Author Archives: Ashley Whittaker

FluSense takes on COVID-19 with Raspberry Pi

via Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi devices are often used by scientists, especially in biology to capture and analyse data, and a particularly striking – and sobering – project has made the news this week. Researchers at UMass Amherst have created FluSense, a dictionary-sized piece of equipment comprising a cheap microphone array, a thermal sensor, an Intel Movidius 2 neural computing engine, and a Raspberry Pi. FluSense monitors crowd sounds to forecast outbreaks of viral respiratory disease like seasonal flu; naturally, the headlines about their work have focused on its potential relevance to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A photo of Forsad Al Hossain and Tauhidur Rahman with the FluSense device alongside a logo from the Amherst University of Massachusetts

Forsad Al Hossain and Tauhidur Rahman with the FluSense device. Image courtesy of the University of Massachusetts Amherst

The device can distinguish coughing from other sounds. When cough data is combined with information about the size of the crowd in a location, it can provide an index predicting how many people are likely to be experiencing flu symptoms.

It was successfully tested in in four health clinic waiting rooms, and now, PhD student Forsad Al Hossain and his adviser, assistant professor Tauhidur Rahman, plan to roll FluSense out in other large spaces to capture data on a larger scale and strengthen the device’s capabilities. Privacy concerns are mitigated by heavy encryption, and Al Hossain and Rahman explain that the emphasis is on aggregating data, not identifying sickness in any single patient.

The researchers believe the secret to FluSense’s success lies in how much of the processing work is done locally, via the neural computing engine and Raspberry Pi: “Symptom information is sent wirelessly to the lab for collation, of course, but the heavy lifting is accomplished at the edge.”

A bird's-eye view of the components inside the Flu Sense device

Image courtesy of the University of Massachusetts Amherst

FluSense offers a different set of advantages to other tools, such as the extremely popular self-reporting app developed by researchers at Kings College Hospital in London, UK, together with startup Zoe. Approaches like this rely on the public to sign up, and that’s likely to skew the data they gather, because people in some demographic groups are more likely than others to be motivated and able to participate. FluSense can be installed to capture data passively from groups across the entire population. This could be particularly helpful to underprivileged groups who are less likely to have access to healthcare.

Makers, engineers, and scientists across the world are rising to the challenge of tackling COVID-19. One notable initiative is the Montreal General Hospital Foundation’s challenge to quickly design a low-cost, easy to use ventilator which can be built locally to serve patients, with a prize of CAD $200,000 on offer. The winning designs will be made available to download for free.

There is, of course, loads of chatter on the Raspberry Pi forum about the role computing has in beating the virus. We particularly liked this PSA letting you know how to free up some of your unused processing power for those researching treatments.

screenshot of the hand washer being built from a video on instagram

Screenshot via @deeplocal on Instagram

And to end on a cheering note, we *heart* this project from @deeplocal on Instagram. They’ve created a Raspberry Pi-powered soap dispenser which will play 20 seconds of your favourite song to keep you at the sink and make sure you’re washing your hands for long enough to properly protect yourself.

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Ashley’s top five projects for Raspberry Pi first-timers

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It is time. Time to go to that little stack of gifts from well-wishers who have badged you as “techie” or noted that you “play computer games”. Armed with this information, they decided you’d like to receive one of our small and perfectly formed Raspberry Pis. You were thrilled. You could actually make a thing.

Except you haven’t. You had to go to that job thingy, and talk to that partner thingy, and wash and feed those children thingies. Don’t worry, we’re not offended. We know that embarking on your first coding project is daunting and that the community has taken off like a rocket so there are eight bajillion ideas floating around. Good job we’re here to help, then, isn’t?

First-timer project 01

Some of us have found ourselves spending more time with our online communities recently. Those whose digital family of choice is to be found on Reddit should see an uptick in their personal ‘Karma’ if they’re spending more time digging into “the front page of the internet”. If you’d like to see a real-world indicator of the fruits of your commenting/sharing/Let-Me-Google-That-For-You labour, a super-easy Raspberry Pi first-timer project is building a Karma counter, like this one we found on Reddit.

