Author Archives: James Robinson

Raspberry Crusoe: how a Pi got lost at sea

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The tale of the little HAB that could and its three-month journey from Portslade Aldridge Community Academy in the UK to the coast of Denmark.

PACA Computing on Twitter

Where did it land ???? #skypaca #skycademy @pacauk #RaspberryPi

High-altitude ballooning

Some of you may be familiar with Raspberry Pi being used as the flight computer, or tracker, of high-altitude balloon (HAB) payloads. For those who aren’t, high-altitude ballooning is a relatively simple activity (at least in principle) where a tracker is attached to a large weather balloon which is then released into the atmosphere. While the HAB ascends, the tracker takes pictures and data readings the whole time. Eventually (around 30km up) the balloon bursts, leaving the payload free to descend and be recovered. For a better explanation, I’m handing over to the students of UTC Oxfordshire:

Pi in the Sky | UTC Oxfordshire

On Tuesday 2nd May, students launched a Raspberry Pi computer 35,000 metres into the stratosphere as part of an Employer-Led project at UTC Oxfordshire, set by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The project involved engineering, scientific and communication/publicity skills being developed to create the payload and code to interpret experiments set by the science team.

Skycademy

Over the past few years, we’ve seen schools and their students explore the possibilities that high-altitude ballooning offers, and back in 2015 and 2016 we ran Skycademy. The programme was simple enough: get a bunch of educators together in the same space, show them how to launch a balloon flight, and then send them back to their students to try and repeat what they’ve learned. Since the first Skycademy event, a number of participants have carried out launches, and we are extremely proud of each and every one of them.

The case of the vanishing PACA HAB

Not every launch has been a 100% success though. There are many things that can and do go wrong during HAB flights, and watching each launch from the comfort of our office can be a nerve-wracking experience. We had such an experience back in July 2017, during the launch performed by Skycademy graduate and Raspberry Pi Certified Educator Dave Hartley and his students from Portslade Aldridge Community Academy (PACA).

Dave and his team had been working on their payload for some time, and were awaiting suitable weather conditions. Early one Wednesday in July, everything aligned: they had a narrow window of good weather and so set their launch plan in motion. Soon they had assembled the payload in the school grounds and all was ready for the launch.

Dave Hartley on Twitter

Launch day! @pacauk #skycademy #skypaca #raspberrypi

Just before 11:00, they’d completed their final checks and released their payload into the atmosphere. Over the course of 64 minutes, the HAB steadily rose to an altitude of 25647m, where it captured some amazing pictures before the balloon burst and a rapid descent began.

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi

Soon after the payload began to descend, the team noticed something worrying: their predicted descent path took the payload dangerously far south — it was threatening to land in the sea. As the payload continued to lose altitude, their calculated results kept shifting, alternately predicting a landing on the ground or out to sea. Eventually it became clear that the payload would narrowly overshoot the land, and it finally landed about 2 km out to sea.

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi High Altitude Ballooning

The path of the balloon

It’s not uncommon for a HAB payload to get lost. There are many ways this can happen, particularly in a narrow country with a prevailing easterly wind such as the UK. Payloads can get lost at sea, land somewhere inaccessible, or simply run out of power before they are located and retrieved. So normally, this would be the end of the story for the PACA students — even if the team had had a speedboat to hand, their payload was surely lost for good.

A message from Denmark

However, this is not the end of our story! A couple of months later, I arrived at work and saw this tweet from a colleague:

Raspberry Pi on Twitter

Anyone lost a Raspberry Pi HAB? Someone found this one on a beach in south western Denmark yesterday #UKHAS https://t.co/7lBzFiemgr

Good Samaritan Henning Hansen had found a Raspberry Pi washed up on a remote beach in Denmark! While walking a stretch of coast to collect plastic debris for an environmental monitoring project, he came across something unusual near the shore at 55°04’53.0″N and 8°38’46.9″E.

This of course piqued my interest, and we began to investigate the image he had shared on Facebook.

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi High Altitude Ballooning

Inspecting the photo closely, we noticed a small asset label — the kind of label that, over a year earlier, we’d stuck to each and every bit of Skycademy field kit. We excitedly claimed the kit on behalf of Dave and his students, and contacted Henning to arrange the recovery of the payload. He told us it must have been carried ashore with the tide some time between 21 and 27 September, and probably on 21 September, since that day had the highest tide over the period. This meant the payload must have spent over two months at sea!

