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!

Human Sensor

In collaboration with Professor Frank Kelly and the environmental scientists of King’s College London, artist Kasia Molga has created Human Sensor – a collection of hi-tech costumes that react to air pollution within the wearer’s environment.

Commissioned by Invisible Dust, an organisation supporting artists and scientists to create pieces that explore environmental and climate change, Molga took to the streets of Manchester with her army of Human Sensors to promote the invisible threat of air pollution in the industrial city.

Human Sensor

Angry little clouds of air pollution

Each suit is equipped with a small aerosol monitor that links to a Raspberry Pi and GPS watch. These components work together to collect pollution data from their location. Eventually, the suits will relay data back in real time to a publicly accessible website; for now, information is stored and submitted at a later date.

The Pi also works to control the LEDs within the suit, causing them to flash, pulse, and produce patterns and colours that morph in reaction to air conditions as they are read by the monitor.

Human Sensor

All of the lights…

The suit’s LED system responds to the presence of pollutant particles in the air, changing the colour of the white suit to reflect the positive or negative effect of the air around it. Walk past the grassy clearing of a local park, and the suit will turn green to match it. Stand behind the exhaust of a car, and you’ll find yourself pulsating red.

It’s unsurprising that the presence of the suits in Manchester was both well received and a shock to the system for the city’s residents. While articles are beginning to surface regarding the impact of air pollution on children’s mental health, and other aspects of the detrimental health effects of pollution have long been known, it’s a constant struggle for scientists to remind society of the importance of this invisible threat. By building a physical reminder, using the simple warning colour system of red and green, it’s hard not to take the threat seriously.

“The big challenge we have is that air pollution is mostly invisible. Art helps to makes it visible. We are trying to bring air pollution into the public realm. Scientific papers in journals work on one level, but this is a way to bring it into the street where the public are.” – Andrew Grieve, Senior Air Quality Analyst, King’s College

 

Human Sensor

23-29 July 2016 in Manchester Performers in hi tech illuminated costumes reveal changes in urban air pollution. Catch the extraordinary performances created by media artist Kasia Molga with Professor Frank Kelly from King’s College London. The hi-tech illuminated costumes reflect the air pollution you are breathing on your daily commute.

Human Sensor is supported by the Wellcome Trust’s Sustaining Excellence Award and by Arts Council England; Invisible Dust is working in partnership with Manchester, European City of Science.

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Raspberry Pi as retail product display

Digitec is an electronics retailer in Switzerland. Among other things, they sell Raspberry Pis and related accessories, including our official 7” Touch Display. Many of their customers likely noticed that they haven’t had the Touch Display in stock recently, but there’s an interesting reason.

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The retailer wanted to replace their tablet-based digital product labels with something more robust, so they turned to Raspberry Pi 2 with the 7” Touch Display. Each store has 105 screens, which means that the staff of Digitec Galaxus assembled 840 custom Pi-based digital product labels. The screens enable their customers to view up-to-date product information, price, and product ratings from their community as they look at the product up-close.

To pull this off, the engineering team used Raspbian Jesse Lite and installed Chromium. They wrote a startup script which launches Chromium in kiosk mode and handles adjusting the display’s backlight. The browser loads a local HTML page and uses JavaScript to download the most up-to-date content using an AJAX call. When a keyboard is connected, the staff can set the parameters for the display, which are stored as cookies in the browser. For good measure, the team also introduced many levels of fault tolerance into their design. Just as one example, the boot script starts Chromium in a loop to ensure that it will be relaunched automatically if it crashes. It can also handle sudden loss of power and network connectivity issues.

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Whether it’s a young person’s learning computer, the brains of a DIY home automation project, or a node in a factory sensor network, we beam with pride when see our little computer being used in so many different ways. This project in particular is a great example of how those that sell Raspberry Pi products can harness Pi’s power for their own operations.

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Astro Pi: Mission Update 9 – Science Results

Liz: Before we get down to business, we’ve a notice to share. Laura Clay, who is behind the scenes editing this blog, The MagPi and much more, is also a fiction writer; and she’s been chosen as one of 17 Emerging Writers by the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust. Each writer will be reading a short story at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and it’s a great way to discover writers living and working in the city at the start of their careers. Laura will be reading her story Loch na Bèiste on Friday 26 August at 3pm in the Spiegeltent, and entry is free, so why not come along and support her? Warning: story may contain murderous kelpies.

