Author Archives: Alex Bate

Barbot 4: the bartending Grandfather clock

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Meet Barbot 4, the drink-dispensing Grandfather clock who knows when it’s time to party.

Barbot 4. Grandfather Time (first video of cocktail robot)

The first introduction to my latest barbot – this time made inside a grandfather clock. There is another video where I explain a bit about how it works, and am happy to give more explanations. https://youtu.be/hdxV_KKH5MA This can make cocktails with up to 4 spirits, and 4 mixers, and is controlled by voice, keyboard input, or a gui, depending which is easiest.

Barbot 4

Robert Prest’s Barbot 4 is a beverage dispenser loaded into an old Grandfather clock. There’s space in the back for your favourite spirits and mixers, and a Raspberry Pi controls servo motors that release the required measures of your favourite cocktail ingredients, according to preset recipes.

Barbot 4 Raspberry Pi drink-dispensing robot

The clock can hold four mixers and four spirits, and a human supervisor records these using Drinkydoodad, a friendly touchscreen interface. With information about its available ingredients and a library of recipes, Barbot 4 can create your chosen drink. Patrons control the system either with voice commands or with the touchscreen UI.

Barbot 4 Raspberry Pi drink-dispensing robot

Robert has experimented with various components as this project has progressed. He has switched out peristaltic pumps in order to increase the flow of liquid, and adjusted the motors so that they can handle carbonated beverages. In the video, he highlights other quirks he hopes to address, like the fact that drinks tend to splash during pouring.

Barbot 4 Raspberry Pi drink-dispensing robot

As well as a Raspberry Pi, the build uses Arduinos. These control the light show, which can be adjusted according to your party-time lighting preferences.

An explanation of the build accompanies Robert’s second video. We’re hoping he’ll also release more details of Barbot 3, his suitcase-sized, portable Barbot, and of Doom Shot Bot, a bottle topper that pours a shot every time you die in the game DoomZ.

Automated bartending

Barbot 4 isn’t the first cocktail-dispensing Raspberry Pi bartender we’ve seen, though we have to admit that fitting it into a grandfather clock definitely makes it one of the quirkiest.

If you’ve built a similar project using a Raspberry Pi, we’d love to see it. Share your project in the comments, or tell us what drinks you’d ask Barbot to mix if you had your own at home.

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Community Profile: Dr. Lucy Rogers

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This column is from The MagPi issue 58. You can download a PDF of the full issue for free, or subscribe to receive the print edition through your letterbox or the digital edition on your tablet. All proceeds from the print and digital editions help the Raspberry Pi Foundation achieve our charitable goals.

Dr Lucy Rogers calls herself a Transformer. “I transform simple electronics into cool gadgets, I transform science into plain English, I transform problems into opportunities. I am also a catalyst. I am interested in everything around me, and can often see ways of putting two ideas from very different fields together into one package. If I cannot do this myself, I connect the people who can.”

Dr Lucy Rogers Raspberry Pi The MagPi Community Profile

Among many other projects, Dr Lucy Rogers currently focuses much of her attention on reducing the damage from space debris

It’s a pretty wide range of interests and skills for sure. But it only takes a brief look at Lucy’s résumé to realise that she means it. When she says she’s interested in everything around her, this interest reaches from electronics to engineering, wearable tech, space, robotics, and robotic dinosaurs. And she can be seen talking about all of these things across various companies’ social media, such as IBM, websites including the Women’s Engineering Society, and books, including her own.

Dr Lucy Rogers Raspberry Pi The MagPi Community Profile

With her bright LED boots, Lucy was one of the wonderful Pi community members invited to join us and HRH The Duke of York at St James’s Palace just over a year ago

When not attending conferences as guest speaker, tinkering with electronics, or creating engaging IoT tutorials, she can be found retrofitting Raspberry Pis into the aforementioned robotic dinosaurs at Blackgang Chine Land of Imagination, writing, and judging battling bots for the BBC’s Robot Wars.

Dr Lucy Rogers Raspberry Pi The MagPi Community Profile

First broadcast in the UK between 1998 and 2004, Robot Wars was revived in 2016 with a new look and new judges, including Dr Lucy Rogers. Competitors battle their home-brew robots, and Lucy, together with the other two judges, awards victories among the carnage of robotic remains

Lucy graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. After that, she spent seven years at Rolls-Royce Industrial Power Group as a graduate trainee before becoming a chartered engineer and earning her PhD in bubbles.

