Author Archives: Helen Lynn

UK soldiers design Raspberry Pi bomb disposal robot

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Three soldiers in the British Army have used a Raspberry Pi to build an autonomous robot, as part of their Foreman of Signals course.

Meet The Soldiers Revolutionising Bomb Disposal

Three soldiers from Blandford Camp have successfully designed and built an autonomous robot as part of their Foreman of Signals Course at the Dorset Garrison.

Autonomous robots

Forces Radio BFBS carried a story last week about Staff Sergeant Jolley, Sergeant Rana, and Sergeant Paddon, also known as the “Project ROVER” team. As part of their Foreman of Signals training, their task was to design an autonomous robot that can move between two specified points, take a temperature reading, and transmit the information to a remote computer. The team comments that, while semi-autonomous robots have been used as far back as 9/11 for tasks like finding people trapped under rubble, nothing like their robot and on a similar scale currently exists within the British Army.

The ROVER buggy

Their build is named ROVER, which stands for Remote Obstacle aVoiding Environment Robot. It’s a buggy that moves on caterpillar tracks, and it’s tethered; we wonder whether that might be because it doesn’t currently have an on-board power supply. A demo shows the robot moving forward, then changing its path when it encounters an obstacle. The team is using RealVNC‘s remote access software to allow ROVER to send data back to another computer.

Applications for ROVER

Dave Ball, Senior Lecturer in charge of the Foreman of Signals course, comments that the project is “a fantastic opportunity for [the team] to, even only halfway through the course, showcase some of the stuff they’ve learnt and produce something that’s really quite exciting.” The Project ROVER team explains that the possibilities for autonomous robots like this one are extensive: they include mine clearance, bomb disposal, and search-and-rescue campaigns. They point out that existing semi-autonomous hardware is not as easy to program as their build. In contrast, they say, “with the invention of the Raspberry Pi, this has allowed three very inexperienced individuals to program a robot very capable of doing these things.”

We make Raspberry Pi computers because we want building things with technology to be as accessible as possible. So it’s great to see a project like this, made by people who aren’t techy and don’t have a lot of computing experience, but who want to solve a problem and see that the Pi is an affordable and powerful tool that can help.

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Mayank Sinha’s home security project

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Yesterday, I received an email from someone called Mayank Sinha, showing us the Raspberry Pi home security project he’s been working on. He got in touch particularly because, he writes, the Raspberry Pi community has given him “immense support” with his build, and he wanted to dedicate it to the commmunity as thanks.

Mayank’s project is named Asfaleia, a Greek word that means safety, certainty, or security against threats. It’s part of an honourable tradition dating all the way back to 2012: it’s a prototype housed in a polystyrene box, using breadboards and jumper leads and sticky tape. And it’s working! Take a look.

Asfaleia DIY Home Security System

An IOT based home security system. The link to the code: https://github.com/mayanksinha11/Asfaleia

Home security with Asfaleida

Asfaleia has a PIR (passive infrared) motion sensor, an IR break beam sensor, and a gas sensor. All are connected to a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, the latter two via a NodeMCU board. Mayank currently has them set up in a box that’s divided into compartments to model different rooms in a house.

A shallow box divided into four labelled "rooms", all containing electronic components

All the best prototypes have sticky tape or rubber bands

If the IR sensors detect motion or a broken beam, the webcam takes a photo and emails it to the build’s owner, and the build also calls their phone (I like your ringtone, Mayank). If the gas sensor detects a leak, the system activates an exhaust fan via a small relay board, and again the owner receives a phone call. The build can also authenticate users via face and fingerprint recognition. The software that runs it all is written in Python, and you can see Mayank’s code on GitHub.

Of prototypes and works-in-progess

Reading Mayank’s email made me very happy yesterday. We know that thousands of people in our community give a great deal of time and effort to help others learn and make things, and it is always wonderful to see an example of how that support is helping someone turn their ideas into reality. It’s great, too, to see people sharing works-in-progress, as well as polished projects! After all, the average build is more likely to feature rubber bands and Tupperware boxes than meticulously designed laser-cut parts or expert joinery. Mayank’s YouTube channel shows earlier work on this and another Pi project, and I hope he’ll continue to document his builds.

So here’s to Raspberry Pi projects big, small, beginner, professional, endlessly prototyped, unashamedly bodged, unfinished or fully working, shonky or shiny. Please keep sharing them all!

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Augmented-reality projection lamp with Raspberry Pi and Android Things

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If your day has been a little fraught so far, watch this video. It opens with a tableau of methodically laid-out components and then shows them soldered, screwed, and slotted neatly into place. Everything fits perfectly; nothing needs percussive adjustment. Then it shows us glimpses of an AR future just like the one promised in the less dystopian comics and TV programmes of my 1980s childhood. It is all very soothing, and exactly what I needed.