Now that British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake is back on the ground it’s time for the final Astro Pi mission update: the summary of the experiment results from the International Space Station (ISS). We’ve been holding this back to give the winners some time to publish the results of their experiments themselves.

Back in 2015 we ran a competition where students could design and program computer science experiments, to be run by Tim Peake on specially cased Raspberry Pis called Astro Pis. Here’s the original competition video, voiced by Tim himself:

Astro Pi

This is “Astro Pi” by raspberrypi on Vimeo, the home for high quality videos and the people who love them.

The competition ran from January to July 2015 and produced seven winning experiments, which were launched into space a few days before Tim started his mission. Between February and April 2016, these experiments were run on board the ISS under Tim Peake’s supervision. They’re mostly based around the sensors found on the Sense HAT, but a few also employ the Raspberry Pi Camera Module. Head over to the Astro Pi website now to check out the results, released today!

You might also know that we ran an extension to this competition involving a couple of music-based challenges. These challenges have no scientific output to discuss, because they were part of a crew care package for Tim’s enjoyment, but you can get your hands on the winning code to turn the Astro Pis into MP3 players and Sonic Pi tunes.

One of the main things we’ve learnt from running Astro Pi is that the biggest motivational factor for young people is the very tangible goal of having their code run in space. This eclipses any physical prize we could offer. Many people see space as quite distant and abstract, but with Astro Pi you can actually get your hands on space-qualified hardware, create something that would work up in space, and become an active participant in the European space programme.

Many of the Astro Pi winners now express an interest in studying aerospace and computer science. They’ve gained exposure to the real-life process of scientific endeavour, and faced industrial software development challenges along the way. We hope that everyone who participated in Astro Pi has been positively influenced by the programme. The results also demonstrate that the payload works reliably in space. This has been noticed by ESA, who are now planning to use it during upcoming missions. It’s really important for us that the payload continues to be used to run your code in space, so we’re working hard with ESA to make sure that we can do Astro Pi all over again.

This project has been a huge collaborative effort from the start and the Raspberry Pi Foundation would like to thank everyone who has participated in the competitions, and the following companies who have contributed staff time, facilities, and funding to make it all happen: UK Space Agency, European Space Agency, BIOTESC, TLOGOS, Surrey Satellite Technology, Airbus Defence and Space, CGI Group, QinetiQ Space, UK Space Trade Association, ESERO UK, KTN Space, and Nesta. Of course, Tim Peake himself has been hugely supportive and enthusiastic about the project from the start.

British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake with the prototype Astro Pi

British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake with the prototype Astro Pi. Image credit ESA.

We would also like to thank Libby Jackson, who is the Astronaut Flight Education Programme Manager at the UK Space Agency and a former flight director at ESA. She oversees all of the Principia educational activities, including Astro Pi.

Libby Jackson, UK Space Agency. Image credit German Zoeschinger.

Libby Jackson, UK Space Agency. Image credit German Zoeschinger.

During the interview for her job at the UK Space Agency a few years ago, she pitched an idea for running a project on the ISS involving Raspberry Pi computers. Instead of launching traditional physical equipment, the experiments would be in the form of computer software, meaning that many more experiments could be accommodated. That kernel of an idea is what eventually became Astro Pi.

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Izzy deployed on the Nadir Hatch window of Node 2. Image credit ESA.

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Sense HAT emulator

Over the last few months, we’ve been working with US-based startup Trinket to develop a web-based emulator for the Sense HAT, the multipurpose add-on board for the Raspberry Pi which is also the core component of the Astro Pi units on the International Space Station. We wanted to provide a unique, free learning resource that brings the excitement of programming our space-qualified hardware to students, teachers, and others all over the world.

We’re delighted to announce its release today, and you can try it for yourself right now. Click the Run button below and see what happens!

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The emulator will allow more people to participate in future Astro Pi competitions – you’ll be able to join in without needing to own a Raspberry Pi computer or a Sense HAT.