From the photo we could tell that the Raspberry Pi had suffered significant corrosion, having been exposed to salt water for so long, and so we felt pessimistic about the chances that there would be any recoverable data on it. However, Henning said that he’d been able to read some files from the FAT partition of the SD card, so all hope was not lost!

After a few weeks and a number of complications around dispatch and delivery (thank you, Henning, for your infinite patience!), Helen collected the HAB from a local Post Office.

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi High Altitude Ballooning

SUCCESS!

We set about trying to read the data from the SD card, and eventually became disheartened: despite several attempts, we were unable to read its contents.

In a last-ditch effort, we gave the SD card to Jonathan, one of our engineers, who initially laughed at the prospect of recovering any data from it. But ten minutes later, he returned with news of success!

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi

Since then, we’ve been able to reunite the payload with the PACA launch team, and the students sent us the perfect message to end this story:

Portslade Aldridge Community Academy Skycademy Raspberry Pi High Altitude Ballooning

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1000 Raspberry Pi Certified Educators

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This week, we trained our 1000th Raspberry Pi Certified Educator at a Picademy in Cardiff, south Wales. These teachers, librarians and other educators are now equipped to begin sharing the power of digital making with their learners, their local communities and their peers.

An animated gif: a group of new Raspberry Pi Certified Educators celebrate by pulling party poppers

Our newest Raspberry Pi Certified Educators: now there are 1000 of them!

Picademy is a free CPD programme that gives educators the skills and knowledge to help learners get creative with computing. Classroom teachers, museum educators, librarians, educator coaches, and community educators can all apply. You don’t need any previous experience, just an enthusiasm for teaching computing and digital making.

Apply for Picademy

We’ve just announced the dates and venues for Picademy in the US throughout 2017. Take a look at the schedule of UK Picademy events for this year: we’ve just added some new dates. Check out what educators say about Picademy.

Are you interested? DO IT. APPLY.

Demand for Picademy places is always high, and there are many parts of the world where we don’t yet offer Picademy. In order to reach more people, we provide two free online training courses which are available anywhere in the world. They’re especially relevant to educators, but anyone can take part. Both started this week, but there’s still time to join. Both courses will run again in the future.

Hello World

Wherever you are, you can also read Hello World, our new magazine about computing and digital making written by educators, for educators. It’s free online as a downloadable PDF, and it’s available to UK-based educators in print, free of charge. In its pages over the next issues, we know we’ll see some of our first 1000 Raspberry Pi Certified Educators inspire some of our second 1000.

We hope that you, too, will join this creative, supportive community!

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Connecting educators: Raspberry Pi hosts a CAS hub

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One of the challenges I always found in teaching is that at times it can be quite isolating, particularly when working in a small department. You spend most of the day with your classes, or planning for them. You catch up with your colleagues in weekly meetings, but opportunities to share and reflect can be limited.

During my time in teaching I’ve always sought to connect with other teachers and share ideas (and gain reassurance that I was doing it right), and this became increasingly important back around 2011-2012 when things were starting to change in computing education. Many ICT teachers who were concerned about the lack of computing and problem-solving skills in their subject started meeting up in local CAS (Computing at School) hubs. I attended a few meetings and got a chance to connect with others who shared my concerns and gather some great ideas for lessons.

In the past few years CAS hubs have spread all over the UK and beyond, and are an opportunity for educators, developers and industry experts to meet up regularly, share ideas and participate in workshops. Last week, we hosted a CAS hub at our office in Cambridge for the first time. This event was aimed at secondary teachers, and we were delighted to have over 20 educators attend.

Emma on Twitter

Physical Computing fun @Raspberry_Pi yesterday for Cambridge Secondary CASHub meeting. pic.twitter.com/hosh5adgnX

Our first meeting focused on physical computing, something we’re really passionate about here. Teachers shared their experiences of physical computing, we discussed hardware options including Raspberry Pi and others, and we ran a hands-on workshop with our Sense HAT add-on – topical at the moment, because two Raspberry Pis with Sense HATs are soon to fly to the International Space Station as part of British ESA astronaut Tim Peake’s Principia mission.

Astro Pi poster: Your Code in Space!

To find your nearest CAS hub, training event or CAS Master Teacher you can use the CAS interactive map, by clicking the image below.

Map of CAS hubs in England and Wales

We had a really great session with teachers, and we’re looking forward to hosting future hub meetings as well as other events.

