Pi helps.

Hi, I’m Glyn from OpenEnergyMonitor. The OpenEnergyMonitor project was founded out of a desire for open-source tools to help people understand and relate to their use of energy, their energy systems, and the challenge of sustainable energy.

Photo: an emonPi energy monitoring unit in an aluminium case with an aerial and an LCD display, a mobile phone showing daily energy use as a histogram, and a bunch of daffodils in a glass bottle

The next 20 years will see a revolution in our energy systems, as we switch away from fossil fuels towards a zero-carbon energy supply.

By using energy monitoring, modelling, and assessment tools, we can take an informed approach to determine the best energy-saving measures to apply. We can then check to ensure solutions achieve their expected performance over time.

We started the OpenEnergyMonitor project in 2009, and the first versions of our energy monitoring system used an Arduino with Ethernet Shield, and later a Nanode RF with an embedded Ethernet controller. These early versions were limited by a very basic TCP/IP stack; running any sort of web application locally was totally out of the question!

I can remember my excitement at getting hold of the very first version of the Raspberry Pi in early 2012. Within a few hours of tearing open the padded envelope, we had Emoncms (our open-source web logging, graphing, and visualisation application) up and running locally on the Raspberry Pi. The Pi quickly became our web-connected base station of choice (emonBase). The following year, 2013, we launched the RFM12Pi receiver board (now updated to RFM69Pi). This allowed the Raspberry Pi to receive data via low-power RF 433Mhz from our emonTx energy monitoring unit, and later from our emonTH remote temperature and humidity monitoring node.

Diagram: communication between OpenEnergyMonitor monitoring units, base station and web interface

In 2015 we went all-in with Raspberry Pi when we launched the emonPi, an all-in-one Raspberry Pi energy monitoring unit, via Kickstarter. Thanks to the hard work of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the emonPi has enjoyed several upgrades: extra processing power from the Raspberry Pi 2, then even more power and integrated wireless LAN thanks to the Raspberry Pi 3. With all this extra processing power, we have been able to build an open software stack including Emoncms, MQTT, Node-RED, and openHAB, allowing the emonPi to function as a powerful home automation hub.

Screenshot: Emoncms Apps interface to emonPi home automation hub, with histogram of daily electricity use

Emoncms Apps interface to emonPi home automation hub

Inspired by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we manufacture and assemble our hardware in Wales, UK, and ship worldwide via our online store.

All of our work is fully open source. We believe this is a better way of doing things: we can learn from and build upon each other’s work, creating better solutions to the challenges we face. Using Raspberry Pi has allowed us to draw on the expertise and work of many other projects. With lots of help from our fantastic community, we have built an online learning resource section of our website to help others get started: it covers things like basic AC power theory, Arduino, and the bigger picture of sustainable energy.

To learn more about OpenEnergyMonitor systems, take a look at our Getting Started User Guide. We hope you’ll join our community.

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#CharityTuesday: Code Club for libraries

Code Clubs aren’t just for the classroom, as today’s blog post shows. Last week, we announced that we are extending Code Club to 9- to 13-year-olds: as well as supporting more schools to offer Code Clubs, this means that non-school venues, like libraries, will be able to offer their clubs to a wider age group.

With the third video in our #CharityTuesday coverage, we shed some light on running a Code Club in a library environment. To offer a little more information on the themes of each video, we’ll be releasing #CharityTuesday blog posts for each of our new Code Club videos.

Code Club for libraries

We visited Tile Hill Library to find out more about their Code Club, and how easy it can be for libraries to start their own Code Clubs.

The potential of Code Clubs in libraries

There are growing numbers of Code Clubs being set up in public venues such as libraries. We visited Tile Hill Library to find out more about their Code Club, and how easy it can be for libraries to start their own Code Clubs.

Across the world, more and more Code Clubs are running in venues like libraries, offering a great space for children from all local schools to come together. The library setting helps the children to meet new people and expand their experiences with peers from different communities. Furthermore, it offers a wider scope for club times, as many public libraries are also open at weekends.

Code Club Library

At Tile Hill Library, they run an after school Code Club for one hour each week with the help of volunteers from the local area.

