Author Archives: Ashley Whittaker

Raspberry Pi reaches more schools in rural Togo

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We’ve been following the work of Dominique Laloux since he first got in touch with us in May 2013 ahead of leaving to spend a year in Togo. 75% of teachers in the region where he would be working had never used a computer before 2012, so he saw an opportunity to introduce Raspberry Pi and get some training set up.

We were so pleased to receive another update this year about Dominique and his Togolese team’s work. This has grown to become INITIC, a non-profit organisation that works to install low cost, low power consumption, low maintenance computer rooms in rural schools in Togo. The idea for the acronym came from the organisation’s focus on the INItiation of young people to ICT (TIC in French).

Visit the INTIC website to learn more

The story so far

INITIC’s first computer room was installed in Tokpli, Togo, way back in 2012. It was a small room (see the photo on the left below) donated by an agricultural association and renovated by a team of villagers.

Fast forward to 2018, and INTIC had secured its own building (photo on the right above). It has a dedicated a Raspberry Pi Room, as well as a multipurpose room and another small technical room. Young people from local schools, as well as those in neighbouring villages, have access to the facilities.

The first dedicated Raspberry Pi Room in Togo was at the Collège (secondary school) in the town of Kuma Adamé. It was equipped with 21 first-generation Raspberry Pis, which stood up impressively against humid and dusty conditions.

In 2019, Kpodzi High School also got its own Raspberry Pi Room, equipped with 22 Raspberry Pi workstations. Once the projector, laser printer, and scanners are in place, the space will also be used for electronics, Arduino, and programming workshops.

What’s the latest?

Ready for the unveiling…

Now we find ourselves in 2020 and INTIC is still growing. Young people in the bountiful, but inaccessible, village of Danyi Dzogbégan now have access to 20 Raspberry Pi workstations (plus one for the teacher). They have been using them for learning since January this year.

We can’t wait to see what Dominique and his team have up their sleeve next. You can help INTIC reach more young people in rural Togo by donating computer equipment, by helping teachers get lesson materials together, or through a volunteer stay at one of their facilities. Find out more here.

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Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera takes photos through thousands of straws

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Adrian Hanft is our favourite kind of maker: weird. He’s also the guy who invented the Lego camera, 16 years ago. This time, he spent more than a year creating what he describes as “one of the strangest cameras you may ever hear about.”

What? Looks normal from here. Massive, but normal

What’s with all the straws?

OK, here’s why it’s weird: it takes photos with a Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera through a ‘lens’ of tiny drinking straws packed together. 23,248 straws, to be exact, are inside the wooden box-shaped bit of the machine above. The camera itself sits at the slim end of the black and white part. The Raspberry Pi, power bank, and controller all sit on top of the wooden box full of straws.

Here’s what an image of Yoda looks like, photographed through that many straws:

Mosaic, but make it techy

Ground glass lenses

The concept isn’t as easy as it may look. As you can see from the images below, if you hold up a load of straws, you can only see the light through a few of them. Adrian turned to older technology for a solution, taking a viewfinder from an old camera which had ground glass (which ‘collects’ light) on the surface.

Left: looking through straws at light with the naked eye
Right: the same straws viewed through a ground glass lens

Even though Adrian was completely new to both Raspberry Pi and Python, it only took him a week of evenings and weekends to code the software needed to control the Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera.

Long story short, on the left is the final camera, with all the prototypes queued up behind it

An original Nintendo controller runs the show and connects to the Raspberry Pi with a USB adapter. The buttons are mapped to the functions of Adrian’s software.

A super satisfying time-lapse of the straws being loaded

What does the Nintendo controller do?

In his original post, Adrian explains what all the buttons on the controller do in order to create images:

“The Start button launches a preview of what the camera is seeing. The A button takes a picture. The Up and Down buttons increase or decrease the exposure time by 1 second. The Select button launches a gallery of photos so I can see the last photo I took. The Right and Left buttons cycle between photos in the gallery. I am saving the B button for something else in the future. Maybe I will use it for uploading to Dropbox, I haven’t decided yet.”

Adrian made a Lego mount for the Raspberry Pi camera
The Lego mount makes it easy to switch between cameras and lenses

A mobile phone serves as a wireless display so he can keep an eye on what’s going on. The phone communicates with the Raspberry Pi connected to the camera via a VPN app.