Now, Squiddles1227 is one of those flash 3D printer-owning types, but you could copy the premise and build your own crafty Karma-themed housing around your counter.

On a similar note (and featuring a comprehensive ‘How To’), GiovanniBauer on instructables.com used his Raspberry Pi to create an Instagram follower counter. Developed on Raspbian with Node.js, this project walk-through should get you started on whichever social media counter project you’d like to have a bash at.

First-timer project 02

We know this is a real-life Raspberry Pi first-timer project because the Reddit post title says so. Ninjalionman1 made an e-ink calendar using a Raspberry Pi Zero so they can see their daily appointments, weather report, and useful updates.

We mined the original Reddit thread to find you the comment linking to all the info you need about hardware and setup. Like I said, good job we’re here.

First-timer project 03

Raspberry Pi 3 and 4, as well as Raspberry Pi Zero W, come with built-in Bluetooth connectivity. This means you can build something to let your lockdown-weary self take your emotional-health-preserving music/podcasts/traditional chant soundtrack with you as you migrate around your living space. “Mornings in the lounge… mid-afternoons at the kitchen table…” – we feel you.

Circuitdigest.com posted this comprehensive walk-through to show you how a Raspberry Pi can convert an ordinary speaker with a 3.5mm jack into a wireless Bluetooth speaker.

First-timer project 04

PCWorld.com shared 10 Raspberry Pi projects they bet anyone can do, and we really like the look of this one. It shows you how to give a “dumb” TV extra smarts, like web browsing, which could be especially useful if screen availability is limited in a multi-user household.

The PCWorld article recommends using a Raspberry Pi 2, 3 or 4, and points out that this is a much cheaper option than things like Chromebits and Compute Sticks.

First-timer project 05

Lastly, electromaker.io have hidden the coding education vegetables in the Minecraft tomato sauce using Raspberry Pi. The third post down on this thread features a video explaining how you can hack your kids’ favourite game to get them learning to code.

The video blurb also helpfully points out that Minecraft comes pre-installed on Raspbian, making it “one of the greatest Pi projects for kids.”

If you’re not quite ready to jump in and try any of the above, try working your way through these really simple steps to set up your Raspberry Pi and see what it can do. Then come back here and try one of these first-timer projects, share the results of your efforts, tag us, and receive a virtual round of applause!

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Stay busy in your Vault with a Raspberry Pi Zero Pipboy

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While being holed up in the Vaults living off our stash of Nuke cola, we’ve come across this mammoth junk-build project, which uses Raspberry Pi Zero W to power a working Pipboy.

Pipboy scrap build

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UK-based JustBuilding went full Robert House and, over several months, built the device’s body by welding together scrap plastic. Raspberry Pi Zero W serves as the brain, with a display header mounted to the GPIO pins. The maker wrote a Pipboy-style user interface, including demo screens, in Python — et voilà…

Lucky for him, semiconductors were already invented but, as JustBuilding admits, this is not what we’d call a beginner’s project. Think the Blue Peter show’s Tracey Island extravaganza, except you don’t have crafty co-presenters/builders, and you also need to make the thing do something useful (for our US readers who just got lost there, think Mr Rogers with glitter glue and outdoor adventure challenges).

The original post on Instructables is especially dreamy, as JustBuilding has painstakingly produced a really detailed, step-by-step guide for you to follow, including in-the-making photos and links to relevant Raspberry Pi forum entries to help you out where you might get stuck along the way.

And while Raspberry Pi can help you create your own post-apocalyptic wristwear, we’re still working on making that Stealthboy personal cloaking device a reality…

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a 3D printer, the following is the kind of Pipboy you can knock up for yourself (though we really like JustBuilding’s arts’n’crafts upcycling style):

3D Printed Pipboy 3000 MKIV with Raspberry Pi

Find out how to 3D print and build your own functional Pipboy 3000 using a Raspberry Pi and Adafruit 3.5″ PiTFT. The pypboy python program for the Raspberry …

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