Liz: Here’s a guest post from our friend Paul at Pimoroni, who has a really exciting Kickstarter to share. You know Paul’s work already: he designed the Raspberry Pi logo, and he’s the brain behind the ridiculously successful Pibow case. Over to Paul!
When I was in nursery school, our class had a BBC Micro. One day, it was my turn to play. I’d been ‘painting’, and being young and uneducated, didn’t wash my hands before using the computer, and got paint smears all over this shiny beige machine.
I got shouted at by the teacher a lot and didn’t get to play. Protecting the shiny new machine was more important than learning.
This is why I love Raspberry Pi. It’s a computer you can be rough and experimental with. If it breaks, it’s replaceable, unlike an expensive iPad or laptop.
Learning is more important than the thing you’re learning on. But this attitude of fear and reticence still prevails. We still see a lot of doubt, and a “that’s not for me” feeling when it comes to tinkering and plugging things into circuit boards. As much as we love playing with breakout boards, and the geekery involved, the friction that goes with it can easily turn a 10 minute job into an hour. Digging out wires, reading datasheets, and finding three blog posts with different libraries in various states of undress; we think these are unnecessary distractions.
So, being Pimoroni, we had a lightbulb moment and decided to fix a bunch of issues at the same time. A year later, Flotilla was born; making all these frustrations a thing of the past.
Flotilla is a system of smart, affordable breakout boards backed by great software that lets you easily use them on the Raspberry Pi. The idea is that you can just break out a Pi, pop in a Raspbian SD card with the Flotilla software installed, plug in the Dock then start playing and learning without knowing much of anything beforehand.
The first level is Cookbook. You plug widgets into the Dock. Cookbook suggests recipes that involve those pieces. So plug in a Light-sensor, a Barometer, and Cookbook might suggest you build a weather station or a Digi-pet.
The next step is Rockpool. A simple app-like interface for defining rules. So you can say “If the temperature is high, turn a motor with a fan on”. It’s impossible to get wrong, and can be used without typing. You can build surprisingly complex projects; such as line-following robots, musical devices and games.
The Pi can also act as a WiFi Access point and web server. This lets you connect to Flotilla from your tablet, phone or laptop, and control Cookbook and Rockpool from a web-browser. Great if you’re running your Pi from a battery. On a robot, say. :-)
After that, you’re into the world of Scratch and Python. We’ll be providing lovely Flotilla libraries to get you started.
The whole idea is top-down learning. People start by having fun, and doing and discovering what interests them. If they like it, they can delve further into how things work. Clive says it best in the video. It’s “learning by stealth”.
We’re pretty sure Flotilla is the first fully-fledged plug-and-play digital tinkering kit. We’re also sure that the Raspberry Pi is the right place for it. The easier it is for everyone to start learning, and being comfortable with computers and electronics, the more time scientists and engineers have to make spaceships, instead of a better coffee-maker, or pet-feeder.
We’re on Kickstarter now, and would love you to support Flotilla so we can turn it into something everyone can use, in schools, at home, in the lab, and contribute too :D
– Paul & Jon & the Pirate Crew.