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!

All the lights, all of the twinkly lights

Twinkly lights are to Christmas what pumpkins are to Halloween. And when you add a Raspberry Pi to your light show, the result instantly goes from “Meh, yeah.” to “OMG, wow!”

Here are some cool light-based Christmas projects to inspire you this weekend.

Raspberry Pi Christmas Lights

App-based light control

Christmas Tree Lights Demo

Project Code – https://github.com/eidolonFIRE/Christmas-Lights Raspberry Pi A+ ws2812b – https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B01H04YAIQ/ref=od_aui_detailpages00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 200w 5V supply – https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B01LZRIWZD/ref=od_aui_detailpages01?ie=UTF8&psc=1

In his Christmas lights project, Caleb Johnson uses an app as a control panel to switch between predefined displays. The full code is available on his GitHub, and it connects a Raspberry Pi A+ to a strip of programmable LEDs that change their pattern at the touch of a phone screen.

What’s great about this project, aside from the simplicity of its design, is the scope for extending it. Why not share the app with friends and family, allowing them to control your lights remotely? Or link the lights to social media so they are triggered by a specific hashtag, like in Alex Ellis’ #cheerlights project below.

Worldwide holiday #cheerlights

Holiday lights hack – 1$ Snowman + Raspberry Pi

Here we have a smart holiday light which will only run when it detects your presence in the room through a passive infrared PIR sensor. I’ve used hot glue for the fixings and an 8-LED NeoPixel strip connected to port 18.

Cheerlights, an online service created by Hans Scharler, allows makers to incorporate hashtag-controlled lighting into the projects. By tweeting the hashtag #cheerlights, followed by a colour, you can control a network of lights so that they are all displaying the same colour.

For his holiday light hack using Cheerlights, Alex incorporated the Pimoroni Blinkt! and a collection of cheap Christmas decorations to create cute light-up ornaments for the festive season.

To make your own, check out Alex’s blog post, and head to your local £1/$1 store for hackable decor. You could even link your Christmas tree and the trees of your family, syncing them all in one glorious, Santa-pleasing spectacular.

Outdoor decorations

DIY musical Xmas lights for beginners with raspberry pi

With just a few bucks of extra material, I walk you through converting your regular Christmas lights into a whole-house light show. The goal here is to go from scratch. Although this guide is intended for people who don’t know how to use linux at all and those who do alike, the focus is for people for whom linux and the raspberry pi are a complete mystery.

Looking to outdo your neighbours with your Christmas light show this year? YouTuber Makin’Things has created a beginners guide to setting up a Raspberry Pi–based musical light show for your facade, complete with information on soldering, wiring, and coding.

Once you’ve wrapped your house in metres and metres of lights and boosted your speakers so they can be heard for miles around, why not incorporate #cheerlights to make your outdoor decor interactive?

Still not enough? How about controlling your lights using a drum kit? Christian Kratky’s MIDI-Based Christmas Lights Animation system (or as I like to call it, House Rock) does exactly that.

Eye Of The Tiger (MIDI based christmas lights animation system prototype)

Project documentation and source code: https://www.hackster.io/cyborg-titanium-14/light-pi-1c88b0 The song is taken from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6r1dAire0Y

Any more?

We know these projects are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Raspberry Pi–powered Christmas projects out there, and as always, we’d love you to share yours with us. So post a link in the comments below, or tag us on social media when posting your build photos, videos, and/or blog links. ‘Tis the season for sharing after all.

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Digital making for new parents

Solving problems that are meaningful to us is at the core of our approach to teaching and learning about technology here at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Over the last eight months, I’ve noticed that the types of digital making projects that motivate and engage me have changed (can’t think why). Always looking for ways to save money and automate my life and the lives of my loved ones, I’ve been thinking a lot about how digital making projects could be the new best friend of any new parent.

A baby, oblivious to the amount its parents have spent on stuff they never knew existed last year.
Image: sweet baby by MRef photography / CC BY-ND 2.0

Baby Monitor

I never knew how much equipment one small child needs until very recently. I also had no idea of the range of technology that is on offer to support you as a new parent to ensure the perfect environment outside of the womb. Baby monitors are at the top of this list. There are lots of Raspberry Pi baby monitor projects with a range of sensing functionality already in existence, and we’ve blogged about some of them before. They’re a great example of how an understanding of technology can open up a range of solutions that won’t break the bank. I’m looking forward to using all the capabilities of the Raspberry Pi to keep an eye on baby.

Baby name generator

Another surprising discovery was just how difficult it is to name a human being. Surprising because I can give a name to an inanimate object in less than three seconds, and come up with nicknames for colleagues in less than a day. My own offspring, though, and I draw a blank. The only solution: write a Python program to randomly generate names based on some parameters!

import names
from time import sleep
from guizero import App, ButtonGroup, Text, PushButton, TextBox

def get_name():
    boyname = names.get_first_name(gender='male')
    girlname = names.get_first_name(gender='female')
    othername = names.get_first_name()

    if babygender.get() == "male":
        name.set(str(boyname)+" "+str(babylastname.get()))
    elif babygender.get() == "female":
        name.set(str(girlname)+" "+str(babylastname.get()))
    else:
        name.set(str(othername)+" "+str(babylastname.get()))

app = App("Baby name generator")
surname_label = Text(app, "What is your surname?")
babylastname = TextBox(app, width=50)
babygender = ButtonGroup(app, options=[["boy", "male"], ["girl", "female"], ["all", "all"]], selected="male", horizontal=True)
intro = Text(app, "Your baby name could be")
name = Text(app, "")
button = PushButton(app, get_name, text="Generate me a name")

app.display()

Thanks to the names and GUIZero Python libraries, it is super simple to create, resolving any possible parent-to-be naming disputes in mere minutes.

