Author Archives: Ashley Whittaker

Archimedes the AI robot | HackSpace #45

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When we saw Alex Glow’s name in the latest issue of HackSpace magazine, we just had to share their project. HackSpace #45 celebrates the best Raspberry Pi builds of all time, and we remembered spotting Alex’s wearable robotic owl familiar back in the day. For those of you yet to have had the pleasure, meet Archimedes…

archimedes owl on maker's shoulder
Archimedes taking a perch on his maker’s shoulder

Back in 2018, Hackster’s Alex Glow built Archimedes, an incredible robot companion using a combination of Raspberry Pi Zero W and Arduino with the Google AIY Vision Kit for its ‘brain’.

An updated model, Archie 2, using Raspberry Pi 3B, ESP32-powered Matrix Voice, and an SG90 micro-servo motor saw the personable owl familiar toughen up – Alex says the 3D-printed case is far more durable – as well as having better voice interaction options using Matrix HAL (for which installer packages are provided for Raspberry Pi and Python), plus Mycroft and Snips.ai voice assistant software.

archimedes owl insides laid out on table
Owl innards

Other refinements included incorporating compact discs into the owl’s wings to provide an iridescent sheen. Slots in the case allowed Alex to feed through cable ties to attach Archie’s wings, which she says now “provide a lively bounce to the wings, in tune with his active movements (as well as my own).”

archimedes owl wing detail
Raspberry Pi getting stuffed into Archimedes’ head

HackSpace magazine issue 45 out NOW!

Each month, HackSpace magazine brings you the best projects, tips, tricks and tutorials from the makersphere. You can get it from the Raspberry Pi Press online store or your local newsagents.

Hack space magazine issue 45 front cover

As always, every issue is free to download from the HackSpace magazine website.

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Raspberry Pi turns cryptocurrency into music

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Forget Beanie Babies as McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, or U2’s new album magically appearing on everyone’s iTunes list: the collaboration of the century is here. Estefannie Explains it All answered a call from LOOK MUM NO COMPUTER (aka Sam) who was looking for a coding genius to bring his cryptocurrency-measuring musical machine to life.

Sam wanted to use the up-and-down nature of cryptocurrency value to generate voltages that would power synthesisers and generate sounds. He’s good at music, but middlingly bad at the coding side of things, and so he roped in Estefannie’s smarts to devise a solution.

The Raspberry Pi bit

Estefannie‘s plan involved a Raspberry Pi and some pulse-width modulation signals, which can be filtered down into analogue voltages.

A breadboard for prototyping a. cryptocurrency music instrument.
Estefannie’s breadboard of cryptocurrency LEDs

She marked this all out on a breadboard, with ten LEDs connected to Raspberry Pi standing in for ten cryptocurrencies. The Raspberry Pi pins send voltages to the LEDs that correlate with the real-time percentage of change the cryptocurrency values experience.

The music bit

In order to make the monotone output of Estefannie’s creation sound more musical, Sam needed more than one cryptocurrency to be heard at a time, and to be able to alter the chords. So he built ten analogue circuits on perf boards. These slow down the changes in the cryptocurrency values, altering the audio output. And ten separate oscillators allow each board to interact with each other. Sam explains it much better, so check out his build video.

The analogue circuits inside the cryptocurrency music instrument.
Sam’s army of analogue circuits

Transatlantic collaboration videos

This is a cool mash-up of a project, with each maker producing brilliant videos focusing on the separate expertise they brought to the build.

If you want to dig deep into the marathon coding session Estefannie performed to create this musical machine, check out her project video:

Estefannie’s video goes deep into the coding side of things

And if you’re interested in the analog musical side of things, check out Sam’s:

Sam focuses on the musical element of the project

Hour-long cryptocurrency concert

If you actually trade cryptocurrency, this would be a whimsical way to keep an eye ear on market changes. If you don’t trade cryptocurrency and you also don’t have the skills to build something like this, then you can just pretend.

Sam has produced an hour-long ‘performance’ video of the machine doing its thing. So stick it on in the background next time you’re doing busy work at your desk and pretend you’re also a crypto-trading coding artist.