Bubbles?

“Foam formation in low‑expansion fire-fighting equipment. I investigated the equipment to determine how the bubbles were formed,” she explains. Obviously. Bubbles!

Dr Lucy Rogers Raspberry Pi The MagPi Community Profile

Lucy graduated from the Singularity University Graduate Studies Program in 2011, focusing on how robotics, nanotech, medicine, and various technologies can tackle the challenges facing the world

She then went on to become a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) in 2005 and, later, a fellow of both the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and British Interplanetary Society. As a member of the Association of British Science Writers, Lucy wrote It’s ONLY Rocket Science: an Introduction in Plain English.

Dr Lucy Rogers Raspberry Pi The MagPi Community Profile

In It’s Only Rocket Science: An Introduction in Plain English Lucy explains that ‘hard to understand’ isn’t the same as ‘impossible to understand’, and takes her readers through the journey of building a rocket, leaving Earth, and travelling the cosmos

As a standout member of the industry, and all-round fun person to be around, Lucy has quickly established herself as a valued member of the Pi community.

In 2014, with the help of Neil Ford and Andy Stanford-Clark, Lucy worked with the UK’s oldest amusement park, Blackgang Chine Land of Imagination, on the Isle of Wight, with the aim of updating its animatronic dinosaurs. The original Blackgang Chine dinosaurs had a limited range of behaviour: able to roar, move their heads, and stomp a foot in a somewhat repetitive action.

When she contacted Raspberry Pi back in the November of that same year, the team were working on more creative, varied behaviours, giving each dinosaur a new Raspberry Pi-sized brain. This later evolved into a very successful dino-hacking Raspberry Jam.

Dr Lucy Rogers Raspberry Pi The MagPi Community Profile

Lucy, Neil Ford, and Andy Stanford-Clark used several Raspberry Pis and Node-RED to visualise flows of events when updating the robotic dinosaurs at Blackgang Chine. They went on to create the successful WightPi Raspberry Jam event, where visitors could join in with the unique hacking opportunity.

Given her love for tinkering with tech, and a love for stand-up comedy that can be uncovered via a quick YouTube search, it’s no wonder that Lucy was asked to help judge the first round of the ‘Make us laugh’ Pioneers challenge for Raspberry Pi. Alongside comedian Bec Hill, Code Club UK director Maria Quevedo, and the face of the first challenge, Owen Daughtery, Lucy lent her expertise to help name winners in the various categories of the teens event, and offered her support to future Pioneers.

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Spiegelbilder Studio’s giant CRT video walls

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After getting in contact with us to share their latest build with us, we invited Matvey Fridman of Germany-based production company Spiegelbilder Studio to write a guest blog post about their CRT video walls created for the band STRANDKØNZERT.

STRANDKØNZERT – TAGTRAUMER – OFFICIAL VIDEO

GERMAN DJENT RAP / EST. 2017. COMPLETE DIY-PROJECT.

CRT video wall

About a year ago, we had the idea of building a huge video wall out of old TVs to use in a music video. It took some time, but half a year later we found ourselves in a studio actually building this thing using 30 connected computers, 24 of which were Raspberry Pis.

STRANDKØNZERT CRT video wall Raspberry Pi

How we did it

After weeks and months of preproduction and testing, we decided on two consecutive days to build the wall, create the underlying IP network, run a few tests, and then film the artists’ performance in front of it. We actually had 32 Pis (a mixed bag of first, second, and third generation models) and even more TVs ready to go, since we didn’t know what the final build would actually look like. We ended up using 29 separate screens of various sizes hooked up to 24 separate Pis — the remaining five TVs got a daisy-chained video signal out of other monitors for a cool effect. Each Pi had to run a free software called PiWall.

STRANDKØNZERT CRT video wall Raspberry Pi

Since the TVs only had analogue video inputs, we had to get special composite breakout cables and then adapt the RCA connectors to either SCART, S-Video, or BNC.