British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake with an Astro Pi unit on the International Space Station

British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake with the Astro Pi. Image credit ESA

The new emulator builds on Trinket’s existing Python-in-browser platform, and provides the following features:

  • Virtual Sense HAT with environmental controls and joystick input
  • Full Python syntax highlighting
  • Contextual auto-complete
  • Intuitive error reporting and highlighting
  • Image upload
  • HTML page embedding
  • Social media integration
  • Project sharing via direct URL
  • Project download as zip (for moving to Raspberry Pi)
  • All major browsers supported

sense_hat_emu

The Sense HAT has temperature, pressure and humidity sensors, and can change its behaviour according to the values they report. The Sense HAT emulator has sliders you can move to change these values, so you can test how your code responds to environmental variables.

Part of a screenshot of the Astro Pi emulator, showing three silders with buttons that can be dragged to change the temperature, pressure and humidity that the virtual Sense HAT's sensors are reporting

You can move the sliders to change what the sensors are reporting

Code written in this emulator is directly portable to a physical Raspberry Pi with a Sense HAT without modification. This means any code you write can be run by the Astro Pi units on board the ISS! It is our hope that, within the next 12 months, code that has been written in the emulator will run in space. Look out for news on this, coming soon on the Astro Pi site!

We owe huge thanks to Trinket, who have been wonderful partners in this project. The development work has been completed in just over two months, and has been a huge collaborative effort from the start. The software relies heavily on open-source technology and a global community of developers who are committed to making the power of code more accessible to students.

A closed group of beta testers, made up of previous Astro Pi participants and Code Club champions, has been putting the emulator through its paces over recent weeks. We’re proud to say that we’ve just had a bug-free open beta over the weekend, and now we’re looking forward to seeing it used as widely as possible.

So, where do you start? If you’re new to the Sense HAT, you can just copy and paste a lot of the code examples from our educational resources like this one. You can also check out our e-book Sense HAT Essentials. For a complete list of all the functions you can use, have a look at the Sense HAT API reference here; please note that the IMU (movement-sensing) functions will be supported in a future update. Head over to the main Sense HAT emulator site to see loads of other cool examples of what’s possible. Flappy LED, anyone?

Don’t forget to share your projects!

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Skycademy 2016

Over the next three days, we have 30 educators arriving at Pi Towers to learn how to build, launch, and track a High Altitude Balloon (HAB). For the uninitiated, Skycademy 2016 is our second CPD event which provides experience of launching balloons to educators, showing them how this can be used for an inspiring, project-based learning experience.

Skycademy_Header_v2

This is my first year preparing for Skycademy, and it has been a steep but worthwhile learning curve. Launching a HAB combines aspects of maths, physics, computing, design and technology, and geography, and the sheer scope of the project means that it’s rare for school-age children to get these types of experiences. It’s great news, then, that Raspberry Pi have the in-house skills, ambition, and commitment to run such things, and train others to run them too.

Skycademy runs over three days: on the first day, delegates form teams and take part in several workshops aimed at planning and building their flight. Day Two sees them launch, track, and recover their payload. Day Three has them regroup to reflect and plan for the year ahead. The support doesn’t end there: our Skycademy graduates go on to take part in a year-long project that will see them launch flights at their own schools and organisations, helped by their own students.

Tracking tomorrow’s launch

If you’re interested in watching the launch tomorrow, you can follow our progress by searching for #skycademy on Twitter. You can also use the links below to track the progress of different teams. Today, you will begin to see their payloads appearing on the map, and tomorrow you’ll be able to follow the chase.

 

Tracking Images
All teams rpf.io/flights rpf.io/flightsimages
Alto rpf.io/alto rpf.io/altoimages
Cirrus rpf.io/cirrus rpf.io/cirrusimages
Cumulus rpf.io/cumulus rpf.io/cumulusimages
Nimbus rpf.io/nimbus rpf.io/nimbusimages
Stratus rpf.io/stratus rpf.io/stratusimages

 

Our current launch plan is to set the balloons free slightly to the west of Cambridge around 10am, but we’ll be posting updates to Twitter.

