Author Archives: liz

DoodleBorg: a three-horsepower robot tank

via Raspberry Pi

PiBorg are an organisation making add-on boards for your Raspberry Pi. Recently they produced the biggest and most powerful Pi robot we’ve seen so far, using one (six, actually) of their motor boards: the resulting DoodleBorg is a three-horsepower beast powered by motorcycle starter motors. To all intents and purposes, it’s a small tank. With a dear little nobble on top for hitching things to.

The DoodleBorg has a Raspberry Pi for brains, and uses six of PiBorg’s PicoBorg reverse motor controllers, one for each wheel. It kicks out 2.1 KW – which is to say, around three horsepower, or more than my French teacher’s car had. (We’ve been discussing in the office what you might be able to do with such a mighty robot: Clive wants to run a Magdeburg hemispheres experiment without the horses; I want to pull a tractor trailer full of builders’ rubble – unfortunately, I happen to have one of those at the moment. Dave wants to set up a tug of war against a class of kids, and then stick his car in neutral and tow it around a field while shouting “Yee ha!”.) We’ve never seen a Pi look so insignificant in comparison with the robot it’s powering: we see lots of robots which are basically a Pi on wheels, whereas the Pi is completely lost in the body of this one. Best of all, the whole thing is sent commands via a PS3 controller.

Did I mention that we think it’s completely brilliant?

Raspberry Pi IV Beginners (a YouTube channel you should really check out) went to interview Team Borg about their metal monster.

(Yakkety Sax makes even the best things better: ten hundred internet points to Raspberry Pi IV Beginners for observing this.)

You can buy PiBorg add-on boards for your Raspberry Pi (the LedBorg is a particular favourite in our office) from PiBorg’s website and from Mod My Pi. If you end up making something even a tiny bit as cool as this, let us know. We like robots.


Timelapse tutorial from Carrie Anne’s Geek Gurl Diaries

via Raspberry Pi

Even though Carrie Anne Philbin is working here at Pi Towers now, she’s still carrying on with the Geek Gurl Diaries YouTube channel that she set up before she joined us – for which we’re all profoundly grateful, because her videos are some of the best tutorials we’ve seen.

Here’s the latest from Carrie Anne: a tutorial on setting up the camera board, making timelapse video, and creating animations.

Are you a primary or secondary teacher in the UK? Would you like two days of free CPD from Carrie Anne and the rest of our superstar education team? You’ll get to come here to Pi Towers, meet all of us, and learn about the many ways you can use the Raspberry Pi in the classroom. Apply here - we’d love to hear from you.

Learning through gaming

via Raspberry Pi

Allen Heard, Head of Computing at Ysgol Bryn Elian in North Wales (that’s Welsh for Bryn Elian School), is visiting us at Pi Towers today. We’ve been talking about making Computing fun to learn, and how to make sure that kids remember what they’ve done in their lessons – and perhaps even keep learning at home.

Allen’s been running Tech-Dojo events in North Wales, which have been attracting hundreds of kids – on Saturdays! Here’s what he’s been doing: note the Flappy Bird clones the kids are writing in Scratch, the use of Minecraft, the way kids are learning about pixel art by building recognisable sprites out of beads, and other ways he’s bringing out the kids’ ability to think programatically through building games and the fundamental elements of games.

A few months ago, Allen entered these Tech-Dojo events into the North Wales e-Learning Technology Competition for projects that engage with the local community. He’s just heard that the project won first prize in its category, and will present it to educators from across North Wales at an event at Glyndŵr University, St Asaph, next week. We’re very excited: we think this sort of model of education’s great for kids who find traditional learning dry, and the results the kids are achieving speak for themselves. Congratulations Allen: we look forward to seeing similar events rolling out across Wales, and further into the UK!

Digital signal processing with teeny-tiny tap-dancers.

via Raspberry Pi

When we wrote about accelerating Fast Fourier Transforms (FFTs) on the Pi back in January, several people asked what sort of real-world application FFTs can have. We talked about numerical analysis, cryptography, spectrograms and software-defined radio, among other things, in the comments on that post. All the same, FFTs are something that those who don’t get excited by maths can find a bit dry, and it can be hard to find a good demonstration of FFTs that works for those of you who like to think about things visually. So I was really pleased to find a link to this project from Pavan Tumati, which makes digital signal processing…decorative. Not to mention festive.