If you’re a teacher, educator, IT professional or just interested in computing education, visit the CAS community site and take part. You could attend or host a hub meeting, or see what training events are going on in your area. Let’s help support our educators who are teaching the next generations of engineers and developers.

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Skycademy – Balloons Everywhere!

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It’s been a while since we blogged about Skycademy, the High Altitude Ballooning (HAB) CPD event we ran back in August. However, six weeks on, we have a lot to talk about!

Skycademy CPD – August

We started back in February with the idea that we’d like to train 24 educators to launch a HAB flight with their students. We wanted to engage and inspire those that attended and through them reach young people across the UK and set them the challenge of reaching near space.

Here’s a short (and, we think, appropriately dramatic) video to give you a flavour of the three days.

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During their time with us our educators received some intensive training from both Dave Akerman and myself, and in teams were provided with all the kit they’d need for their flight. The plan was for each of our four teams to launch and recover a flight the following day.

Leading up to the day we were a little nervous. With strong easterly winds, there was a high risk of us losing payloads – if we were even able to get them off the ground!

James Robinson on Twitter

Come on nearly there, bit more west would be great! #skycademy pic.twitter.com/yUwmRAb4DU

However, thanks to an slight easing of the weather conditions and us finding a more westerly launch site, we were thankfully able to launch five flights in quick succession, starting with a demo launch by Dave and me. We packed our flight with a GoPro camera to capture some amazing footage.

Richard Hayler ☀ on Twitter

First balloon away! #skycademy pic.twitter.com/LbmrhjUhMV

David Akerman M0RPI on Twitter

Quick take-off from the #skycademy launch pads pic.twitter.com/2SMNJYH0Q9

Almost as soon as we’d released our balloon, the teams quickly got to work readying their flights. We (like the balloons) were blown away by the confidence on the teams; the first two teams were ready so quickly that we launched them simultaneously.

Andy Batey on Twitter

Simultaneous balloon launch #skycademy pic.twitter.com/ibcTWUvxAe

Something we were a little nervous about doing again….

Teams then leapt into their cars and sped away to intercept their payload at their predicted landing site. Back at HQ we watched with equal amounts of excitement and anxiety as our first-time HAB trainees gave chase!

We received a whole host of amazing images from our flights as they rose to 33km

CNP2KVIWsAAjg8O CNP4geTW8AAszws CNP8imTWUAEGpjP CNP9wVpWcAAx6xe CNQGXzMXAAAasSE CNQMOabWcAAmwdt

Giving our starting point of being concerned about whether launches would be possible, we were over the moon to launch all five payloads and recover…four.

Our penultimate payload, RPF-A2, was sadly under-filled with helium, which, whilst giving it a nice gentle climb to an impressive 32km, also extended its flight path out to sea. We’re hoping that one day it might be washed up on a beach and returned to us.

Helen Lynn on Twitter

Nnnoooooooooo #skycademy pic.twitter.com/tXzN6v5bjD

Steven Jenkinson on Twitter

RIP #TeamAlto #skycademy Lost at sea :( Raiding a toast… pic.twitter.com/SZBXRBM07F

Our final day saw our teams tasked with evaluating their first launch and planning their next. Over the course of the next year we will be support and funding each teacher to carry out their own independent launch with young people back in their schools and clubs.

We were so impressed by their presentations, with ideas for student engagement, plans for testing, kite flights, collaborative launches and more.

David Akerman M0RPI on Twitter

Watching #skycademy presentations pic.twitter.com/UuyIhNFmnn

We are incredibly proud to have certified our first Skycademy cohort, and are excited to see what they accomplish over the next year.

jonathanfurness on Twitter

I’ve passed #Skycademy !! Special thanks to @daveake @jrobinson_uk & all at @Raspberry_Pi for a brilliant HAB course. pic.twitter.com/b3KxbH95UI

If you want to find out more about our Skycademy CPD event, then you should check out the following:

  • Visit Twitter and look back over our #skycademy hashtag
  • Richard Hayler has written up a blog post about his experience
  • Nic Hughes has also written about Skycademy in his blog
  • You can hear all about it in a piece that the BBC’s The Naked Scientists recorded about the changing nature of science education.

Pycon UK Launches

A few weeks after our Skycademy event, the Raspberry Pi Education Team attended Pycon UK in Coventry, where we met up with lots of our Certified Educators and several of our Skycademy graduates. We’ve previously blogged about our Pycon activities, but it’s worth talking a little more about the flights we launched there.

