University of York: Raspberry Pi Challenge 2015

For the last three years I’ve been visiting the University of York Computer Science building on the last day of Freshers’ Week to see what the new entrants have been doing with Raspberry Pi.

York is using the Pi to help get the students started with computing (for those whose contact has been limited to tablets and desktops!) before they get to university: every year, they send a free Raspberry Pi to their new undergraduates who are about to start a Computer Science course, and support them to prepare for the Raspberry Pi Challenge. It also forms a great social event which gets the computer science students together (along with beery delights) to fight it out in the Pi Squared arena!

Raspberry Pi Challenge at York 3.0 2015

We’ve just held our third Raspberry Pi Challenge at York. Our new undergraduates receive a free Raspberry Pi when they confirm their place at York and have a month to do something creative or take part in our knock out competition. Here’s what happened in 2015. Would you like to take part in 2016?

Last year they used a version of Battleships to compete, but this year they’ve changed to Squares. One of the great things about this game is that the simplest few lines of code can make a huge difference over the random player (simply iterating through all possible ‘walls’ and drawing one if it closes a box is a big improvement on drawing walls at random), but there is much more that can be done to improve and optimise the strategy (there is a time limit per move, so you are a little limited!).

If you’re interested in playing the game and writing an implementation yourself (or if you’re another university and you’d like to compete against York’s outstanding undergraduates), the code and documentation is all freely available on GitHub:


PiSquare – This is a python template allowing two Raspberry Pis to play against each other in a variant of the classic game “dots and boxes”. The game was used in the University of York Raspberry Pi challenge 2015.

As an alternative challenge, there is also the chance to compete in Blue Pi Thinking, which is an opportunity for the students to create something ingenious using a Raspberry Pi. The results from this project have been quite amazing.

One student created a tabletop food ordering system using the Raspberry Pi touch display. The idea is that the screen is embedded into the table at a fast food restaurant, and you can order your food and pay for it using NFC without actually having to leave your table! I can’t wait to see the first fast food joint with fully integrated Raspberry Pi shopping!

Another student wanted to create a pill diary system for an elderly relative. Here the central idea was to create a simple schedule for the pills which would beep or flash when it was time to take a pill. It also would have the ability to take a photo or a time-lapse video, so a family member or carer could check they were being taken correctly.

University of York Computer Science Raspberry Pi Challenge: an undergrad works on his entry to recreate photographed objects in Minecraft

The picture above is from one student who connected his camera to the Pi. His system would take a photo of a scene from four sides, and then recreate the object in Minecraft!

University of York Computer Science Raspberry Pi Challenge: an undergrad tests his entry to map the mood of Twitter on a map of the UK

The project shown above was created to map the mood of the UK. It took Twitter feeds from around the country and used various recurring words and phrases to decide on the mood of people from different places, then displayed them on a map of the UK with different colours to indicate the mood.

University of York Computer Science Raspberry Pi Challenge: an entry to use Raspberry Pi to control solar tracking in a solar panel installation

Lastly, a project to demonstrate how a Raspberry Pi can be used to control a solar panel installation and track the sun!

Read more about the Raspberry Pi Challenge from York’s Department of Computer Science. They’re already thinking ahead to next year’s Challenge with a new group of first-year undergraduates – I can’t wait to see what the next lot get up to!