One of the prototypes in action

Follow Adrian on Instagram to keep up with all the photography captured using the final camera, as well as the prototypes that came before it.

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13 Raspberry Pis slosh-test space shuttle tanks in zero gravity

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High-school student Eleanor Sigrest successfully crowdfunded her way onto a zero-G flight to test her latest Raspberry Pi-powered project. NASA Goddard engineers peer reviewed Eleanor’s experimental design, which detects unwanted movement (or ‘slosh’) in spacecraft fluid tanks.

The Raspberry Pi-packed setup

The apparatus features an accelerometer to precisely determine the moment of zero gravity, along with 13 Raspberry Pis and 12 Raspberry Pi cameras to capture the slosh movement.

What’s wrong with slosh?

The Broadcom Foundation shared a pretty interesting minute-by-minute report on Eleanor’s first hyperbolic flight and how she got everything working. But, in a nutshell…

The full apparatus onboard the zero gravity flight

You don’t want the fluid in your space shuttle tanks sloshing around too much. It’s a mission-ending problem. Slosh occurs on take-off and also in microgravity during manoeuvres, so Eleanor devised this novel approach to managing it in place of the costly, heavy subsystems currently used on board space craft.

Eleanor wanted to prove that the fluid inside tanks treated with superhydrophobic and superhydrophilic coatings settled quicker than in uncoated tanks. And she was right: settling times were reduced by 73% in some cases.

Eleanor at work

A continuation of this experiment is due to go up on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket – and yes, a patent is already pending.

Curiosity, courage & compromise

At just 13 years old, Eleanor won the Samueli Prize at the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS for her mastery of STEM principles and team leadership during a rigorous week-long competition. High praise came from Paula Golden, President of Broadcom Foundation, who said: “Eleanor is the epitome of a young woman scientist and engineer. She combines insatiable curiosity with courage: two traits that are essential for a leader in these fields.”

Eleanor aged 13 with her award-winning project ‘Rockets & Nozzles & Thrust… Oh My’

That week-long experience also included a Raspberry Pi Challenge, and Eleanor explained: “During the Raspberry Pi Challenge, I learned that sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. I also learned it’s important to try everyone’s ideas because you never know which one might work the best. Sometimes it’s a compromise of different ideas, or a compromise between complicated and simple. The most important thing is to consider them all.”

Get this girl to Mars already.

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Raspberry Pi powered e-paper display takes months to show a movie

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We loved the filmic flair of Tom Whitwell‘s super slow e-paper display, which takes months to play a film in full.

Living art

His creation plays films at about two minutes of screen time per 24 hours, taking a little under three months for a 110-minute film. Psycho played in a corner of his dining room for two months. The infamous shower scene lasted a day and a half.

Tom enjoys the opportunity for close study of iconic filmmaking, but you might like this project for the living artwork angle. How cool would this be playing your favourite film onto a plain wall somewhere you can see it throughout the day?

The Raspberry Pi wearing its e-Paper HAT

Four simple steps

Luckily, this is a relatively simple project – no hardcore coding, no soldering required – with just four steps to follow if you’d like to recreate it:

  1. Get the Raspberry Pi working in headless mode without a monitor, so you can upload files and run code
  2. Connect to an e-paper display via an e-paper HAT (see above image; Tom is using this one) and install the driver code on the Raspberry Pi
  3. Use Tom’s code to extract frames from a movie file, resize and dither those frames, display them on the screen, and keep track of progress through the film
  4. Find some kind of frame to keep it all together (Tom went with a trusty IKEA number)
Living artwork: the Psycho shower scene playing alongside still artwork in Tom’s home

Affordably arty

The entire build cost £120 in total. Tom chose a 2GB Raspberry Pi 4 and a NOOBS 64gb SD Card, which he bought from Pimoroni, one of our approved resellers. NOOBS included almost all the libraries he needed for this project, which made life a lot easier.

His original post is a dream of a comprehensive walkthrough, including all the aforementioned code.

