Author Archives: Alex Bate

Bringing a book to life with Raspberry Pi | Hello World #9

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Sian Wheatcroft created an interactive story display to enable children to explore her picture book This Bear, That Bear. She explains the project, and her current work in teaching, in the newest issue of Hello World magazine, available now.

The task of promoting my first children’s picture book, This Bear, That Bear, was a daunting one. At the time, I wasn’t a teacher and the thought of standing in front of assembly halls and classrooms sounded terrifying. As well as reading the book to the children, I wanted to make my events interactive using physical computing, showing a creative side to coding and enabling a story to come to life in a different way than what the children would typically see, i.e. animated retellings.

The plan

Coming from a tech-loving family, I naturally gravitated towards the Raspberry Pi, and found out about Bare Conductive and their PiCap. I first envisaged using their conductive paint on the canvas, enabling users to touch the paint to interact with the piece. It would be some sort of scene from the book, bringing some of the characters to life. I soon scrapped that idea, as I discovered that simply using copper tape on the back of the canvas was conductive enough, which also allowed me to add colour to the piece.

I enlisted the help of my two sons (two and five at the time) — they gladly supplied their voices to some of the bears and, my personal favourite on the canvas, the ghost. The final design features characters from the book — when children touch certain areas of the canvas, they hear the voices of the characters.

The back of the canvas, covered in copper tape

Getting the project up and running went pretty smoothly. I do regret making the piece so large, though, as it proved difficult to transport across the country, especially on the busy London Underground!

Interactivity and props

The project added a whole other layer to the events I was taking part in. In schools, I would read the book and have props for the children to wear, allowing them to act out the book as I read aloud. The canvas then added further interaction, and it surprised me how excited the children were about it. They were also really curious and wanted to know how it worked. I enjoyed showing them the back of the canvas with all its copper tape and crocodile clips. They were amazed by the fact it was all run on the Raspberry Pi — such a tiny computer!

The front of the interactive canvas

Fast-forward a few years, and I now find myself in the classroom full-time as a newly qualified teacher. The canvas has recently moved out of the classroom cupboard into my newly developed makerspace, in the hope of a future project being born.

I teach in Year 3, so coding in Python or using the command line on Raspbian may be a little beyond my students. However, I have a keen interest in project-based learning and am hoping to incorporate a host of cross-curricular activities with my students involving the canvas.

I hope to instil a love for digital making in my students and, in turn, show senior leaders what can be done with such equipment and projects.

A literacy project

This work really lends itself to a literacy project that other educators could try. Perhaps you’re reading a picture book or a more text-based piece: why not get the students to design the canvas using characters from the story? The project would also work equally well with foundation subjects like History or Science. Children could gather information onto the canvas, explaining how something works or how something happened. The age of the children would influence the level of involvement they had in the rest of the project’s creation. The back end could be pre-made — older children could help with the copper tape and wiring, while younger children could stop at the design process.

Part of the project is getting the children to create sounds to go with their design, enabling deeper thinking about a story or topic.

It’s about a collaborative process with the teacher and students, followed by the sharing of their creation with the broader school community.

Get Hello World magazine issue 9 for free

The brand-new issue of Hello World is available right now as a free PDF download from the Hello World website.

UK-based educators can also subscribe to receive Hello World as printed magazine FOR FREE, direct to their door. And those outside the UK, educator or not, can subscribe to receive free digital issues of Hello World in their inbox on the day of their release.

Head to helloworld.raspberrypi.org to sign up today!

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Saving biologists’ time with Raspberry Pi

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In an effort to save themselves and fellow biologists hours of time each week, Team IoHeat are currently prototyping a device that allows solutions to be heated while they are still in cold storage.