This out-of-school environment comes with its own unique challenges and rewards. “The greatest challenge for our Code Club is also our greatest triumph,” explains Charmain Osborne, Assistant Library Manager at Ipswich County Library. “The club has been more popular than I imagined. The waiting list continues to grow faster than we can create spaces in our club!”

Code Club Library Robot graphic

Increase volunteer opportunities

By running a Code Club outside of school hours, you also increase your opportunity for volunteers. “In the first instance, the Code Club website is a good resource for finding a local volunteer. I’d definitely recommend Saturday as the day to run the club. Many more IT professionals will be free on that day,” advises Paul Sinnett, who runs a Code Club in the Croydon Central Library.

Get involved in Code Club!

Code Club is a nationwide network of volunteer-led after-school coding clubs for children. It offers a great place for children of all abilities to learn and build upon their skills amongst like-minded peers.

There are currently over 10,000 active Code Clubs across the world and official Code Club communities in ten countries. If you want to find out more, visit the Code Club UK website. Check out Code Club International if you are outside of the UK.

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Product or Project?

This column is from The MagPi issue 57. You can download a PDF of the full issue for free, or subscribe to receive the print edition in your mailbox or the digital edition on your tablet. All proceeds from the print and digital editions help the Raspberry Pi Foundation achieve its charitable goals.

Image of MagPi magazine and AIY Project Kit

Taking inspiration from a widely known inspirational phrase, I like to tell people, “make the thing you wish to see in the world.” In other words, you don’t have to wait for a company to create the exact product you want. You can be a maker as well as a consumer! Prototyping with hardware has become easier and more affordable, empowering people to make products that suit their needs perfectly. And the people making these things aren’t necessarily electrical engineers, computer scientists, or product designers. They’re not even necessarily adults. They’re often self-taught hobbyists who are empowered by maker-friendly technology.

It’s a subject I’ve been very interested in, and I have written about it before. Here’s what I’ve noticed: the flow between maker project and consumer product moves in both directions. In other words, consumer products can start off as maker projects. Just take a look at the story behind many of the crowdfunded products on sites such as Kickstarter. Conversely, consumer products can evolve into maker products as well. The cover story for the latest issue of The MagPi is a perfect example of that. Google has given you the resources you need to build your own dedicated Google Assistant device. How cool is that?

David Pride on Twitter

@Raspberry_Pi @TheMagP1 Oh this is going to be a ridiculous amount of fun. 😊 #AIYProjects #woodchuck https://t.co/2sWYmpi6T1

But consumer products becoming hackable hardware isn’t always an intentional move by the product’s maker. In the 2000s, TiVo set-top DVRs were a hot product and their most enthusiastic fans figured out how to hack the product to customise it to meet their needs without any kind of support from TiVo.

Embracing change

But since then, things have changed. For example, when Microsoft’s Kinect for the Xbox 360 was released in 2010, makers were immediately enticed by its capabilities. It not only acted as a camera, but it could also sense depth, a feature that would be useful for identifying the position of objects in a space. At first, there was no hacker support from Microsoft, so Adafruit Industries announced a $3,000 bounty to create open-source drivers so that anyone could access the features of Kinect for their own projects. Since then, Microsoft has embraced the use of Kinect for these purposes.

The Create 2 from iRobot

iRobot’s Create 2, a hackable version of the Roomba

Consumer product companies even make versions of their products that are specifically meant for hacking, making, and learning. Belkin’s WeMo home automation product line includes the WeMo Maker, a device that can act as a remote relay or sensor and hook into your home automation system. And iRobot offers Create 2, a hackable version of its Roomba floor-cleaning robot. While iRobot aimed the robot at STEM educators, you could use it for personal projects too. Electronic instrument maker Korg takes its maker-friendly approach to the next level by releasing the schematics for some of its analogue synthesiser products.

Why would a company want to do this? There are a few possible reasons. For one, it’s a way of encouraging consumers to create a community around a product. It could be a way for innovation with the product to continue, unchecked by the firm’s own limits on resources. For certain, it’s an awesome feel-good way for a company to empower their own users. Whatever the reason these products exist, it’s the digital maker who comes out ahead. They have more affordable tools, materials, and resources to create their own customised products and possibly learn a thing or two along the way.

With maker-friendly, hackable products, being a creator and a consumer aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, you’re probably getting the best of both worlds: great products and great opportunities to make the thing you wish to see in the world.

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