Food, Poo, or Love?

I love data. Not just in Star Trek, but also more generally. Collecting and analysing data to understand my sleep patterns, my eating habits, how much exercise I do, and how much time I spend watching YouTube videos consumes much of my time. So of course I want to know lots about the little person we’ve made, long before he can use language to tell us himself.

I’m told that most newborns’ needs are quite simple: they want food, they want to be changed, or they just want some cuddles. I’m certain it’s more complicated than this, but it’s a good starting point for a data set, so stick with me here. I also wondered whether there might be a correlation between the amplitude of the cry and the type of need the baby has. A bit of an imprecise indicator, maybe, but fun to start to think about.

This build’s success is mostly thanks to Pimoroni’s Rainbow HAT, which, conveniently, has three capacitive touch buttons to record the newborn’s need, four fourteen-segment displays to display the words “FOOD”, “POO”, and “LOVE” when a button is pressed, and seven multicoloured LEDs to indicate the ferociousness of the baby’s cry in glorious technicolour. With the addition of a microphone, the ‘Food, Poo, Love Machine’ was born. Here it is in action:

Food Poo Love – Raspberry Pi Baby Monitor Project

Food Poo Love – The Raspberry Pi baby monitor project that allows you to track data on your new born baby.

Automatic Baby mobile

Another project that I’ve not had time to hack on, but that I think would be really awesome, is to automate a baby cot mobile. Imagine this one moving to the Star Trek theme music:

Image courtesy of Gisele Blaker Designs (check out her cool shop!)

Pretty awesome.

If you’ve got any more ideas for baby projects, do let me know. I’ll have a few months of nothing to do… right?

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Steampunk radio jukebox

Spyrul breathed new life into his great-grandparents’ 1930s Westinghouse with a Raspberry Pi, an amplifier HAT, Google Music, and some serious effort. The result is a really beautiful, striking piece.

Steampunk Radio Raspberry Pi

The radio

With a background in radio electronics, Spyrul had always planned to restore his great-grandparents’ mid-30s Westinghouse radio. “I even found the original schematics glued to the bottom of the base of the main electronics assembly,” he explains in his Instructables walkthrough. However, considering the age of the piece and the cost of sourcing parts for a repair, he decided to take the project in a slightly different direction.

“I pulled the main electronics assembly out quite easily, it was held in by four flat head screws […] I decided to make a Steampunk themed Jukebox based off this main assembly and power it with a Raspberry Pi,” he writes.

The build

Spyrul added JustBoom’s Amp HAT to a Raspberry Pi 3 to boost the sound quality and functionality of the board.

He spent a weekend prototyping and testing the electronics before deciding on his final layout. After a little time playing around with different software, Spyrul chose Mopidy, a flexible music server written in Python. Mopidy lets him connect to his music-streaming service of choice, Google Music, and also allows airplay connectivity for other wireless devices.

Stripping out the old electronics from inside the Westinghouse radio easily made enough space for Spyrul’s new, much smaller, setup. Reserving various pieces for the final build, and scrubbing the entire unit to within an inch of its life with soap and water, he moved on to the aesthetics of the piece.

The steampunk

LED Nixie tubes, a 1950s DC voltmeter, and spray paint all contributed to the final look of the radio. It has a splendid steampunk look that works wonderfully with the vintage of the original radio.

Retrofit and steampunk Raspberry Pi builds

From old pub jukeboxes to Bakelite kitchen radios, we’ve seen lots of retrofit audio visual Pi projects over the years, with all kinds of functionality and in all sorts of styles.

Americana – does exactly what it says on the tin jukebox

For more steampunk inspiration, check out phrazelle’s laptop and Derek Woodroffe’s tentacle hat. And for more audiophile builds, Tijuana Rick’s 60s Wurlitzer and Steve Devlin’s 50s wallbox are stand-out examples.

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Pioneers winners: only you can save us

She asked for help, and you came to her aid. Pioneers, the winners of the Only you can save us challenge have been picked!

Can you see me? Only YOU can save us!

I need your help. This is a call out for those between 11- and 16-years-old in the UK and Republic of Ireland. Something has gone very, very wrong and only you can save us. I’ve collected together as much information for you as I can. You’ll find it at http://www.raspberrypi.org/pioneers.

The challenge

In August we intercepted an emergency communication from a lonesome survivor. She seemed to be in quite a bit of trouble, and asked all you young people aged 11 to 16 to come up with something to help tackle the oncoming crisis, using whatever technology you had to hand. You had ten weeks to work in teams of two to five with an adult mentor to fulfil your mission.

