The Sense HAT: headgear for the terminally curious

Having looked at the chunky outside goodness of the Astro Pi case yesterday it seems only fair to take another look at the heart of the Astro Pi, the Sense HAT. (This is not a conical cap that you put on the really clever kid and stand him in the corner but our add-on board for the Pi bristling with sensors and other useful things.) It’s currently going out to schools and organisations who took part in our recent competition but we also plan to sell it.

A Raspberry Pi wearing a Sense HAT

A Raspberry Pi wearing a Sense HAT

The full tech specs are here but basically it has:

  • 8×8 LED matrix display
  • accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer
  • air pressure sensor
  • temperature and humidity sensor
  • a teeny joystick

The Astro Pi site explains what these all do and how they could be used.

I’m really excited about the Sense HAT. With all of those sensors on a single board it’s obviously a brilliant tool for making stuff (I have in mind a self-balancing attack robot that senses humans, aggressively hunts them down and then gently dispenses Wagon Wheels from its slot-like mouth). But it’s the potential for science that’s making me think. In particular I’d love to see it flourish in the science classroom.

A typical school science classroom

A typical school science classroom

Despite the teacher recruitment ads that inevitably show zany antics with Van de Graaff generators, explosions and dancing bonobos the reality is that much of high school science is about experimentation and observation (which is a good thing!). But lab kit such as sensors, controllers and data loggers don’t come cheap (I was once told by a class that their usual science teacher never let them use the data loggers because “they were too expensive). Nor is it easy to get bits of kit to talk to each other or the Internet of Things (with the potential benefits that come from that such as improved assessment, parental involvement, sharing and consolidating data).

data logger

A data logger I found in a school skip. The size of a cash register yet only logs temperature. On paper.

A Pi wearing a Sense HAT could do everything from monitoring plant growth to controlling and logging experimental variables. A series of experiments using the accelerometer/gyroscope to investigate forces and equations of motion is mandatory. Feel free to add your own ideas below and if any science teachers would like to get involved the please get in touch.

If you are lucky enough to already have a Sense HAT, Martin “When does that man sleep?” O’Hanlon has written an excellent getting started tutorial . If not then it’s worth taking a look anyway to get a sense (yeah, yeah :)) of what it can do.

Astro Pi sense HAT LED

Up above the streets and the houses, Sense HAT climbing high. (Photo: Martin O’Hanlon @martinohanlon)

The final price is yet to be announced but we’re confident that there will be nothing else out there to rival it for value, potential, support and resources. Keep your eyes peeled for more news on the Sense HAT soon.