If you aren’t lucky enough to be taking part in Skycademy today, don’t worry: we’ll be making lots of resources available in the near future for anyone to access and run their own flights. Alternatively, you can also visit Dave Akerman’s website for lots of HAB information and guides to get you started.

Welcome to Dan Fisher’s ‘Fun with HABs’

I recently found out what lay in store for our latest crop of educators when I took part in a test launch two weeks ago…

We made our way to the launch site at Elsworth, Cambridgeshire, feeling nervous and excited. We arrived at 09.30, as experts Dave Akerman and Steve Randall were already starting to assemble their kit. The hope was that we might actually be able to break the world record for the highest amateur unmanned balloon flight. Dave and Steve are continually leapfrogging each other for this title.

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The payload Dave is making in the picture weighs about 250g and consists of a Raspberry Pi A+ connected to Pi-In-The-Sky (PITS) and LoRa boards. The lighter the payload, the higher the potential altitude. The boards broadcast packets of data back to earth, which can be decoded by our tracking equipment.

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Surprisingly, the payload’s chassis assembly is hardly high-tech: a polystyrene capsule gaffer-taped to some nylon cord and balsa wood, to which the balloon and parachute are attached. For this launch, Dave and Steve used hydrogen rather than helium, as it enables you to achieve higher altitudes. Having no previous experience working with pure hydrogen, I had visions of some kind of disaster happening.

Hindenberg

We weighed the payload to calculate how much hydrogen we would need to fill the balloon and ensure the correct ascent rate. Too much hydrogen means the balloon ascends too quickly and might burst early. Too little hydrogen results in a slow balloon which might not burst at all, and could float away and be lost.

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After Dave filled the balloon with hydrogen, we attached the real payload (lots more gaffer tape) and we were ready for a good ol’ launch ‘n’ track. However, as is often the case, it didn’t exactly go to plan…

Home, home on the range

Picture the scene: two Raspberry Pi staffers are driving off-road through a military firing range. Behind the wheel is Dave Akerman, grinning broadly.

“It’s so much more interesting when they don’t just land in a ditch,” he says, speeding the SUV over another pothole.

We’ve tracked our high altitude balloon for two hours to an area of land in Thetford Forest, Norfolk which is used for live ammo practice: not somewhere you’d want to go without permission. Access is looking unlikely until we get a call from the nearby army base’s ops team: we’re in. We make our way past the firing range and into the woods.

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After tracking as far as we can by car, we continue on foot until we spot the payload about ten metres up in a fir tree with very few branches. There’s no way of climbing up. Fortunately, Dave has come armed with the longest telescopic pole I’ve ever seen. It even has a hook on the business end for snagging the parachute’s cords. I act as a spotter as Dave manoeuvres the pole into position and tugs the payload free.

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Giddy with the unexpected success of our recovery, we head back to the SUV and make for the exit, only to find we’ve been locked in. Scenarios where we’ve unwittingly become contestants in the next Hunger Games cross my mind. Armed only with long plastic poles, I worry we might be early casualties.

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After feverish calls to the base again, they agree to come out and free us: a man in a MoD jacket dramatically smashes the lock with a hammer. We race back to Cambridge HQ, payload in hand and with a story to tell.

The Great Escape

Uploaded by David Akerman on 2016-07-26.

That’s it for now; look out for our post-Skycademy follow-up post soon!

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Pi 3 booting part II: Ethernet

Yesterday, we introduced the first of two new boot modes which have now been added to the Raspberry Pi 3. Today, we introduce an even more exciting addition: network booting a Raspberry Pi with no SD card.

Again, rather than go through a description of the boot mode here, we’ve written a fairly comprehensive guide on the Raspberry Pi documentation pages, and you can find a tutorial to get you started here. Below are answers to what we think will be common questions, and a look at some limitations of the boot mode.

Note: this is still in beta testing and uses the “next” branch of the firmware. If you’re unsure about using the new boot modes, it’s probably best to wait until we release it fully.

What is network booting?

Network booting is a computer’s ability to load all its software over a network. This is useful in a number of cases, such as remotely operated systems or those in data centres; network booting means they can be updated, upgraded, and completely re-imaged, without anyone having to touch the device!