The judges

We received your world-saving ideas, and our savvy survivor pulled together a ragtag bunch of apocalyptic experts to help us judge which ones would be the winning entries.

Dr Shini Somara is an advocate for STEM education and a mechanical engineer. She was host of The Health Show and has appeared in documentaries for the BBC, PBS Digital, and Sky. You can check out her work hosting Crash Course Physics on YouTube.

Prof Lewis Dartnell is an astrobiologist and author of the book The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch.

Emma Stephenson has a background in aeronautical engineering and currently works in the Shell Foundation’s Access to Energy and Sustainable Mobility portfolio.

Currently sifting through the entries with the other judges of #makeyourideas with @raspberrypifoundation @_raspberrypi_

151 Likes, 3 Comments – Shini Somara (@drshinisomara) on Instagram: “Currently sifting through the entries with the other judges of #makeyourideas with…”

The winners

Our survivor is currently putting your entries to good use repairing, rebuilding, and defending her base. Our judges chose the following projects as outstanding examples of world-saving digital making.

Theme winner: Computatron

Raspberry Pioneers 2017 – Nerfus Dislikus Killer Robot

This is our entry to the pioneers ‘Only you can save us’ competition. Our team name is Computatrum. Hope you enjoy!

Are you facing an unknown enemy whose only weakness is Nerf bullets? Then this is the robot for you! We loved the especially apocalyptic feel of the Computatron’s cleverly hacked and repurposed elements. The team even used an old floppy disc mechanism to help fire their bullets!

Technically brilliant: Robot Apocalypse Committee

Pioneers Apocalypse 2017 – RationalPi

Thousands of lines of code… Many sheets of acrylic… A camera, touchscreen and fingerprint scanner… This is our entry into the Raspberry Pi Pioneers2017 ‘Only YOU can Save Us’ theme. When zombies or other survivors break into your base, you want a secure way of storing your crackers.

The Robot Apocalypse Committee is back, and this time they’ve brought cheese! The crew designed a cheese- and cracker-dispensing machine complete with face and fingerprint recognition to ensure those rations last until the next supply drop.

Best explanation: Pi Chasers

Tala – Raspberry Pi Pioneers Project

Hi! We are PiChasers and we entered the Raspberry Pi Pionners challenge last time when the theme was “Make it Outdoors!” but now we’ve been faced with another theme “Apocolypse”. We spent a while thinking of an original thing that would help in an apocolypse and decided upon a ‘text-only phone’ which uses local radio communication rather than cellular.

This text-based communication device encased in a tupperware container could be a lifesaver in a crisis! And luckily, the Pi Chasers produced an excellent video and amazing GitHub repo, ensuring that any and all survivors will be able to build their own in the safety of their base.

Most inspiring journey: Three Musketeers

Pioneers Entry – The Apocalypse

Pioneers Entry Team Name: The Three Musketeers Team Participants: James, Zach and Tom

We all know that zombies are terrible at geometry, and the Three Musketeers used this fact to their advantage when building their zombie security system. We were impressed to see the team working together to overcome the roadblocks they faced along the way.

We appreciate what you’re trying to do: Zombie Trolls

Zombie In The Middle

Uploaded by CDA Bodgers on 2017-12-01.

Playing piggy in the middle with zombies sure is a unique way of saving humankind from total extinction! We loved this project idea, and although the Zombie Trolls had a little trouble with their motors, we’re sure with a little more tinkering this zombie-fooling contraption could save us all.

Most awesome

Our judges also wanted to give a special commendation to the following teams for their equally awesome apocalypse-averting ideas:

  • PiRates, for their multifaceted zombie-proofing defence system and the high production value of their video
  • Byte them Pis, for their beautiful zombie-detecting doormat
  • Unatecxon, for their impressive bunker security system
  • Team Crompton, for their pressure-activated door system
  • Team Ernest, for their adventures in LEGO

The prizes

All our winning teams have secured exclusive digital maker boxes. These are jam-packed with tantalising tech to satisfy all tinkering needs, including:

Our theme winners have also secured themselves a place at Coolest Projects 2018 in Dublin, Ireland!

Thank you to everyone who got involved in this round of Pioneers. Look out for your awesome submission swag arriving in the mail!

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CoderDojo: 2000 Dojos ever

Every day of the week, we verify new Dojos all around the world, and each Dojo is championed by passionate volunteers. Last week, a huge milestone for the CoderDojo community went by relatively unnoticed: in the history of the movement, more than 2000 Dojos have now been verified!

CoderDojo banner — 2000 Dojos

2000 Dojos

This is a phenomenal achievement for a movement that’s just six years old and powered by volunteers. Presently, there are more than 1650 active Dojos running weekly, fortnightly, or monthly, and all of them are free for participants — for example, the Dojos run by Joel Bayubasire in Kampala, Uganda:

Joel Bayubasire with Ninjas at his Ugandan Dojo — 2000 Dojos

Empowering refugee children

This week, Joel set up his second Dojo and verified it on our global map. Joel is a Congolese refugee living in Kampala, Uganda, where he is currently completing his PhD in Economics at Madison International Institute and Business School.