The IoHeat team didn’t provide any photos with their project writeup, so here’s a picture of a bored biologist that I found online

Saving time in the lab

As they explain in their prototype write-up:

As scientists working with living organisms (from single cells to tissue samples), we are often required to return to work outside of normal hours to maintain our specimens. In many cases, the compounds and solutions we are using in our line of work are stored at 4°C and need to reach 37°C before they can be used. So far, in order to do this we need to return to our workplace early, incubate our solutions at 37°C for 1–2h, depending on the required volume, and then use them in processes that often take a few minutes. It is clear that there is a lot of room here to improve our efficiency.

Controlling temperatures with Raspberry Pi

These hours wasted on waiting for solutions to heat up could be better spent elsewhere, so the team is building a Raspberry Pi–powered device that will allow them to control the heating process remotely.

We are aiming to built a small incubator that we can store in a cold room/fridge, and that can be activated remotely to warm up to a defined temperature. This incubator will enable us to safely store our reagents at low temperature and warm them up remotely before we need to use them, saving an estimate of 12h per week per user.

This is a great project idea, and they’ve already prototyped it using a Raspberry Pi, heating element, and fan. Temperature and humidity sensors connected to the Raspberry Pi monitor conditions inside the incubator, and the prototype can be controlled via Telegram.

Find out more about the project on Hackster.

We’ve got more than one biologist on the Raspberry Pi staff, so we have a personal appreciation for the effort behind this project, and we look forward to seeing how IoHeat progresses in the future.

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Good Buoy: the Raspberry Pi Smart Buoy

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As their new YouTube video shows, the team at T3ch Flicks have been hard at work, designing and prototyping a smart buoy for marine conservation research.

Smart-Buoy Series [Summary]

We all love the seaside, right? Whether that’s the English seaside with ice creams and muddy piers or the Caribbean, with white sand beaches fringed by palm trees, people flock to the coast for a bit of rest and relaxation, to enjoy water sports or to make their livelihood.

What does a smart buoy do?

“The sensors onboard the smart buoy enable it to measure wave height, wave period, wave power, water temperature, air temperature, air pressure, voltage, current usage and GPS location,” explain T3ch Flicks on their project tutorial page. “All the data the buoy collects is sent via radio to a base station, which is a Raspberry Pi. We made a dashboard to display them using Vue JS.”

But why build a smart buoy to begin with? “The coast is a dynamic area at the mercy of waves. Rising sea levels nibble at beaches and powerful extreme events like hurricanes completely decimate them,” they go on to explain. “To understand how to save them, we need to understand the forces driving their change.”

The 3D-printed casing of the smaert buoy with tech inside

It’s a pretty big ask of a 3D-printed dome but, with the aid of an on-board Raspberry Pi, Arduino and multiple sensors, their project was a resounding success. So much so that the Grenadian government gave the team approval to set the buoy free along their coast, and even made suggestions of how the project could be improved to aid them in their own research – pretty cool, right?

The smart buoy out at sea along the Grenada coast

The project uses a lot of tech. A lot. So, instead of listing it here, why not head over to the hackster.io project page, where you’ll find all the ingredients you need to build your own smart buoy.

Good luck to the T3ch Flicks team. We look forward to seeing how the project develops.

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Raspberry Pi mineral oil tank with added pizzazz

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This isn’t the first mineral oil bath we’ve seen for the Raspberry Pi, but it’s definitely the first we’ve seen with added fish tank decorations.

Using the see-through casing of an old Apple PowerMac G4, Reddit user u/mjh2901 decided to build a mineral oil tank for their Raspberry Pi, and it looks fabulous. Renamed Apple Pi, this use of mineral oil is a technique used by some to manage the heat produced by tech. Oil is able to transfer heat up to five times more efficiently than air, with some mineral oil projects using a separate radiator to dissipate the heat back into the air.

So, how did they do it?

“Started with a PowerMac G4 case I previously used as a fish tank, then a candy dish. I had cut a piece of acrylic and glued it into the bottom.”

They then placed a Raspberry Pi 3 attached to a 2-line 16 character LCD into the tank, along with various decorations, and began to fill with store-bought mineral oil. Once full, the project was complete, the Raspberry Pi forever submerged.

