Flotilla

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.

widgets

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.

cookbook

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.

rockpool

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

http://flotil.la

– Paul & Jon & the Pirate Crew.

18 comments

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Congratulations on getting funded! I like how the platform has a progression from Cookbook to Python. I’m looking forward to trying it out myself.

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What a great idea, this is the ready-meal version of Pi tinkering, compared to cooking with raw ingredients. Personally I enjoy working from the very basics, but this definitely has its place.

As for messing with a Model B BBC Micro. They were £399 in 1982. That’s equivalent to about £1300 now going by the (appropriately named) RPI. However, relative to average UK income it’s more like £1700. So, eye-watering amounts of money were being found back then to furnish the youngsters with microprocessing power. No wonder the teacher got a bit precious about it!

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Thanks Pithagoros! We definitely have nutritional value. Simple, but not dumb. We don’t like learning-on-rails much. :-)

You can discover stuff, and actually be creative with the entry-level stuff like Cookbook and Rockpool. We’re just removing the friction and frustration of getting set up.

The first thing is to get people happy with plugging stuff in and doing things without having to deal with obscure errors, or problems that sap your will to tinker as a beginner.

Under the hood are good things to tinker with too. Nice python libs, I2C, USB Serial and the like. We do love tinkering with stuff from basics. Sometimes we just wish we didn’t have to, as available time is short :D

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Thanks Matt! We want making to be accessible to as many people as possible, so we thought some thin slicing, and some hand-holding at the start were in order :-)

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Congratulations on the kickstarter, it looks like an interesting and educational kit.

This reminds me though – what happened with the pimironis picade kickstarter. Last i checked it was successfully funded and being sent to backers. I missed the boat on that one but hope to see it available to buy someday!

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Great idea.. and congrats on getting funded.

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Thanks Tim! We hope everyone gets it soon. Mooore videoooos. Must show more…

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I can’t afford to buy one; my kids can’t afford for me not to buy one! As always, the kids have won. A full flotilla heading their way in May!

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Slightly different for me: my kids are too young to know they want one. However, Daddy knows better!

Full Flotilla heading their way in May

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Fantastic idea, I’m in and can’t wait to explore and investigate what the kids (and I ) can learn with the raspberry pi! Another fantastic idea and product from Pimoroni!! I wish you much success with this and other projects in the future! p.s. well done Raspberry Pi team for your continued hard work !!

Steve

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Thanks Steve. It’s getting better and better every year :D

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We’re really looking forward to getting our hands on this. The top down learning opportunities are immense. Learning starts with engagement and this is very engaging indeed, well done!

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I love the funding goal.

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We can’t stop geeking :D

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Hi Guys! WOW! This is a great idea! I just met with a rep from a big educational foundation that’s looking to award grants to teachers and schools that are able to effectively get through to kids, especially girls (and frankly, a lot of teachers), that technology isn’t scary, just for nerds/geeks/geniuses, or abominally hard in terms of memorization. Clive has it precisely right that learning by stealth is key, and I wish I had a Flotilla to show kids, let alone foundations, how learning can be exciting and fun.

I hope I can buy a Mega Treasure Chest Starter Kit before they’re all snapped up, but it takes months to get purchases approved in school districts that don’t come from approved vendors (the district board reviews everything over at least two monthly meetings). They can’t approve anything on Kickstarter/Indiegogo/etc., due to the risk of non-delivery, so I’ll have to wait until February to buy one personally if they’re still available since I get paid six weeks after the work is performed and don’t get a dime for holidays since I’m not tenured yet (when I do get paid – HR missed submitting my timesheets to payroll, so I got paid late a month).

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Hey again Jim!

Wrong time of year to get that stuff wrong :\

If you want to hear about Flotilla in Education news (we realise schools have different needs :-) there’s a little list here http://eepurl.com/bcnRI9

I’m pretty sure we’ll be in your neck of the woods for Maker Faire, so will bring some stuff to show off then :D

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Congratulations. It seems a pretty good idea.
There is a need for plug&play accesories + educational resources to allow a smoother first use of the Raspberry Pi.

I hope we can see it worlwide in a multi-language format.

Regards from Turkey (we are RSPi distributors).

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