The main advantages when it comes to the Raspberry Pi are:

  1. SD cards are difficult to make reliable unless they are treated well; they must be powered down correctly, for example. A Network File System (NFS) is much better in this respect, and is easy to fix remotely.
  2. NFS file systems can be shared between multiple Raspberry Pis, meaning that you only have to update and upgrade a single Pi, and are then able to share users in a single file system.
  3. Network booting allows for completely headless Pis with no external access required. The only desirable addition would be an externally controlled power supply.

I’ve tried doing things like this before and it’s really hard editing DHCP configurations!

It can be quite difficult to edit DHCP configurations to allow your Raspberry Pi to boot, while not breaking the whole network in the process. Because of this, and thanks to input from Andrew Mulholland, I added the support of proxy DHCP as used with PXE booting computers.

What’s proxy DHCP and why does it make it easier?

Standard DHCP is the protocol that gives a system an IP address when it powers up. It’s one of the most important protocols, because it allows all the different systems to coexist. The problem is that if you edit the DHCP configuration, you can easily break your network.

So proxy DHCP is a special protocol: instead of handing out IP addresses, it only hands out the TFTP server address. This means it will only reply to devices trying to do netboot. This is much easier to enable and manage, because we’ve given you a tutorial!

Are there any bugs?

At the moment we know of three problems which need to be worked around:

  • When the boot ROM enables the Ethernet link, it first waits for the link to come up, then sends its first DHCP request packet. This is sometimes too quick for the switch to which the Raspberry Pi is connected: we believe that the switch may throw away packets it receives very soon after the link first comes up.
  • The second bug is in the retransmission of the DHCP packet: the retransmission loop is not timing out correctly, so the DHCP packet will not be retransmitted.

The solution to both these problems is to find a suitable switch which works with the Raspberry Pi boot system. We have been using a Netgear GS108 without a problem.

  • Finally, the failing timeout has a knock-on effect. This means it can require the occasional random packet to wake it up again, so having the Raspberry Pi network wired up to a general network with lots of other computers actually helps!

Can I use network boot with Raspberry Pi / Pi 2?

Unfortunately, because the code is actually in the boot ROM, this won’t work with Pi 1, Pi B+, Pi 2, and Pi Zero. But as with the MSD instructions, there’s a special mode in which you can copy the ‘next’ firmware bootcode.bin to an SD card on its own, and then it will try and boot from the network.

This is also useful if you’re having trouble with the bugs above, since I’ve fixed them in the bootcode.bin implementation.

Here’s a video of the setup working from Mythic Beasts, our web hosts, who are hoping to use this mode to offer hosted Pis in the data centre for users soon.

Raspberry Pi, Power over ethernet, boot over ethernet

Booting a Raspberry PI 3 over ethernet, powered over ethernet. No SD cards were harmed.

Finally, I would like to thank my Slack beta testing team who provided a great testing resource for this work. It’s been a fun few weeks! Thanks in particular to Rolf Bakker for this current handy status reference…

Current state of network boot on all Pis

Current state of network boot on all Pis

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Pi 3 booting part I: USB mass storage boot beta

When we originally announced the Raspberry Pi 3, we announced that we’d implemented several new boot modes. The first of these is the USB mass storage boot mode, and we’ll explain a little bit about it in this post; stay tuned for the next part on booting over Ethernet tomorrow. We’ve also supplied a boot modes tutorial over on the Raspberry Pi documentation pages.

Note: the new boot modes are still in beta testing and use the “next” branch of the firmware. If you’re unsure about using the new boot modes, it’s probably best to wait until we release it fully.

How did we do this?

Inside the 2835/6/7 devices there’s a small boot ROM, which is an unchanging bit of code used to boot the device. It’s the boot ROM that can read files from SD cards and execute them. Previously, there were two boot modes: SD boot and USB device boot (used for booting the Compute Module). When the Pi is powered up or rebooted, it tries to talk to an attached SD card and looks for a file called bootcode.bin; if it finds it, then it loads it into memory and jumps to it. This piece of code then continues to load up the rest of the Pi system, such as the firmware and ARM kernel.