Joel understands first-hand the challenges faced by refugees who were forced to leave their country due to war or conflict. Uganda is currently hosting more than 1.2 million refugees, 60% of which are children (World Bank, 2017). As refugees, children are only allowed to attend local schools until the age of 12. This results in lower educational attainment, which will likely affect their future employment prospects.

Two girls at a laptop. Joel Bayubasire CoderDojo — 2000 Dojos

Joel has the motivation to overcome these challenges, because he understands the power of education. Therefore, he initiated a number of community-based activities to provide educational opportunities for refugee children. As part of this, he founded his first Dojo earlier in the year, with the aim of giving these children a chance to compete in today’s global knowledge-based economy.

Two boys at a laptop. Joel Bayubasire CoderDojo — 2000 Dojos

Aware that securing volunteer mentors would be a challenge, Joel trained eight young people from the community to become youth mentors to their peers. He explains:

I believe that the mastery of computer coding allows talented young people to thrive professionally and enables them to not only be consumers but creators of the interconnected world of today!

Based on the success of Joel’s first Dojo, he has now expanded the CoderDojo initiative in his community; his plan is to provide computer science training for more than 300 refugee youths in Kampala by 2019. If you’d like to learn more about Joel’s efforts, head to this website.

Join the movement

If you are interested in creating opportunities for the young people in your community, then join the growing CoderDojo movement — you can volunteer to start a Dojo or to support an existing one today!

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Sean Hodgins’ video-playing Christmas ornament

Standard Christmas tree ornaments are just so boring, always hanging there doing nothing. Yawn! Lucky for us, Sean Hodgins has created an ornament that plays classic nineties Christmas adverts, because of nostalgia.

YouTube Christmas Ornament! – Raspberry Pi Project

This Christmas ornament will really take you back…

Ingredients

Sean first 3D printed a small CRT-shaped ornament resembling the family television set in The Simpsons. He then got to work on the rest of the components.

Pi Zero and electronic components — Sean Hodgins Raspberry Pi Christmas ornament

All images featured in this blog post are c/o Sean Hodgins. Thanks, Sean!

The ornament uses a Raspberry Pi Zero W, 2.2″ TFT LCD screen, Mono Amp, LiPo battery, and speaker, plus the usual peripherals. Sean purposely assembled it with jumper wires and tape, so that he can reuse the components for another project after the festive season.

Clip of PowerBoost 1000 LiPo charger — Sean Hodgins Raspberry Pi Christmas ornament

By adding header pins to a PowerBoost 1000 LiPo charger, Sean was able to connect a switch to control the Pi’s power usage. This method is handy if you want to seal your Pi in a casing that blocks access to the power leads. From there, jumper wires connect the audio amplifier, LCD screen, and PowerBoost to the Zero W.

Code

Then, with Raspbian installed to an SD card and SSH enabled on the Zero W, Sean got the screen to work. The type of screen he used has both SPI and FBTFT enabled. And his next step was to set up the audio functionality with the help of an Adafruit tutorial.

Clip demoing Sean Hodgins Raspberry Pi Christmas ornament

For video playback, Sean installed mplayer before writing a program to extract video content from YouTube*. Once extracted, the video files are saved to the Raspberry Pi, allowing for seamless playback on the screen.

Construct

When fully assembled, the entire build fit snugly within the 3D-printed television set. And as a final touch, Sean added the cut-out lens of a rectangular magnifying glass to give the display the look of a curved CRT screen.

Clip of completed Sean Hodgins Raspberry Pi Christmas ornament in a tree

Then finally, the ornament hangs perfectly on the Christmas tree, up and running and spreading nostalgic warmth.

For more information on the build, check out the Instructables tutorial. And to see all of Sean’s builds, subscribe to his YouTube channel.

Make

If you’re looking for similar projects, have a look at this tutorial by Cabe Atwell for building a Pi-powered ornament that receives and displays text messages.

Have you created Raspberry Pi tree ornaments? Maybe you’ve 3D printed some of our own? We’d love to see what you’re doing with a Raspberry Pi this festive season, so make sure to share your projects with us, either in the comments below or via our social media channels.

 

*At this point, I should note that we don’t support the extraction of  video content from YouTube for your own use if you do not have the right permissions. However, since Sean’s device can play back any video, we think it would look great on your tree showing your own family videos from previous years. So, y’know, be good, be legal, and be festive.

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The Raspberry Pi Christmas shopping list 2017

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for a beloved maker in your life? Maybe you’d like to give a relative or friend a taste of the world of coding and Raspberry Pi? Whatever you’re looking for, the Raspberry Pi Christmas shopping list will point you in the right direction.

An ice-skating Raspberry Pi - The Raspberry Pi Christmas Shopping List 2017

For those getting started

Thinking about introducing someone special to the wonders of Raspberry Pi during the holidays? Although you can set up your Pi with peripherals from around your home, such as a mobile phone charger, your PC’s keyboard, and the old mouse dwelling in an office drawer, a starter kit is a nice all-in-one package for the budding coder.