Android Things – Lantern

Transform any surface into mixed-reality using Raspberry Pi, a laser projector, and Android Things. Android Experiments – http://experiments.withgoogle.com/android/lantern Lantern project site – http://nordprojects.co/lantern check below to make your own ↓↓↓ Get the code – https://github.com/nordprojects/lantern Build the lamp – https://www.hackster.io/nord-projects/lantern-9f0c28

Creating augmented reality with projection

We’ve seen plenty of Raspberry Pi IoT builds that are smart devices for the home; they add computing power to things like lights, door locks, or toasters to make these objects interact with humans and with their environment in new ways. Nord ProjectsLantern takes a different approach. In their words, it:

imagines a future where projections are used to present ambient information, and relevant UI within everyday objects. Point it at a clock to show your appointments, or point to speaker to display the currently playing song. Unlike a screen, when Lantern’s projections are no longer needed, they simply fade away.

Lantern is set up so that you can connect your wireless device to it using Google Nearby. This means there’s no need to create an account before you can dive into augmented reality.

Lantern Raspberry Pi powered projector lamp

Your own open-source AR lamp

Nord Projects collaborated on Lantern with Google’s Android Things team. They’ve made it fully open-source, so you can find the code on GitHub and also download their parts list, which includes a Pi, an IKEA lamp, an accelerometer, and a laser projector. Build instructions are at hackster.io and on GitHub.

This is a particularly clear tutorial, very well illustrated with photos and GIFs, and once you’ve sourced and 3D-printed all of the components, you shouldn’t need a whole lot of experience to put everything together successfully. Since everything is open-source, though, if you want to adapt it — for example, if you’d like to source a less costly projector than the snazzy one used here — you can do that too.

components of Lantern Raspberry Pi powered augmented reality projector lamp

The instructions walk you through the mechanical build and the wiring, as well as installing Android Things and Nord Projects’ custom software on the Raspberry Pi. Once you’ve set everything up, an accelerometer connected to the Pi’s GPIO pins lets the lamp know which surface it is pointing at. A companion app on your mobile device lets you choose from the mini apps that work on that surface to select the projection you want.

The designers are making several mini apps available for Lantern, including the charmingly named Space Porthole: this uses Processing and your local longitude and latitude to project onto your ceiling the stars you’d see if you punched a hole through to the sky, if it were night time, and clear weather. Wouldn’t you rather look at that than deal with the ant problem in your kitchen or tackle your GitHub notifications?

What would you like to project onto your living environment? Let us know in the comments!

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This is a really lovely Raspberry Pi tricorder

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At the moment I’m spending my evenings watching all of Star Trek in order. Yes, I have watched it before (but with some really big gaps). Yes, including the animated series (I’m up to The Terratin Incident). So I’m gratified to find this beautiful The Original Series–style tricorder build.

Star Trek Tricorder with Working Display!

At this year’s Replica Prop Forum showcase, we meet up once again wtih Brian Mix, who brought his new Star Trek TOS Tricorder. This beautiful replica captures the weight and finish of the filming hand prop, and Brian has taken it one step further with some modern-day electronics!

A what now?

If you don’t know what a tricorder is, which I guess is faintly possible, the easiest way I can explain is to steal words that Liz wrote when Recantha made one back in 2013. It’s “a made-up thing used by the crew of the Enterprise to measure stuff, store data, and scout ahead remotely when exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilisations, and all that jazz.”

A brief history of Picorders

We’ve seen other Raspberry Pi–based realisations of this iconic device. Recantha’s LEGO-cased tricorder delivered some authentic functionality, including temperature sensors, an ultrasonic distance sensor, a photosensor, and a magnetometer. Michael Hahn’s tricorder for element14’s Sci-Fi Your Pi competition in 2015 packed some similar functions, along with Original Series audio effects, into a neat (albeit non-canon) enclosure.

Brian Mix’s Original Series tricorder

Brian Mix’s tricorder, seen in the video above from Tested at this year’s Replica Prop Forum showcase, is based on a high-quality kit into which, he discovered, a Raspberry Pi just fits. He explains that the kit is the work of the late Steve Horch, a special effects professional who provided props for later Star Trek series, including the classic Deep Space Nine episode Trials and Tribble-ations.

A still from an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Jadzia Dax, holding an Original Series-sylte tricorder, speaks with Benjamin Sisko

Dax, equipped for time travel

This episode’s plot required sets and props — including tricorders — replicating the USS Enterprise of The Original Series, and Steve Horch provided many of these. Thus, a tricorder kit from him is about as close to authentic as you can possibly find unless you can get your hands on a screen-used prop. The Pi allows Brian to drive a real display and a speaker: “Being the geek that I am,” he explains, “I set it up to run every single Original Series Star Trek episode.”