One-hour performance video

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Charge your Tesla automatically with Raspberry Pi

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It’s the worst feeling in the world: waking up and realising you forgot to put your electric car on charge overnight. What do you do now? Dig a bike out of the shed? Wait four hours until there’s enough juice in the battery to get you where you need to be? Neither option works if you’re running late. If only there were a way to automate the process, so that when you park up, the charger find its way to the charging port on its own. That would make life so much easier.

This is quite the build

Of course, this is all conjecture, because I drive a car made in the same year I started university. Not even the windows go up and down automatically. But I can dream, and I still love this automatic Tesla charger built with Raspberry Pi.

Wait, don’t Tesla make those already?

Back in 2015 Tesla released a video of their own prototype which can automatically charge their cars. But things have gone quiet, and nothing seems to be coming to market any time soon – nothing directly from Tesla, anyway. And while we like the slightly odd snake-charmer vibes the Tesla prototype gives off, we really like Pat’s commitment to spending hours tinkering in order to automate a 20-second manual job. It’s how we do things around here.

This video makes me feel weird

Electric vehicle enthusiast Andrew Erickson has been keeping up with the prototype’s whereabouts, and discussed it on YouTube in 2020.

How did Pat build his home-made charger?

Tired of waiting on Tesla, Pat took matters into his own hands and developed a home-made solution with Raspberry Pi 4. Our tiny computer is the “brains of everything”, and is mounted to a carriage on Pat’s garage wall.

automatic tesla charger rig mounted on garage wall
The entire rig mounted to Pat’s garage wall

There’s a big servo at the end of the carriage, which rotates the charging arm out when it’s needed. And an ultrasonic distance sensor ensures none of the home-made apparatus hits the car.

automatic tesla charger sensors
Big white thing on the left is the charging arm. Pat pointing to the little green Raspberry Pi camera module up top. And the yellow box at the bottom is the distance sensor

How does the charger find the charging port?

A Raspberry Pi Camera Module takes photos and sends them back to a machine learning model (Pat used TensorFlow Lite) running on his Raspberry Pi 4. This is how the charging arm finds its way to the port. You can watch the model in action from this point in the build video.

automatic tesla charger in action
“Marco!” “Polo!” “Marco!” “Polo!”

Top stuff, Pat. Now I just need to acquire a Tesla from somewhere so I can build one for my own garage. Wait, I don’t have a garage either…

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Collection of Raspberry Pi retro tech projects

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During lockdown, Stuart (aka JamHamster) wanted to keep busy whilst between jobs, and ended up building a mini empire of rescued retro systems. Cassette tapes, Game Boys, and floppy disks were all among the treasures he reclaimed.

All up and running on my 'shelf of deceit' where nothing is what it seems
Stuart calls this the “shelf of deceit” – where nothing is what it appears to be

Cassette tape starter

Stuart got started by fitting a TZXDuino tape loader into a cassette tape shell. Remember those? This allows him to load software onto a ZX Spectrum by inserting a tape into the tape deck, just as Nature intended. He has since improved the design (check out V2 on YouTube) and carefully documented it on GitHub, so people can build their own.

Here’s how the cassette tape project went down


With that first project in the bag and getting attention on a Facebook group (Spectrum for Everyone), Stuart went forth and sourced more retro tech to revive with tiny pieces of new technology.

Twitter lit up for Stuart’s retrofit cassette tape


Enter Raspberry Pi

Then Stuart discovered our tiny computer and realised there was heaps of scope for hiding them inside older tech. Although we can’t quite officially endorse Stuart’s method of “carefully” removing a port on his Raspberry Pi – it’ll void your warranty – we will say that we like people who go about intentionally voiding their warranties. It’s a cool video.

Here's the collection so far and I'm really pleased with how they worked out
You can see all the modern devices labelled alongside the retro tech they’re encased in

He has since created loads of retrofit projects with Raspberry Pi. Let’s take a quick look at a few of them.

Raspberry Pi 3 Game Boy build

Another gem of a build video from JamHamster on YouTube

First up is a Game Boy build with a Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+. Stuart built an aluminium chassis from scrap, and this sandwiches the Raspberry Pi to hold it in place inside the Game Boy enclosure, as well as acting as a heatsink. There’s a grille in the cartridge and he also added four rear buttons. The hardest part of this build, apparently, was soldering the custom HDMI cable.