Check out the starter kits from Raspberry Pi Approved Resellers such as Pimoroni, The Pi Hut, ModMyPi, Adafruit, CanaKit…the list is pretty long. Our products page will direct you to your closest reseller, or you can head to element14 to pick up the official Raspberry Pi Starter Kit.

You can also buy the Raspberry Pi Press’s brand-new Raspberry Pi Beginners Book, which includes a Raspberry Pi Zero W, a case, a ready-made SD card, and adapter cables.

Once you’ve presented a lucky person with their first Raspberry Pi, it’s time for them to spread their maker wings and learn some new skills.

MagPi Essentials books - The Raspberry Pi Christmas Shopping List 2017

To help them along, you could pick your favourite from among the Official Projects Book volume 3, The MagPi Essentials guides, and the brand-new third edition of Carrie Anne Philbin’s Adventures in Raspberry Pi. (She is super excited about this new edition!)

And you can always add a link to our free resources on the gift tag.

For the maker in your life

If you’re looking for something for a confident digital maker, you can’t go wrong with adding to their arsenal of electric and electronic bits and bobs that are no doubt cluttering drawers and boxes throughout their house.

Components such as servomotors, displays, and sensors are staples of the maker world. And when it comes to jumper wires, buttons, and LEDs, one can never have enough.

You could also consider getting your person a soldering iron, some helpings hands, or small tools such as a Dremel or screwdriver set.

And to make their life a little less messy, pop it all inside a Really Useful Box…because they’re really useful.

For kit makers

While some people like to dive into making head-first and to build whatever comes to mind, others enjoy working with kits.

The Naturebytes kit allows you to record the animal visitors of your garden with the help of a camera and a motion sensor. Footage of your local badgers, birds, deer, and more will be saved to an SD card, or tweeted or emailed to you if it’s in range of WiFi.

Cortec Tiny 4WD - The Raspberry Pi Christmas Shopping List 2017

Coretec’s Tiny 4WD is a kit for assembling a Pi Zero–powered remote-controlled robot at home. Not only is the robot adorable, building it also a great introduction to motors and wireless control.

Bare Conductive’s Touch Board Pro Kit offers everything you need to create interactive electronics projects using conductive paint.

Pi Hut Arcade Kit - The Raspberry Pi Christmas Shopping List 2017

Finally, why not help your favourite maker create their own gaming arcade using the Arcade Building Kit from The Pi Hut?

For the reader

For those who like to curl up with a good read, or spend too much of their day on public transport, a book or magazine subscription is the perfect treat.

For makers, hackers, and those interested in new technologies, our brand-new HackSpace magazine and the ever popular community magazine The MagPi are ideal. Both are available via a physical or digital subscription, and new subscribers to The MagPi also receive a free Raspberry Pi Zero W plus case.

You can also check out other publications from the Raspberry Pi family, including CoderDojo’s new CoderDojo Nano: Make Your Own Game, Eben Upton and Gareth Halfacree’s Raspberry Pi User Guide, and Marc Scott’s A Beginner’s Guide to Coding. And have I mentioned Carrie Anne’s Adventures in Raspberry Pi yet?

Stocking fillers for everyone

Looking for something small to keep your loved ones occupied on Christmas morning? Or do you have to buy a Secret Santa gift for the office tech? Here are some wonderful stocking fillers to fill your boots with this season.

Pi Hut 3D Christmas Tree - The Raspberry Pi Christmas Shopping List 2017

The Pi Hut 3D Xmas Tree: available as both a pre-soldered and a DIY version, this gadget will work with any 40-pin Raspberry Pi and allows you to create your own mini light show.

Google AIY Voice kit: build your own home assistant using a Raspberry Pi, the MagPi Essentials guide, and this brand-new kit. “Google, play Mariah Carey again…”

Pimoroni’s Raspberry Pi Zero W Project Kits offer everything you need, including the Pi, to make your own time-lapse cameras, music players, and more.

The official Raspberry Pi Sense HAT, Camera Module, and cases for the Pi 3 and Pi Zero will complete the collection of any Raspberry Pi owner, while also opening up exciting project opportunities.

STEAM gifts that everyone will love

Awesome Astronauts | Building LEGO’s Women of NASA!

LEGO Idea’s bought out this amazing ‘Women of NASA’ set, and I thought it would be fun to build, play and learn from these inspiring women! First up, let’s discover a little more about Sally Ride and Mae Jemison, two AWESOME ASTRONAUTS!

Treat the kids, and big kids, in your life to the newest LEGO Ideas set, the Women of NASA — starring Nancy Grace Roman, Margaret Hamilton, Sally Ride, and Mae Jemison!

Explore the world of wearables with Pimoroni’s sewable, hackable, wearable, adorable Bearables kits.

Add lights and motors to paper creations with the Activating Origami Kit, available from The Pi Hut.

We all loved Hidden Figures, and the STEAM enthusiast you know will do too. The film’s available on DVD, and you can also buy the original book, along with other fascinating non-fiction such as Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rachel Ignotofsky’s Women in Science, and Sydney Padua’s (mostly true) The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.

Have we missed anything?