STRANDKØNZERT CRT video wall Raspberry Pi

As soon as we had all of that running, we connected every Pi to a 48-port network switch that we’d hooked up to a Windows PC acting as a DHCP server to automatically assign IP addresses and handle the multicast addressing. To make remote control of the Raspberry Pis easier, a separate master Linux PC and two MacBook laptops, each with SSH enabled and a Samba server running, joined the network as well.

STRANDKØNZERT CRT video wall Raspberry Pi

The MacBook laptops were used to drop two files containing the settings on each Pi. The .pitile file was unique to every Pi and contained their respective IDs. The .piwall file contained the same info for all Pis: the measurements and positions of every single screen to help the software split up the video signal coming in through the network. After every Pi got the command to start the PiWall software, which specifies the UDP multicast address and settings to be used to receive the video stream, the master Linux PC was tasked with streaming the video file to these UDP addresses. Now every TV was showing its section of the video, and we could begin filming.

STRANDKØNZERT CRT video wall Raspberry Pi

The whole process and the contents of the files and commands are summarised in the infographic below. A lot of trial and error was involved in the making of this project, but it all worked out well in the end. We hope you enjoy the craft behind the music video even though the music is not for everybody ;)

PiWall_Infographic

You can follow Spiegelbilder Studio on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And if you enjoyed the music video, be sure to follow STRANDKØNZERT too.

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Raspberry Pi Spy’s Alexa Skill

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With Raspberry Pi projects using home assistant services such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home becoming more and more popular, we invited Raspberry Pi maker Matt ‘Raspberry Pi Spy‘ Hawkins to write a guest post about his latest project, the Pi Spy Alexa Skill.

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

Pi Spy Skill

The Alexa system uses Skills to provide voice-activated functionality, and it allows you to create new Skills to add extra features. With the Pi Spy Skill, you can ask Alexa what function each pin on the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO header provides, for example by using the phrase “Alexa, ask Pi Spy what is Pin 2.” In response to a phrase such as “Alexa, ask Pi Spy where is GPIO 8”, Alexa can now also tell you on which pin you can find a specific GPIO reference number.

This information is already available in various forms, but I thought it would be useful to retrieve it when I was busy soldering or building circuits and had no hands free.

Creating an Alexa Skill

There is a learning curve to creating a new Skill, and in some regards it was similar to mobile app development.

A Skill consists of two parts: the first is created within the Amazon Developer Console and defines the structure of the voice commands Alexa should recognise. The second part is a webservice that can receive data extracted from the voice commands and provide a response back to the device. You can create the webservice on a webserver, internet-connected device, or cloud service.

I decided to use Amazon’s AWS Lambda service. Once set up, this allows you to write code without having to worry about the server it is running on. It also supports Python, so it fit in nicely with most of my other projects.

To get started, I logged into the Amazon Developer Console with my personal Amazon account and navigated to the Alexa section. I created a new Skill named Pi Spy. Within a Skill, you define an Intent Schema and some Sample Utterances. The schema defines individual intents, and the utterances define how these are invoked by the user.

Here is how my ExaminePin intent is defined in the schema:

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

Example utterances then attempt to capture the different phrases the user might speak to their device.

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

Whenever Alexa matches a spoken phrase to an utterance, it passes the name of the intent and the variable PinID to the webservice.

In the test section, you can check what JSON data will be generated and passed to your webservice in response to specific phrases. This allows you to verify that the webservices’ responses are correct.

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

Over on the AWS Services site, I created a Lambda function based on one of the provided examples to receive the incoming requests. Here is the section of that code which deals with the ExaminePin intent:

Pi Spy Alexa Skill Raspberry Pi

For this intent, I used a Python dictionary to match the incoming pin number to its description. Another Python function deals with the GPIO queries. A URL to this Lambda function was added to the Skill as its ‘endpoint’.

As with the Skill, the Python code can be tested to iron out any syntax errors or logic problems.

With suitable configuration, it would be possible to create the webservice on a Pi, and that is something I’m currently working on. This approach is particularly interesting, as the Pi can then be used to control local hardware devices such as cameras, lights, or pet feeders.

Note

My Alexa Skill is currently only available to UK users. I’m hoping Amazon will choose to copy it to the US service, but I think that is down to its perceived popularity, or it may be done in bulk based on release date. In the next update, I’ll be adding an American English version to help speed up this process.