Better-than-real CRT screen

Stuart liked the look of an old-fashioned CRT (cathode-ray tube) screen for playing retro games on, but they chew through energy and aren’t that portable. So he had the idea to make a space-efficient LCD system that sits on a desktop and just looks like a retro TV.

Wait for the heroes in half-shells at the end

This project features a 3.5-inch screen of the type that’s usually found on a car dashboard to help the driver to reverse. Stuart converted it to 5V, and added a cut-down Raspberry Pi 3 and a custom-machined chassis. A custom-ground curved lens makes it look like a real CRT, and he added ports on the back for two Atari joysticks, as well as an external composite input and USB.

The Pi 'CRT' has two onboard Atari Joystick ports and plenty of connectors for other machines
This Raspberry Pi-powered “CRT” display has two onboard Atari joystick ports and plenty of connectors for other machines

The build process for this project is also documented on Github. Here are some extra pictures.

Sega Game Gear build

Stuart’s sister gave him her Game Gear to fix, but the batteries leaked and killed it so he converted it to a Raspberry Pi 3B portable gaming system. And because it was for his sister, he went all out, spending six weeks refining it.

He also ended up rewriting elements of the Arduino Joystick library for responsiveness and ease of configuration. Here’s the Github link for those interested in that part of the build.

Check out the carnage that Stuart rescued with Raspberry Pi 3B

RetroPie cassette

Stuart’s latest cassette build features a Raspberry Pi Zero running RetroPie. He wanted to make one with a transparent case, so he encased the Raspberry Pi in a heatsink sandwich to hide the wiring. He added a full-size USB port and a 3.5 mm media connector for sound and visuals. Here are some shots of the inside.

I'm really pleased with the 80s green
I love the 80s green

Try new things, expect failure, enjoy the process

There were far too many cracking retro builds for us to list here, so follow Stuart on Twitter @RealJamHamster and subscribe to JamHamster on YouTube to properly check everything out.

They need hefty heatsinks but I like working with metal and had fun with some of the designs
They need hefty heatsinks, but Stuart likes working with metal and had fun with some of the designs

Makers, tinkerers, and crafters don’t always have a practical reason for embarking on projects, and Stuart is no different. Here’s what he had to say about why projects like this make him happy:

“I will be happy to admit that I have no clue what I’m doing most of the time, and I am by no means an expert, but I believe everyone should try new things as you never know what you’ll be good at. 9 out of 10 of my ideas don’t work but that tenth one is generally pretty good. I’ve been between roles during lockdown so I am building these out of scrap metal and whatever I have lying around, which is an extra challenge. My philosophy is to try new things, expect failure, learn to enjoy the process and that it’ll be done when it’s done.”

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HIIT Pi makes Raspberry Pi your home workout buddy

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Has your fitness suffered during locked down? Have you been able to keep up diligently with your usual running routine? Maybe you found it easy to recreate you regular gym classes in your lounge with YouTube coaches. Or maybe, like a lot of us, you’ve not felt able to do very much at all, and needed a really big push to keep moving.

From James’s YouTube channel

Maker James Wong took to Raspberry Pi to develop something that would hold him accountable for his daily HIIT workouts, and hopefully keep his workouts on track while alone in lockdown.

What is a HIIT workout?

HIIT is the best kind of exercise, in that it doesn’t last long and it’s effective. You do short bursts of high-intensity physical movement between short, regular rest periods. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training.

James’s model can detect how well you perform a burpee, as well as many other exercise movements

James was attracted to HIIT during lockdown as it didn’t require any gym visits or expensive exercise equipment. He had access to endless online training sessions, but felt he needed that extra level of accountability to make sure he kept up with his at-home fitness regime. Hence, HIIT Pi.

So what does HIIT Pi actually do?

HIIT Pi is a web app that uses machine learning on Raspberry Pi to help track your workout in real time. Users can interact with the app via any web browser running on the same local network as the Raspberry Pi, be that on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

HIIT Pi running software on server from ipad using raspberry pi
An iPad accessing a remote server running on James’s Raspberry Pi

HIIT Pi is simple in that it only does two things:

  • Uses computer vision to automatically capture and track detected poses and movement
  • Scores them according to a set of rules and standards
HIIT Pi running on Raspberry Pi and a Raspberry Pi camera module, propped up on a shelf
HIIT Pi is watching you via a Raspberry Pi camera module (top right)

So, essentially, you’ve got a digital personal trainer in the room monitoring your movements and letting you know whether they’re up to standard and whether you’re likely to achieve your fitness goals.