While squeezing in the Quad A53 processors, I spent a fair amount of time writing some new boot modes. If you’d like to get into a little more detail, there’s more information in the documentation. Needless to say, it’s not easy squeezing SD boot, eMMC boot, SPI boot, NAND flash, FAT filesystem, GUID and MBR partitions, USB device, USB host, Ethernet device, and mass storage device support into a mere 32kB.

What is a mass storage device?

The USB specification allows for a mass storage class which many devices implement, from the humble flash drive to USB attached hard drives. This includes micro SD readers, but generally it refers to anything you can plug into a computer’s USB port and use for file storage.

I’ve tried plugging in a flash drive before and it didn’t do anything. What’s wrong? 

We haven’t enabled this boot mode by default, because we first wanted to check that it worked as expected. The boot modes are enabled in One-Time Programmable (OTP) memory, so you have to enable the boot mode on your Pi 3 first. This is done using a config.txt parameter.

Instructions for implementing the mass storage boot mode, and changing a suitable Raspbian image to boot from a flash drive, can be found here.

Are there any bugs / problems?

There are a couple of known issues:

  1. Some flash drives power up too slowly. There are many spinning disk drives that don’t respond within the allotted two seconds. It’s possible to extend this timeout to five seconds, but there are devices that fail to respond within this period as well, such as the Verbatim PinStripe 64GB.
  2. Some flash drives have a very specific protocol requirement that we don’t handle; as a result of this, we can’t talk to these drives correctly. An example of such a drive would be the Kingston Data Traveller 100 G3 32G.

These bugs exist due to the method used to develop the boot code and squeeze it into 32kB. It simply wasn’t possible to run comprehensive tests.

However, thanks to a thorough search of eBay and some rigorous testing by our awesome work experience student Henry Budden, we’ve found the following devices work perfectly well:

  • Sandisk Cruzer Fit 16GB
  • Sandisk Cruzer Blade 16Gb
  • Samsung 32GB USB 3.0 drive
  • MeCo 16GB USB 3.0

If you find some devices we haven’t been able to test, we’d be grateful if you’d let us know your results in the comments.

Will it be possible to boot a Pi 1 or Pi 2 using MSD?

Unfortunately not. The boot code is stored in the BCM2837 device only, so the Pi 1, Pi 2, and Pi Zero will all require SD cards.

However, I have been able to boot a Pi 1 and Pi 2 using a very special SD card that only contains the single file bootcode.bin. This is useful if you want to boot a Pi from USB, but don’t want the possible unreliability of an SD card. Don’t mount the SD card from Linux, and it will never get corrupted!

My MSD doesn’t work. Is there something else I can do to get it working?

If you can’t boot from the MSD, then there are some steps that you can take to diagnose the problem. Please note, though, this is very much still a work in progress:

  • Format an SD card as FAT32
  • Copy the current next branch bootcode.bin from GitHub onto the SD card
  • Plug it into the Pi and try again

If this still doesn’t work, please open an issue in the firmware repository.

 

 

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Alexa internet of boat things – anchors aweigh!

Before we get to the meat of today’s post, which involves both Hackster and Alexa, we would be remiss if we didn’t remind you all that Hackster’s Internet of Voice competition to create voice-controlled Raspberry Pi projects is open until August 31 2016. It’s open worldwide – go and check it out!

We’re seeing Raspberry Pi users turn all kinds of things into Internet of Things devices: lorries, cat flaps, beer fridges – and now a boat.

imonaboat

Being able to hook your Raspberry Pi up to Amazon’s Alexa means that it’s increasingly easy to use a voice-trigger to set off a physical task. In Ufuk Arslan’s case, he was interested in automating some of the functions of his boat.

prototype boat

Testing a prototype

Ufuk had a bad habit of leaving lights on when going home for the night, which drained the boat’s batteries overnight. This project was initially intended as a quick and easy way to turn all the lights off at once, but has grown in scope. Ufuk’s now engineering it to work as a disembodied deck hand, and his first step in doing that has been to wire the system up to his anchor winch. A somewhat fiddly task. Ufuk says:

Pay attention to cables, colors and poles. You could easily end up wiring wrong cables and cause short-circuits or always running winches (both of which happened to me).