With so many amazing kits, HATs, and books available from members of the Raspberry Pi community, it’s hard to only pick a few. Have you found something splendid for the maker in your life? Maybe you’ve created your own kit that uses the Raspberry Pi? Share your favourites with us in the comments below or via our social media accounts.

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Marvellous retrofitted home assistants

As more and more digital home assistants are appearing on the consumer market, it’s not uncommon to see the towering Amazon Echo or sleek Google Home when visiting friends or family. But we, the maker community, are rarely happy unless our tech stands out from the rest. So without further ado, here’s a roundup of some fantastic retrofitted home assistant projects you can recreate and give pride of place in your kitchen, on your bookshelf, or wherever else you’d like to talk to your virtual, disembodied PA.

Google AIY Robot Conversion

Turned an 80s Tomy Mr Money into a little Google AIY / Raspberry Pi based assistant.

Matt ‘Circuitbeard’ Brailsford’s Tomy Mr Money Google AIY Assistant is just one of many home-brew home assistants makers have built since the release of APIs for Amazon Alexa and Google Home. Here are some more…

Teddy Ruxpin

Oh Teddy, how exciting and mysterious you were when I unwrapped you back in the mideighties. With your awkwardly moving lips and twitching eyelids, you were the cream of the crop of robotic toys! How was I to know that during my thirties, you would become augmented with home assistant software and suddenly instil within me a fear unlike any I’d felt before? (Save for my lifelong horror of ET…)

Alexa Ruxpin – Raspberry Pi & Alexa Powered Teddy Bear

Please watch: “DIY Fidget LED Display – Part 1” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAZIc82Duzk -~-~~-~~~-~~-~- There are tons of virtual assistants out on the market: Siri, Ok Google, Alexa, etc. I had this crazy idea…what if I made the virtual assistant real…kinda. I decided to take an old animatronic teddy bear and hack it so that it ran Amazon Alexa.

Several makers around the world have performed surgery on Teddy to install a Raspberry Pi within his stomach and integrate him with Amazon Alexa Voice or Google’s AIY Projects Voice kit. And because these makers are talented, they’ve also managed to hijack Teddy’s wiring to make his lips move in time with his responses to your commands. Freaky…

Speaking of freaky: check out Zack’s Furlexa — an Amazon Alexa Furby that will haunt your nightmares.

Give old tech new life

Devices that were the height of technology when you purchased them may now be languishing in your attic collecting dust. With new and improved versions of gadgets and gizmos being released almost constantly, it is likely that your household harbours a spare whosit or whatsit which you can dismantle and give a new Raspberry Pi heart and purpose.

Take, for example, Martin Mander’s Google Pi intercom. By gutting and thoroughly cleaning a vintage intercom, Martin fashioned a suitable housing the Google AIY Projects Voice kit to create a new home assistant for his house:

1986 Google Pi Intercom

This is a 1986 Radio Shack Intercom that I’ve converted into a Google Home style device using a Raspberry Pi and the Google AIY (Artificial Intelligence Yourself) kit that came free with the MagPi magazine (issue 57). It uses the Google Assistant to answer questions and perform actions, using IFTTT to integrate with smart home accessories and other web services.

Not only does this build look fantastic, it’s also a great conversation starter for any visitors who had a similar device during the eighties.

Also take a look at Martin’s 1970s Amazon Alexa phone for more nostalgic splendour.

Put it in a box

…and then I’ll put that box inside of another box, and then I’ll mail that box to myself, and when it arrives…

A GIF from the emperors new groove - Raspberry Pi Home Assistant

A GIF. A harmless, little GIF…and proof of the comms team’s obsession with The Emperor’s New Groove.

You don’t have to be fancy when it comes to housing your home assistant. And often, especially if you’re working with the smaller people in your household, the results of a simple homespun approach are just as delightful.

Here are Hannah and her dad Tom, explaining how they built a home assistant together and fit it inside an old cigar box:

Raspberry Pi 3 Amazon Echo – The Alexa Kids Build!

My 7 year old daughter and I decided to play around with the Raspberry Pi and build ourselves an Amazon Echo (Alexa). The video tells you about what we did and the links below will take you to all the sites we used to get this up and running.

Also see the Google AIY Projects Voice kit — the cardboard box-est of home assistant boxes.

Make your own home assistant

And now it’s your turn! I challenge you all (and also myself) to create a home assistant using the Raspberry Pi. Whether you decide to fit Amazon Alexa inside an old shoebox or Google Home inside your sister’s Barbie, I’d love to see what you create using the free home assistant software available online.

Check out these other home assistants for Raspberry Pi, and keep an eye on our blog to see what I manage to create as part of the challenge.

Ten virtual house points for everyone who shares their build with us online, either in the comments below or by tagging us on your social media account.

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The Pi Towers Secret Santa Babbage

Tired of pulling names out of a hat for office Secret Santa? Upgrade your festive tradition with a Raspberry Pi, thermal printer, and everybody’s favourite microcomputer mascot, Babbage Bear.

Raspberry Pi Babbage Bear Secret Santa

The name’s Santa. Secret Santa.