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e-paper pocket money tracker using Monzo pots

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Jason Barnett used the pots feature of the Monzo banking API to create a simple e-paper display so that his kids can keep track of their pocket money.

Monzo ePaper Pot Jason Barnett Raspberry Pi

Monzo

For those outside the UK: Monzo is a smartphone-based bank that allows costumers to manage their money and payment cards via an app, removing the bank clerk middleman.

In the Monzo banking app, users can set up pots, which allow them to organise their money into various, you guessed it, pots. You want to put aside holiday funds, budget your food shopping, or, like Jason, manage your kids’ pocket money? Using pots is an easy way to do it.

Jason’s Monzo Pot ePaper tracker

After failed attempts at keeping track of his sons’ pocket money via a scrap of paper stuck to the fridge, Jason decided to try a new approach.

He started his build by installing Stretch Lite to the SD card of his Raspberry Pi Zero W. “The Pi will be running headless (without screen, mouse or keyboard)”, he explains on his blog, “so there is no need for a full-fat Raspbian image.” While Stretch Lite was downloading, he set up the Waveshare ePaper HAT on his Zero W. He notes that Pimoroni’s “Inky pHAT would be easiest,” but his tutorial is specific to the Waveshare device.

Monzo ePaper Pot Jason Barnett Raspberry Pi

Before ejecting the SD card, Jason updated the boot partition to allow him to access the Pi via SSH. He talks makers through that process here.

Among the libraries he installed for the project is pyMonzo, a Python wrapper for the Monzo API created by Paweł Adamczak. Monzo is still in its infancy, and the API is partly under construction. Until it’s completed, Paweł’s wrapper offers a more stable way to use it.

After installing the software, it was time to set up the e-paper screen for the tracker. Jason adjusted the code for the API so that the screen reloads information every 15 minutes, displaying the up-to-date amount of pocket money in both kids’ pots.

Here is how Jason describes going to the supermarket with his sons, now that he has completed the tracker:

“Daddy, I want (insert first thing picked up here), I’ve always wanted one of these my whole life!” […] Even though you have never seen that (insert thing here) before, I can quickly open my Monzo app, flick to Account, and say “You have £3.50 in your money box”. If my boy wants it, a 2-second withdrawal is made whilst queueing, and done — he walks away with a new (again, insert whatever he wanted his whole life here) and is happy!

Jason’s blog offers a full breakdown of his project, including all necessary code and the specs for the physical build. Be sure to head over and check it out.

Have you used an API in your projects? What would you build with one?

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facepunch: the facial recognition punch clock

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Get on board with facial recognition and clock your screen time with facepunch, the facial recognition punch clock from dekuNukem.

dekuNukem facepunch raspberry pi facial recognition

image c/o dekuNukem

How it works

dekuNukem uses a Raspberry Pi 3, the Raspberry Pi camera module, and an OLED screen for the build. You don’t strictly need to include the OLED board, but it definitely adds to the overall effect, letting you view your daily and weekly screen time at a glance without having to access your Raspberry Pi for data.

As dekuNukem explains in the GitHub repo for the build, they used a perf board to mount the screen and attached it to the Raspberry Pi. This is a nice, simple means of pulling the whole project together without loose wires or the need for a modified case.

dekuNukem facepunch raspberry pi facial recognition

image c/o dekuNukem

This face_recognition library lets the Pi + camera register your face. You’ll also need a well lit 400×400 photograph of yourself to act as a reference for the library. From there, a few commands should get you started.

Uses for facial recognition

You could simply use facepunch for its intended purpose, but here at Pi Towers we’ve been discussing further uses for the build. We’re all guilty of sitting for too long at our desks, so why not incorporate a “get up and walk around” notification? How about a flashing LED that tells you to “drink some water”? You could even go a little deeper (though possibly a little Big Brother) and set up an “I’m back at my desk” notification on Slack, to let your colleagues know you’re available.

You could also take this foray into facial recognition and incorporate it into home automation projects: a user-identifying Magic Mirror, perhaps, or a doorbell that recognises friends and family.

What would you do with facial recognition on a Raspberry Pi?

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