2001: A Space Odyssey would take months to play on Tom’s creation

Head to the comments section with your vote for the creepiest film to watch in ultra slow motion. I came over all peculiar imaging Jaws playing on my living room wall for months. Big bloody mouth opening slooooowly (pales), big bloody teeth clamping down slooooowly (heart palpitations). Yeah, not going to try that. Sorry Tom.

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Raspberry Pi turns retro radio into interactive storyteller

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8 Bits and a Byte created this voice-controllable, interactive, storytelling device, hidden inside a 1960s radio for extra aesthetic wonderfulness.

A Raspberry Pi 3B works with an AIY HAT, a microphone, and the device’s original speaker to run chatbot and speech-to-text artificial intelligence.

This creature is a Bajazzo TS made by Telefunken some time during the 1960s in West Germany, and this detail inspired the espionage-themed story that 8 Bits and a Byte retrofitted it to tell. Users are intelligence agents whose task is to find the evil Dr Donogood.

The device works like one of those ‘choose your own adventure’ books, asking you a series of questions and offering you several options. The story unfolds according to the options you choose, and leads you to a choice of endings.

In with the new (Raspberry Pi tucked in the lower right corner)

What’s the story?

8 Bits and a Byte designed a decision tree to provide a tight story frame, so users can’t go off on question-asking tangents.

When you see the ‘choose your own adventure’ frame set out like this, you can see how easy it is to create something that feels interactive, but really only needs to understand the difference between a few phrases: ‘laser pointer’; ‘lockpick’; ‘drink’; take bribe’, and ‘refuse bribe’.

How does it interact with the user?

Skip to 03mins 30secs to see the storytelling in action

Google Dialogflow is a free natural language understanding platform that makes it easy to design a conversational user interface, which is long-speak for ‘chatbot’.

There are a few steps between the user talking to the radio, and the radio figuring out how to respond. The speech-to-text and chatbot software need to work in tandem. For this project, the data flow runs like so:

1: The microphone detects that someone is speaking and records the audio.

2-3: Google AI (the Speech-To-Text box) processes the audio and extracts the words the user spoke as text.

4-5: The chatbot (Google Dialogflow) receives this text and matches it with the correct response, which is sent back to the Raspberry Pi.

6-7: Some more artificial intelligence uses this text to generate artificial speech.

8: This audio is played to the user via the speaker.

Make sure to check out more of 8 Bits and a Byte’s projects on YouTube. We recommend Mooomba the cow roomba.

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Raspberry Pi enables world’s smallest iMac

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This project goes a step further than most custom-made Raspberry Pi cases: YouTuber Michael Pick hacked a Raspberry Pi 4 and stuffed it inside this Apple lookalike to create the world’s smallest ‘iMac’.

Michael designed and 3D printed this miniature ‘iMac’ with what he calls a “gently modified” Raspberry Pi 4 at the heart. Everything you see is hand-painted and -finished to achieve an authentic, sleek Apple look.

This is “gentle modification” we just mentioned

Even after all that power tool sparking, this miniature device is capable of playing Minecraft at 1000 frames per second. Michael was set on making the finished project as thin as possible, so he had to slice off a couple of his Raspberry Pi’s USB ports and the Ethernet socket to make everything fit inside the tiny, custom-made case. This hacked setup leaves you with Bluetooth and wireless internet connections, which, as Michael explains in the build video, “if you’re a Mac user, that’s all you’re ever going to need.”

We love watching 3D printer footage set to relaxed elevator music

This teeny yet impactful project has even been featured on forbes.com, and that’s where we learned how the tightly packed tech manages to work in such a restricted space:

“A wireless dongle is plugged into one of the remaining USB ports to ensure it’s capable of connecting to a wireless keyboard and mouse, and a low-profile ribbon cable is used to connect the display to the Raspberry Pi. Careful crimping of cables and adapters ensures the mini iMac can be powered from a USB-C extension cable that feeds in under the screen, while the device also includes a single USB 2 port.”

Barry Collins | forbes.com

The maker also told forbes.com that this build was inspired by an iRaspbian software article from tech writer Barry Collins. iRaspbian puts a Mac-like interface — including Dock, Launcher and even the default macOS wallpaper — on top of a Linux distro. We guess Michael just wanted the case to match the content, hey?

Check out Michael’s YouTube channel for more inexplicably cool builds, such as a one billion volt Thor hammer.

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