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

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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?

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