Here, FFTs are performed on music samples on the Raspberry Pi fast enough to detect a beat, and the Pi relays that information to some teeny-tiny tap-dancers, who produce an automated routine that’s synced to the music.

These little tap-dancing guys are from a post-Christmas sales bin. They’re called Happy Tappers, and are made by Hallmark, who, for reasons known only to them, include a port which enables them to interface with their tippy-tapping brothers and sisters – which makes for exciting DIY project possibilities once you add something that’s able to feed them an input. I’ve never seen them on sale in the UK, but if you’re dead set on making your own tap-dancing Pi project, they seem to be available online at eBay, Amazon US, and at some Christmas shops.

(I know: it’s a bit odd posting about Christmas decorations in mid-March. But if the family across the road from me, who still have multicoloured lights flashing away merrily on the tree in their front garden every evening, are anything to go by, Christmas decorations aren’t just for Christmas any more.)

Trending Vending: Pi-powered custom Oreos

via Raspberry Pi

So you’re at SXSW. And you want an up-to-the-minute cookie. What could be nicer than a customised Oreo, filled, flavoured and printed with the aid of a Raspberry Pi (in such a way that you can watch what’s happening yourself) all depending on what’s trending on Twitter at the moment? Our good friend Matt Richardson from Make (check out his book, Getting Started with Raspberry Pi – it’s great) is here to tell you what it’s all about.

There are lots of Pis in evidence at SXSW this year. I’d like to draw your especial attention to Slashathon, a music hacking event headed up by this man:

Picture thieved from Wikipedia.

We’ve donated some Raspberry Pis for the event, and we’re looking forward to seeing what happens to them. If you’re at SXSW, let us know if you see any more Pis at work in the comments.


Trending Vending: Pi-powered custom Oreos

via Raspberry Pi

So you’re at SXSW. And you want an up-to-the-minute cookie. What could be nicer than a customised Oreo, filled, flavoured and printed with the aid of a Raspberry Pi (in such a way that you can watch what’s happening yourself) all depending on what’s trending on Twitter at the moment? Our good friend Matt Richardson from Make (check out his book, Getting Started with Raspberry Pi – it’s great) is here to tell you what it’s all about.

There are lots of Pis in evidence at SXSW this year. I’d like to draw your especial attention to Slashathon, a music hacking event headed up by this man:

Picture thieved from Wikipedia.

We’ve donated some Raspberry Pis for the event, and we’re looking forward to seeing what happens to them. If you’re at SXSW, let us know if you see any more Pis at work in the comments.


Bitcoin farming – on a industrial scale

via Raspberry Pi

Jetlag’s grim. As you’ll have gathered from Ben’s post on Monday, I found that I was so tired on Monday I couldn’t speak coherently, much less read or write. So I ended up spending the day going through some YouTube videos I’d been pointed at, having decided that this required less energy than typing.

One in particular demanded to be shared.

Here’s a segment from KOMO 4, a Seattle news station. Last week’s news about the collapse of Mt Gox, one of the largest Bitcoin exchanges, has meant that there’s been lots media interest in Bitcoin, and this video talks about what it is…and, in doing so, visits one of the US’s biggest Bitcoin farms. We were struck dumb (really – jaws resting on chests, drooling slightly) when we saw the footage of how they’re mining: that’s an awful lot of Pis, and even more ASIC miners. We don’t think we’ve seen so many Raspberry Pis in one place outside the factory in Wales where they’re made. Fast forward to 3:08 for a detailed look.




Welcome to the newest member of the Raspberry Pi family!

via Raspberry Pi

If you’ve emailed our info@ address in the last year, spoken to us about trademarks or talked to us on Facebook or G+, you’ll have bumped into the indefatigable Lorna. She went on maternity leave a couple of weeks ago, and today she had a little boy. Welcome to the Pi family, Ronan Peter: we’re very pleased to meet you!