On the kids’ day, a group of our Skycademy cohort launched an independent flight from the nearby National Space Centre (which is awesome, btw). They carried out their launch like seasoned pros, and chased down their balloon, recovering it a few hours later.

11_00_59 IMG_0014 Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 12.33.42 Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 22.27.20 IMG_2052 12_14_53

The following day, Marc and I launched the first Sense-HAT on a HAB flight, again from the National Space Centre.

BensRpi on Twitter

Good to see #PyConUk PyCon1 Balloon is up and away. @andybateypi Track it here http://tracker.habhub.org/#!mt=roadmap&mz=9&qm=1_day&mc=52.51372,-0.58792&f=PYCON1 … #skycademy pic.twitter.com/m25WsuiGe7

We had a couple of technical issues on the morning, which meant we struggled to receive data once our flight had taken off. However, the fantastic UKHAS community were on hand as usual to help out and ensure our balloon wasn’t lost. Our flight reached a whopping 36km; along with recorded data using all the Sense-HAT sensor resulting in 200,000 lines of data, which I’m yet to analyse.

Thankfully our payload landed 20m from a little single track road, from where we were able to spot it – having narrowly avoided a parachuting centre and some wind turbines.

James Robinson on Twitter

Done! #pyconuk #skycademy #pycon1 #ukhas pic.twitter.com/e4V2OE5sI5

School Launches

Since PyconUK we’re had our first two school launches both in the East Anglia area and on consecutive days. I’ll leave it to them to tell you more about their experience.

Bourne Grammar School – 9th October

1_a_williams 2_CS_Team 3_looking at the Wash from 26km

On the 9th October, a group of budding computer scientists and systems and control engineers from Bourne Grammar School launched a helium balloon and payload 26km into the air in order to capture incredible images of the earth using a self-programmed Raspberry Pi hardware.

Systems Engineer Team Leader, Iyanu Abioye, told us, “It was our job was to create the housing for the payload which had the camera, the GPS and it would also have the parachute and balloon. The housing for the payload was a polystyrene box with a smaller one as a lid, to keep everything safe. On launch day, Sohayl Tobaria, Marco Lytle and Wojciech Marek held the balloon whilst it was being filled, added the cable ties and cut the balloon from the helium tank.

The computer science team, consisting of Andrew Ellingford, Jacob Wilson, Fabio Valerio and Josiah Gyamfi, had the job of programming two Raspberry Pi computers so that data could be sent and received from space. Andrew explains, “If this job had not have been done right, we would have lost all of our photos, data and the balloon itself. That would have been a rather expensive mistake, so, the pressure was on. At first the task seemed a bit daunting. None of us had much experience with some of the equipment like the LoRa board”, which enabled us to send and receive our data from space. However, working as a team and with the help of Mr Brown (Bourne Grammar School Assistant Headteacher and Digital Strategy & Director ICT), we found solutions to all our technological problems. Not only did we learn a lot about computing, we learnt how to use these skills as a team. In the end, it was great to watch the pictures come through online and track its position in real-time and we are proud to have contributed to this project.”

Students Alex Williams, Ben Rockliffe, Alex Wray and Luc Schoutsen were assigned as part of the chase team. It was their job to track the flight of the balloon using the GPS and radio technology on board. The chase team were then able to receive this data to learn the location, altitude, speed and temperature of the payload.

Back at school the flight analyst team, Holly Brown and Toby Pawlett were able to see the data from the balloon and see an extrapolated flight-plan which predicted where the balloon would eventually land. By calling the chase team on a regular basis, they were able to guide them to the final landing site of the balloon to help ensure a successful recovery.

Talking about the experienced, Holly told us, “We had to make sure the balloon would not land in the sea by making flight-path predictions in the weeks running up to the launch, which included where it would pop and were it would land.  In the days leading up to the launch window, we had to double-check everything to ensure the flight went well and that the weather would be suitable too, without too much wind.

The project seems to have inspired the students. Holly Brown said, “We both thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and hope to participate in any future space missions that are run at school.” The computer science team added, “We are proud to have contributed to this project”. Systems Engineer, Iyanu Abioye told us, “I feel very privileged to have been able to be a part of this and I want to say a huge thanks to Mr Brown and Mr Scott (Head of Curriculum Development for The Raspberry Pi Foundation) for putting this together for us.”

Glebe House School – 10 October

ascent-a ascent-b Google_earth_main (1)

Bill Robinson from the Glebe House School in Hunstanton has written an excellent post on their website which you can read here; it’s full of beautiful images and data that they gathered.