James calls HIIT Pi an “electronic referee”, and we agree that if we had one of those in the room while muddling through a Yoga With Adriene session on YouTube, we would try a LOT harder.

How does it work?

A Raspberry Pi camera module streams raw image data from the sensor roughly at 30 frames per second. James devised a custom recording stream handler that works off this pose estimation model and takes frames from the video stream, spitting out pose confidence scores using pre-set keypoint position coordinates.

HIIT Pi dashboard
HIIT Pi uses Dash, a laudable open source tool from the Plotly team

James’s original project post details the inner workings. You can also grab the code needed to create your own at-home Raspberry Pi personal trainer.

Get in touch with James here.

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Building a business with VNC Connect on Raspberry Pi

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Our friends over at RealVNC are having a whale of a time with Raspberry Pi, so they decided to write this guest blog for us. Here’s what they had to say about what their VNC Connect software can do, and how Raspberry Pi can be integrated into industry. Plus, hear about a real-life commercial example.

What is VNC Connect?

RealVNC’s VNC Connect is a secure way for you to control your Raspberry Pi from anywhere, as if you were sat in front of it. This is particularly useful for Raspberry Pis which are running ‘headless’ without monitor connected. The desktop can instead be presented in the VNC Connect Viewer app on, say, a wirelessly-connected iPad, from which you have full graphical control of the Raspberry Pi. The two devices do not even have to be on the same local network, so you can take remote control over the Internet. Which is great for roaming robots.

real vnc overview
VNC Connect is all of these things

You can read more about RealVNC for Raspberry Pi here. It’s free to get started for non-commercial use.

Commercial potential

RealVNC have seen an increase in the use of Raspberry Pi in business, not just at home and in education. Raspberry Pi, combined with VNC Connect, is helping businesses both to charge for a service that they couldn’t previously provide, and to improve/automate a service they already offer.

We’ll get to the solar panels next… (this photo makes sense, honestly)

For example, Raspberry Pi is a useful, as well as a cost effective, “edge device” in complex hardware environments that require monitoring – a real IoT use case! Add VNC Connect, and the businesses which perform these hardware installations can provide monitoring and support services on a subscription basis to customers, building repeat revenue and adding value.

With VNC Connect being offered at an affordable price (less than the price of a cup of coffee per month for a single device), it doesn’t take these businesses long to make a healthy return.

A commercial example: monitoring solar panels

Centurion Solar provides monitoring software for home solar panels. Each installation is hooked up via USB to a Raspberry Pi-powered monitoring system, and access is provided both to the customer and to Centurion Solar, who run a paid monitoring and support service.

Monitoring solar panels online with Centurion Solar

Having every new system leave the factory pre-installed with VNC Connect allows Centurion Solar to provide assistance quickly and easily for customers, no matter where they are, or how tech-savvy they are (or aren’t).

The software is currently being used in over 15,000 systems across 27 countries, with more new users every week.

“We’ve gone from being in limp mode to overdrive in one easy step, using RealVNC as the driving force to get us there.”

Johan Booysen, Founder at Centurion Solar

You can read more here.

Possibilities across many sectors

There are many more industry sectors which could be considering Raspberry Pi as a lightweight and convenient monitoring/edge compute solution, just like Centurion Solar do. For example:

  • Energy
  • Manufacturing
  • Healthcare
  • Transport
  • Agriculture
  • Critical National Infrastructure
raspberry pi use in biological sciences jolle jolle
Remember this blog about how Raspberry Pi is a versatile tool for biological sciences?

The possibilities are only limited by imagination, and the folks down the road at RealVNC are happy to discuss how using Raspberry Pi in your environment could be transformative. You can reach us here.

From the engineers to the CEO, we’re all Raspberry Pi enthusiasts who love nothing more than sharing our experience and solving problems (our CEO, Adam, even publishes a popular bare-metal Raspberry Pi operating system tutorial on Github).

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