It’s that time of year again, when the cosiness gets turned up to 11 and everyone starts thinking about jolly fat men, reindeer, toys, and benevolent home invasion. At Raspberry Pi, we’re running a Secret Santa pool: everyone buys a gift for someone else in the office. Obviously, the person you buy for has to be picked in secret and at random, or the whole thing wouldn’t work. With that in mind, I created Secret Santa Babbage to do the somewhat mundane task of choosing gift recipients. This could’ve just been done with some names in a hat, but we’re Raspberry Pi! If we don’t make a Python-based Babbage robot wearing a jaunty hat and programmed to spread Christmas cheer, who will?

Secret Santa Babbage

Ho ho ho!

Mecha-Babbage Xmas shenanigans

The script the robot runs is pretty basic: a list of names entered as comma-separated strings is shuffled at the press of a GPIO button, then a name is popped off the end and stored as a variable. The name is matched to a photo of the person stored on the Raspberry Pi, and a thermal printer pinched from Alex’s super awesome PastyCam (blog post forthcoming, maybe) prints out the picture and name of the person you will need to shower with gifts at the Christmas party. (Well, OK — with one gift. No more than five quid’s worth. Nothing untoward.) There’s also a redo function, just in case you pick yourself: press another button and the last picked name — still stored as a variable — is appended to the list again, which is shuffled once more, and a new name is popped off the end.

Secret Santa Babbage prototyping

Prototyping!

As the build was a bit of a rush job undertaken at the request of our ‘Director of Vibe’ Emily, there are a few things I’d like to improve about this functionality that I didn’t get around to — more on that later. To add some extra holiday spirit to the project at the last minute, I used Pygame to play a WAV file of Santa’s jolly laugh while Babbage chooses a name for you. The file is included in the GitHub repo along with everything else, because ‘tis the season, etc., etc.

Secret Santa Babbage prototyping

Editor’s note: Considering these desk adornments, Mark’s Secret Santa gift-giver has a lot to go on.

Writing the code for Xmas Mecha-Babbage was fairly straightforward, though it uses some tricky bits for managing the thermal printer. You’ll need to install the drivers to make it go, as well as the CUPS package for managing the print hosting. You can find instructions for these things here, thanks to the wonderful Adafruit crew. Also, for reasons I couldn’t fathom, this will all only work on a Pi 2 and not a Pi 3, as there are some compatibility issues with the thermal printer otherwise. (I also tested the script on a Pi Zero W…no dice.)

Building a Christmassy throne

The hardest (well, fiddliest) parts of making the whole build were constructing the throne and wiring the bear. Using MakerCase, Inkscape, a bit of ingenuity, and a laser cutter, I was able to rig up a Christmassy plywood throne which has a hole through the seat so I could run the wires down from Babbage and to the Pi inside. I finished the throne by rubbing a couple of fingers of beeswax into it; as well as making the wood shine just a little bit and protecting it against getting wet, this had the added bonus of making it smell awesome.

Secret Santa Babbage inside

Next year’s iteration will be mulled wine–scented.

I next soldered two LEDs to some lengths of wire, and then ran the wires through holes at the top of the throne and down the back along a small channel I had carved with a narrow chisel to connect them to the Pi’s GPIO pins. The green LED will remain on as long as Babbage is running his program, and the red one will light up while he is processing your request. Once the red LED goes off again, the next person can have a go. I also laser-cut a final piece of wood to overlay the back of Babbage’s Xmas throne and cover the wiring a bit.

Creating a Xmas cyborg bear

Taking two 6 mm tactile buttons, I clipped the spiky metal legs off one side of each (the buttons were going into a stuffed christmas toy, after all) and soldered a length of wire to each of the remaining legs. Next, I made a small incision into Babbage with my trusty Swiss army knife (in a place that actually made me cringe a little) and fed the buttons up into his paws. At some point in this process I was standing in the office wrestling with the bear and muttering to myself, which elicited some very strange looks from my colleagues.

Secret Santa Babbage throne

Poor Babbage…

One thing to note here is to make sure the wires remain attached at the solder points while you push them up into Babbage’s paws. The first time I tried it, I snapped one of my connections and had to start again. It helped to remove some stuffing like a tunnel and then replace it afterward. Moreover, you can use your fingertip to support the joints as you poke the wire in. Finally, a couple of squirts of hot glue to keep Babbage’s furry cheeks firmly on the seat, and done!

Secret Santa Babbage

Next year: Game of Thrones–inspired candy cane throne

The Secret Santa Babbage masterpiece

The whole build process was the perfect holiday mix of cheerful and macabre, and while getting the thermal printer to work was a little time-consuming, the finished product definitely raised some smiles around the office and added a bit of interesting digital flavour to a staid office tradition. And it also helped people who are new to the office or from other branches of the Foundation to know for whom they will be buying a gift.

Secret Santa Babbage

Ready to dispense Christmas cheer!

There are a few ways in which I’ll polish this project before next year, such as having the script write the names to external text files to create a record that will persist in case of a reboot, and maybe having Secret Santa Babbage play you a random Christmas carol when you squeeze his paw instead of just laughing merrily every time. (I also thought about adding electric shocks for those people who are on the naughty list, but HR said no. Bah, humbug!)