The results? Easy voice-command control of different systems on the boat. We forgive the portrait format video.

AlexaBoat

AlexaBoat Project https://www.hackster.io/ufuk-arslan/alexaboat-7f1a7e

This is just a start – we’d love to see where Ufuk is going with this project next. There are already lots of other projects out there for boat owners – navigation projects are a great way to take expense out of your own setup. Ufuk has documented the build all the way from creating an Alexa skill to rewiring his boat over on Hackster.

 

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OpenROV: Underwater Exploration with Raspberry Pi

There are plenty of Raspberry Pis doing good work in various unusual environments, from monitoring penguins in the extreme cold of Antarctica to running schoolchildren’s programs in the earth’s orbit. Thanks to OpenROV, we can add ‘exploring the briny deep’ to that list.

openrov-Trident-Kelp

The California-based company’s newest product, Trident, is an affordable underwater drone built with hackability in mind. OpenROV raised over $815,000 on Kickstarter for Trident, an entirely new product to follow their popular OpenROV 2.8 underwater drone. All of us are especially excited about Trident because there’s a Raspberry Pi 3 inside. In a recent update to their backers, they shared the news:

Just after the Raspberry Pi 3 was announced, we began to research whether it would be possible to port our existing OpenROV software over to the Pi. After some final testing last month, including testing done during our Tahoe expedition, we made the decision to move our system over to the new architecture, and we couldn’t be happier. Having multiple cores gives Trident much better video and data processing capabilities, which will continue to come in handy as we release software updates. The built­-in features will make the entire system more solid from the get-go. Moreover, Trident will be (in our opinion, at least) one of the coolest devices that uses the Raspberry Pi. We’ve designed the Trident software to include an integrated development environment, so people wanting to write their own plugins and modifications can edit their code directly on the vehicle through their web browser, with no additional software needed. Fueling a strong developer community has always been core to OpenROV, and we think our integration of the Raspberry Pi 3 will move us even further in that direction.

openrov-motherboard-pi-3

I found myself mesmerised watching this video of how beautifully Trident flies underwater. Take a look for yourself:

OpenROV Haxpedition 2016: Trident Testing

This is a compilation video from our testing of Trident in Lake Tahoe in June 2016. Learn more: http://www.openrov.com/

I asked Eric Stackpole, one of OpenROV’s co-founders, why wireless LAN is useful if it doesn’t work through water. He said:

The Pi 3’s WiFi has been invaluable because we needed a simple way to talk to external payloads, without requiring soldering or specialised waterproof connectors. WiFi allows us to establish a high-speed connection with many off-the-shelf WiFi-enabled devices, such as GoPro cameras, 360 cameras, and IoT devices, as well as user-made payloads that can be connected to a WiFi module. Radio doesn’t travel very far through water but since payloads are physically attached to the vehicle, that creates a conduit in the insulating material through which the signal can travel. We wanted to create a user interface that was isolated from the vehicle electronics so that no matter what happens to the payload, the vehicle will continue to work reliably. We’ve been really happy with this system so far, and we’re excited to start designing more payloads for it soon. We’ll also publish more about the software plugin architecture soon.

For Trident users, being able to dig deep into the software makes their product especially extensible. And in a big win for our community, Trident’s software suite builds on top of Raspbian. The OpenROV team installs some of their own software such as OpenROV Cockpit, then adds some Debian packages and a few device tree overlays which allow the Raspberry Pi to interface with their controller board.

openrov-code

At the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we love how digital making isn’t just for those interested in computing itself. Computers are an empowering material for allowing people to explore their passions through programming and making. OpenROV’s Trident sits perfectly at the intersection of computing and underwater exploration. So it just might be the perfect thing for a budding Jacques Cousteau.

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Pi Wars 3.0

Here’s a guest post from our old friends Mike Horne and Tim Richardson. Come and join the fun at the next Pi Wars!

Pi Wars is a challenge-based robotics competition in which every robot must be controlled by a Raspberry Pi. It’s great fun, and it will all be kicking off once again on 1st-2nd April 2017. For the first time, we are extending the event to run over two days, as we have been overwhelmed with interested applicants.