You can find more photos here. But, one question still remains…

…who would use an old fish tank as a candy bowl?! 🤢

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Hack your old Raspberry Pi case for the Raspberry Pi 4

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Hack your existing Raspberry Pi case to fit the layout of your new Raspberry Pi 4, with this handy “How to hack your existing Raspberry Pi case to fit the layout of your new Raspberry Pi 4” video!

Hack your old Raspberry Pi case to fit your Raspberry Pi 4

Hack your existing official Raspberry Pi case to fit the new Raspberry Pi 4, or treat yourself to the new official Raspberry Pi 4 case. The decision is yours!

How to hack your official Raspberry Pi case

  1. Take your old Raspberry Pi out of its case.
  2. Spend a little time reminiscing about all the fun times you had together.
  3. Reassure your old Raspberry Pi that this isn’t the end, and that it’ll always have a special place in your heart.
  4. Remember that one particular time – you know the one; wipe a loving tear from your eye.
  5. Your old Raspberry Pi loves you. It’s always been there for you. Why are you doing this?
  6. Look at the case. Look at it. Look how well it fits your old Raspberry Pi. Those fine, smooth edges; that perfect white and red combination. The three of you – this case, your old Raspberry Pi, and you – you make such a perfect team. You’re brilliant.
  7. Look at your new Raspberry Pi 4. Yes, it’s new, and faster, and stronger, but this isn’t about all that. This is about all you’ve gone through with your old Raspberry Pi. You’re just not ready to say goodbye. Not yet.
  8. Put your buddy, the old Raspberry Pi, back in its case and set it aside. There are still projects you can work on together; this is not the end. No, not at all.
  9. In fact, why do you keep calling it your old Raspberry Pi? There’s nothing old about it. It still works; it still does the job. Sure, your Raspberry Pi 4 can do things that this one can’t, and you’re looking forward to trying them out, but that doesn’t make this one redundant. Heck, if we went around replacing older models with newer ones all the time, Grandma would be 24 years old and you’d not get any of her amazing Sunday dinners, and you do love her honey-glazed parsnips.
  10. Turn to your new Raspberry Pi 4 and introduce yourself. It’s not its fault that you’re having a temporary crisis. It hasn’t done anything wrong. So take some time to really get to know your new friend.
  11. New friendships take time, and fresh beginnings, dare we say it…deserve new cases.
  12. Locate your nearest Raspberry Pi Approved Reseller and purchase the new Raspberry Pi 4 case, designed especially to make your new Raspberry Pi comfortable and secure.
  13. Reflect that this small purchase of a new case will support the charitable work of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Enjoy a little warm glow inside. You did good today.
  14. Turn to your old keyboard

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Record the last seven seconds of everything you see

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Have you ever witnessed something marvellous but, by the time you get your camera out to record it, the moment has passed? ‘s Film in the Past hat-mounted camera is here to save the day!

Record the past

As 18-year-old student Johan explains, “Imagine you are walking in the street and you see a meteorite in the sky – obviously you don’t have time to take your phone to film it.” While I haven’t seen many meteorites in the sky, I have found myself wishing I’d had a camera to hand more than once in my life – usually when a friend trips over or says something ridiculous. “Fortunately after the passage of the meteorite, you just have to press a button on the hat and the camera will record the last 7 seconds”, Johan continues. “Then you can download the video from an application on your phone.”

Johan’s project, Film in the Past, consists of a Raspberry Pi 3 with USB camera attached, mounted to the peak of a baseball cap.

The camera is always on, and, at the press of a button, will save the last seven seconds of footage to the Raspberry Pi. You can then access the saved footage from an application on your smartphone. It’s a bit like the video capture function on the Xbox One or, as I like to call it, the option to record hilarious glitches during gameplay. But, unlike the Xbox One, it’s a lot easier to get the footage off the Raspberry Pi and onto your phone.

Fancy building your own? The full Python code for the project can be downloaded via GitHub, and more information can be found on Instructables and Johan’s website.

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