Make your own

The code and laser cut plans for the whole build are available here. If you plan to make your own, let us know which stuffed toy you will be turning into a Secret Santa cyborg! And if you’ve been working on any other Christmas-themed Raspberry Pi projects, we’d like to see those too, so tag us on social media to share the festive maker cheer.

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GPIO expander: access a Pi’s GPIO pins on your PC/Mac

Use the GPIO pins of a Raspberry Pi Zero while running Debian Stretch on a PC or Mac with our new GPIO expander software! With this tool, you can easily access a Pi Zero’s GPIO pins from your x86 laptop without using SSH, and you can also take advantage of your x86 computer’s processing power in your physical computing projects.

A Raspberry Pi zero connected to a laptop - GPIO expander

What is this magic?

Running our x86 Stretch distribution on a PC or Mac, whether installed on the hard drive or as a live image, is a great way of taking advantage of a well controlled and simple Linux distribution without the need for a Raspberry Pi.

The downside of not using a Pi, however, is that there aren’t any GPIO pins with which your Scratch or Python programs could communicate. This is a shame, because it means you are limited in your physical computing projects.

I was thinking about this while playing around with the Pi Zero’s USB booting capabilities, having seen people employ the Linux gadget USB mode to use the Pi Zero as an Ethernet device. It struck me that, using the udev subsystem, we could create a simple GUI application that automatically pops up when you plug a Pi Zero into your computer’s USB port. Then the Pi Zero could be programmed to turn into an Ethernet-connected computer running pigpio to provide you with remote GPIO pins.

So we went ahead and built this GPIO expander application, and your PC or Mac can now have GPIO pins which are accessible through Scratch or the GPIO Zero Python library. Note that you can only use this tool to access the Pi Zero.

You can also install the application on the Raspberry Pi. Theoretically, you could connect a number of Pi Zeros to a single Pi and (without a USB hub) use a maximum of 140 pins! But I’ve not tested this — one for you, I think…

Making the GPIO expander work

If you’re using a PC or Mac and you haven’t set up x86 Debian Stretch yet, you’ll need to do that first. An easy way to do it is to download a copy of the Stretch release from this page and image it onto a USB stick. Boot from the USB stick (on most computers, you just need to press F10 during booting and select the stick when asked), and then run Stretch directly from the USB key. You can also install it to the hard drive, but be aware that installing it will overwrite anything that was on your hard drive before.

Whether on a Mac, PC, or Pi, boot through to the Stretch desktop, open a terminal window, and install the GPIO expander application:

sudo apt install usbbootgui

Next, plug in your Raspberry Pi Zero (don’t insert an SD card), and after a few seconds the GUI will appear.

A screenshot of the GPIO expander GUI

The Raspberry Pi USB programming GUI

Select GPIO expansion board and click OK. The Pi Zero will now be programmed as a locally connected Ethernet port (if you run ifconfig, you’ll see the new interface usb0 coming up).

What’s really cool about this is that your plugged-in Pi Zero is now running pigpio, which allows you to control its GPIOs through the network interface.

With Scratch 2

To utilise the pins with Scratch 2, just click on the start bar and select Programming > Scratch 2.

In Scratch, click on More Blocks, select Add an Extension, and then click Pi GPIO.

Two new blocks will be added: the first is used to set the output pin, the second is used to get the pin value (it is true if the pin is read high).

This a simple application using a Pibrella I had hanging around:

A screenshot of a Scratch 2 program - GPIO expander

With Python

This is a Python example using the GPIO Zero library to flash an LED:

pi@raspberrypi:~ $ export GPIOZERO_PIN_FACTORY=pigpio
pi@raspberrypi:~ $ export PIGPIO_ADDR=fe80::1%usb0
pi@raspberrypi:~ $ python3
>>> from gpiozero import LED
>>> led = LED(17)
>>> led.blink()
A Raspberry Pi zero connected to a laptop - GPIO expander

The pinout command line tool is your friend

Note that in the code above the IP address of the Pi Zero is an IPv6 address and is shortened to fe80::1%usb0, where usb0 is the network interface created by the first Pi Zero.

With pigs directly

Another option you have is to use the pigpio library and the pigs application and redirect the output to the Pi Zero network port running IPv6. To do this, you’ll first need to set some environment variable for the redirection:

pi@raspberrypi:~ $ export PIGPIO_ADDR=fe80::1%usb0
pi@raspberrypi:~ $ pigs bc2 0x8000
pi@raspberrypi:~ $ pigs bs2 0x8000

With the commands above, you should be able to flash the LED on the Pi Zero.

The secret sauce

I know there’ll be some people out there who would be interested in how we put this together. And I’m sure many people are interested in the ‘buildroot’ we created to run on the Pi Zero — after all, there are lots of things you can create if you’ve got a Pi Zero on the end of a piece of IPv6 string! For a closer look, find the build scripts for the GPIO expander here and the source code for the USB boot GUI here.

And be sure to share your projects built with the GPIO expander by tagging us on social media or posting links in the comments!

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