2015obstacle

Another victim succumbs to the obstacle course and its turntable of doom

We have always tried to encourage young robot builders to get involved in CamJam and in Pi Wars. Previously we have held Pi Wars in September and December, but this did not allow school teams enough time to build, program, test, and otherwise prepare their robot around their schoolwork. We therefore decided to move the event date to later in the academic year: we think April is late enough for schools to have run enough robot club sessions, but early enough not to clash with exams.

People of all ages take part. Here's Amy, aided by Heffalump and friends, showing Eben her robot.

People of all ages take part. Here’s Amy, aided by Heffalump and friends, showing Eben her robot.

This time around, we have a celebrity judge: Dr Lucy Rogers from the BBC’s Robot Wars will be putting your robots through their paces.

lucyrogers

Dr Lucy Rogers in conversation with an old friend

In previous years, we have categorised robots by cost (in 2014) and size (in 2015). This time, we are going to group teams into the following categories:

  • Schools and other clubs

  • Families and groups of friends

  • Amateur/beginner/intermediate hobbyists(s)

  • Professional or expert hobbyist(s)

This means that robot teams will be competing against their peers, rather than against those with different skill levels – so, it will be, for instance, school vs school and family vs family (in a non-Mafia kind of way).

This is the kind of thing you see at Pi Wars: Liz commandeers a gigantic Big Trak.

This is the kind of thing you see at Pi Wars: your friendly Director of Communications commandeers a gigantic Big Trak.

This year’s list of challenges is available on the Pi Wars website. As well as winning points for their performance in a range of challenges, this year’s robots are also being given points for artistic and technical merit. There’s even a prize for the funniest robot (the competition does start on April Fool’s Day, after all!) and a pre-event blogging competition which encourages teams write about themselves, and their journey from a collection of parts to a working robot.

We’ve come up with a list of general rules and also rules for each challenge. Perhaps the most important one this year is a requirement that your robot must be sub-A4 in size. This still leaves quite a lot of room for flexibility in design, whilst at the same time levelling the playing field. It also means that those teams who are using kits are in with a better chance of competing against those who make their robot from scratch.

Entry into Pi Wars is on an application basis, rather than first-come, first served. With the number of teams we’re expecting to apply, the quality of your application is important. You can read more about the application and selection process here.

To apply to enter the competition, please fill in the application form. Feel free to take as much time over your application, and provide as much information as possible.

If you’re interested in robotics and technology, but you don’t want to build your own robot this time, you are still very welcome to come and watch the competition. Spectator tickets will go on sale later in the year. We only charge for adults, so it’s great for those on limited incomes. Join our mailing list to be notified when tickets are available, or keep an eye on piwars.org.

The game is afoot! Competitors at Pi Wars 2015

The game is afoot! Competitors at Pi Wars 2015

If you’re an altruistic type, you may be wondering if there’s some way you can help with Pi Wars. As with all big events, we need a team of volunteers to make the day go smoothly. Rather than having just a few marshals who spend the entire day helping, we aim to have as many people as possible so that everyone can spend most of the day watching the robots take on the challenges. Depending on the number of people who volunteer, helpers spend approximately two hours doing marshalling activities. Judges generally spend slightly more time judging, but we aim to give everyone a chance to experience the event as a spectator as well as helping us out! If you’d like to help out, please do contact us. We’ll be delighted to hear from you! We are also very happy to hear from potential sponsors: you can check out our website for more information on sponsorship, and on what we can offer in return.

To whet your appetite for the upcoming competition, or if you have never been to Pi Wars and want to know what it’s like on the day, we’d like to leave you with Matt Manning’s video of last year’s event…

Pi Wars 2015

Uploaded by RaspberryPiIVBeginners on 2015-12-05.

…and Spencer Organ’s video of the 2014 wars:

Pi Wars December 2014

What can you do with a Raspberry Pi? Build robots! Check out this video of Pi Wars held on Saturday 6th December 2014.

Tickets will be available for observers as well as competitors; it promises to be another great weekend. We’re looking forward to seeing you there!

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