The year ahead

In the next ten months, expect to see a further 20+ launches taking place across the UK, led by educators and their students. If you want to get involved with our Skycademy activities there are several ways you can do so:

  • Follow our launches by checking our #skycademy hashtag and looking out for news about flights. During flights you can track using the habhub tracker
  • Help track our flights. If you’re in (or near) the UK you ought to be able to help receive data from payloads during and help keep tabs on them. To do this you’ll need some kit to build a what’s called “lora gateway”
    • A Raspberry Pi & SD card
    • A Lora Board
    • A suitable aerial
  • All of the above can be found at the HAB Supplies website, and a guide to setting up you’re gateway can be found here.
  • One of the challenges of launching a HAB flight is finding a suitable location which isn’t too near major airports, has some open space, has easy access and permission from the owner. If you think you might have a suitable site from which to launch, please get in touch.

Finally, getting Skycademy off the ground has been hard work, but a fantastic experience, and I’d like to say a huge thank you to all those individuals and organisations who’ve had a hand in getting us where we are.

Screenshot from 2015-10-12 14:53:45

 

 

 

 

 

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Skycademy Update

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The last month here at Pi Towers has been a busy one, as we’ve been preparing for our first ever Skycademy event. Since announcing it a couple of months ago we’ve had a great response from educators and youth leaders looking to run their own high-altitude project.

Having only ever done one launch myself, the team and I decided that a practice run was necessary. So back in July we invited Dave Akerman up to Cambridge and launched, chased and recovered our own payload. The whole experience was shared via Twitter.

From launch…

…throughout the flight…

…to recovery.

We even got to traipse through a ditch (an obligatory part of any HAB recovery surely?)

IMAG0310

The day was great and now were really excited to be repeating the experience with our 24 Skycademy attendees, who will join us next week from the 24th – 26th. Some of them have been quite excited too…

The plan for the three days is loosely as follows:

  • Day 1 – Orientation, training and preparation
  • Day 2 – A series of flights launched by the teams (from approximately 10:30 onwards)
  • Day 3 – Review, evaluation and planning future launches.

If you would like to follow what’s going on over the three days you can do so by keeping an eye on the #skycademy hashtag on Twitter, where you’ll find out how to track the payloads using links that we will share on the day.

Also keep an eye on the hourly predictions for landing sites. Let’s hope conditions improve a little, or we’ll all need boats!

 

 

 

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Skycademy – Free High Altitude CPD

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We’re looking for 24 teachers (or youth leaders) to take part in a FREE two-and-a-half day Continuing Professional Development (CPD) event aiming to provide experience of high altitude ballooning to educators, and demonstrating how it can be used as an engaging teaching opportunity.

Over the last few year I’ve seen many awesome uses of the Raspberry Pi, but one of my favourites by far is seeing the Pi used as a payload tracker for High Altitude Ballooning (HAB) projects.

One of the most prolific HAB enthusiasts is Dave Akerman, who has launched many flights using the Raspberry Pi, from the first flight back in 2012

…to the launch of a potato for Heston Blumenthal’s “Great British Food”…

…and even capturing some amazing images of the recent Solar Eclipse from 30km up.

Many schools are also seeing the opportunities for learning that a HAB flight presents, incorporating physics, maths, computing and geography into one project.

Here’s a project from William Howard School in Cumbria, whose students built their own tracker connected to a Pi.

In my previous life as a teacher, I organised a launch with my own students, and we had help from Dave Akerman on the day. This turned out to be super helpful, as it takes some planning and there’s a lot to remember.

One of the hardest parts of running a flight is the number of different aspects you have to plan and manage. You can test the hardware and software to a certain point, but there’s limited opportunity for a practice flight. Having experience is really helpful.

For this reason we’re running our first “Skycademy”, during which we will be giving attendees hands-on experience of a flight. The event will be free to attend and will be spread over two and a half days between the 24th and 26th of August.

  • Day 1 – Planning and workshop sessions on all aspects of HAB flights.
  • Day 2 – Each team launches their payload, tracks, follows and recovers it.
  • Day 3 – Teams gather together for plenary morning.

Our aim is to support and inspire teachers and other adults working with young people. The hope is that those that attend will return to lead a project with their groups that will do something amazing.

Attendees will be supported throughout the course by experienced HAB enthusiasts and the Raspberry Pi Education Team. If you are a UK teacher or work with young people (scout leader, youth leader etc), you can apply here.

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