Even more wonderful hypothetical tricorders that I would like someone to make

This tricorder is beautiful, and it makes me think how amazing it would be to squeeze in some of the sensor functionality of the devices depicted in the show. Space in the case is tight, but it looks like there might be a little bit of depth to spare — enough for an IMU, maybe, or a temperature sensor. I’m certain the future will bring more Pi tricorder builds, and I, for one, can’t wait. Please tell us in the comments if you’re planning something along these lines, and, well, I suppose some other sci-fi franchises have decent Pi project potential too, so we could probably stand to hear about those.

If you’re commenting, no spoilers please past The Animated Series S1 E11. Thanks.

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Whimsical builds and messing things up

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Today is the early May bank holiday in England and Wales, a public holiday, and while this blog rarely rests, the Pi Towers team does. So, while we take a day with our families, our friends, and/or our favourite pastimes, I thought I’d point you at a couple of features from HackSpace magazine, our monthly magazine for makers.

To my mind, they go quite well with a deckchair in the garden, the buzz of a lawnmower a few houses down, and a view of the weeds I ought to have dealt with by now, but I’m sure you’ll find your own ambience.

Make anything with pencils – HackSpace magazine

If you want a unique piece of jewellery to show your love for pencils, follow Peter Brown’s lead. Peter glued twelve pencils together in two rows of six. He then measured the size of his finger and drilled a hole between the glued pencils using a drill bit.

First off, pencils. It hadn’t occurred to me that you could make super useful stuff like a miniature crossbow and a catapult out of pencils. Not only can you do this, you can probably go ahead and do it right now: all you need is a handful of pencils, some rubber bands, some drawing pins, and a bulldog clip (or, as you might prefer, some push pins and a binder clip). The sentence that really leaps out at me here is “To keep a handful of boys aged three to eleven occupied during a family trip, Marie decided to build mini crossbows to help their target practice.” The internet hasn’t helped me find out much about Marie, but I am in awe of her.

If you haven’t wandered off to make a stationery arsenal by now, read Lucy Rogers‘ reflections on making a right mess of things. I hope you do, because I think it’d be great if more people coped better with the fact that we all, unavoidably, fail. You probably won’t really get anywhere without a few goes where you just completely muck it all up.

A ceramic mug, broken into several pieces on the floor

Never mind. We can always line a plant pot with them.
“In Pieces” by dusk-photography / CC BY

This true of everything. Wet lab work and gardening and coding and parenting. And everything. You can share your heroic failures in the comments, if you like, as well as any historic weaponry you have fashioned from the contents of your desk tidy.

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A hedgehog cam or two

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Here we are, hauling ourselves out of the Christmas and New Year holidays and into January proper. It’s dawning on me that I have to go back to work, even though it’s still very cold and gloomy in northern Europe, and even though my duvet is lovely and warm. I found myself envying beings that hibernate, and thinking about beings that hibernate, and searching for things to do with hedgehogs. And, well, the long and the short of it is, today’s blog post is a short meditation on the hedgehog cam.

A hedgehog in a garden, photographed in infrared light by a hedgehog cam

Success! It’s a hedgehog!
Photo by Andrew Wedgbury

Hedgehog watching

Someone called Barker has installed a Raspberry Pi–based hedgehog cam in a location with a distant view of a famous Alp, and as well as providing live views by visible and infrared light for the dedicated and the insomniac, they also make a sped-up version of the previous night’s activity available. With hedgehogs usually being in hibernation during January, you mightn’t see them in any current feed — but don’t worry! You’re guaranteed a few hedgehogs on Barker’s website, because they have also thrown in some lovely GIFs of hoggy (and foxy) divas that their camera captured in the past.

A Hedgehog eating from a bowl on a patio, captured by a hedgehog cam

Nom nom nom!
GIF by Barker’s Site

Build your own hedgehog cam

For pointers on how to replicate this kind of setup, you could do worse than turn to Andrew Wedgbury’s hedgehog cam write-up. Andrew’s Twitter feed reveals that he’s a Cambridge local, and there are hints that he was behind RealVNC’s hoggy mascot for Pi Wars 2017.

RealVNC on Twitter

Another day at the office: testing our #PiWars mascot using a @Raspberry_Pi 3, #VNC Connect and @4tronix_uk Picon Zero. Name suggestions? https://t.co/iYY3xAX9Bk

Our infrared bird box and time-lapse camera resources will also set you well on the way towards your own custom wildlife camera. For a kit that wraps everything up in a weatherproof enclosure made with love, time, and serious amounts of design and testing, take a look at Naturebytes’ wildlife cam kit.

Or, if you’re thinking that a robot mascot is more dependable than real animals for the fluffiness you need in order to start your January with something like productivity and with your soul intact, you might like to put your own spin on our robot buggy.

Happy 2018

While we’re on the subject of getting to grips with the new year, do take a look at yesterday’s blog post, in which we suggest a New Year’s project that’s different from the usual resolutions. However you tackle 2018, we wish you an excellent year of creative computing.

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