Blowing in the (fetid subway) wind

via Raspberry Pi

A quick post today: I’m at the airport gate waiting to get on a plane.

I sent out a tweet about this brilliant advertising application of the Pi last week, but so many of you missed it on Twitter and have emailed to tell me about it since then (including one Dr Eben Upton) that I thought it deserved a spot here. Here’s a digital billboard that responds to the wind created by an approaching train.

The advertising agency behind this piece of clever is Åkestam Holst from Sweden, working with production company Stopp for Apotek Hjärtat’s Apolosophy products. Stopp says the ad was scheduled to be run for one day only, but it was so popular that the company which owns the screens asked for it to run for the rest of the week “as a way for them to show the opportunities their screens can offer”. When you think about it, a device like the Pi that can run a full HD digital display and can be hooked up to respond to real-world inputs is ideal for this sort of setup. These guys aren’t the only agency to be using a Raspberry Pi behind digital displays: but this is the best integrated use of the device I’ve seen in this context, and it’s made for a very powerful piece of advertising.

MagPi issue 21 – out now!

via Raspberry Pi

Last month’s MagPi fundraiser for a Volume 2 binder was a roaring success: check out how they did on KickStarter.

MagPi issue 21

As you’ll know unless you’ve been living in an internet-free commune, The MagPi is the free, monthly Raspberry Pi magazine, created by the Raspberry Pi community. We at the Foundation have no involvement with The MagPi beyond thinking it’s terrific: there are tutorials, listings, project ideas and more for people of all levels; from kids picking up a Raspberry Pi for the first time, to the most grizzled and hairy of systems engineers.

This month’s issue has a second birthday interview with Eben (unfortunately this issue went to the typesetters when the news about Friday’s open source announcement from Broadcom was still under embargo, so make sure you read that too to get a complete picture of what we’ve been up to). You’ll find a project where you can use a Pi for maintaining a notoriously finicky saltwater aquarium for corals – Emma has already asked me if we can get one for the office – and type-in listings for a great old-school text adventure called Stronghold of the Dwarven Lords. There’s another instalment from Project Curacao, the tropical environmental monitoring setup, alongside a weather station project you can make at home, where the environment is less exciting. My favourite piece this issue is from 13-year-old Jacob Roberts, who made his Pi into a portable computer on a pocket-money budget. He’ll show you how you can do the same.

There’s internet radio, motion detection, book reviews, competitions and much more. We really look forward to the MagPi every month: it’s a great resource for all Pi users, and we’re grateful, as always, to Ash, Will, Aaron and the team of volunteers who work so hard on it every month. Thanks gang – we’re looking forward to April’s issue!

A GCSE lesson

via Raspberry Pi

Ben Llewellyn Smith is Head of Computing and ECDL manager at AKS in Lytham St Annes. He showed us this video just before last week’s Jamboree, to demonstrate his newly installed classroom Debian server being used by a class of GCSE students who all use Raspberry Pis.

Ben’s pupils each own a Raspberry Pi: we’re convinced that there’s enormous learning value in the sense of ownership and ability to customise that having your own Raspberry Pi, rather than a borrowed school unit, gives you. It’s one of the reasons we worked so hard at getting the cost of the Raspberry Pi down so low. This also means that the pupils can carry on working with their Pis at home in the evenings.

You’ll see the pupils being given a very simple Scratch task to test Ben’s new system in this video, and get a feel for what a teaching environment can be like. Ben’s aiming towards getting the class’s GCSE coursework done as a Minecraft hack, using Python on the Pi: he’s the kind of teacher I wish I’d had. (True story: my own Miss Lyons had to keep a picture of a floppy disk being inserted on her desk so she could remember which way up it fitted in the slot.)

The investigation that Ben’s class will be doing for the GCSE can be done on a Pi as well. We’re very pleased that Ben’s been able to be able to share this video with us all: I hope it’ll be of some help to other teachers out there. You’ll find a lot more from Ben at his YouTube channel: enjoy!

A map of your Pi

via Raspberry Pi

A quick post today: I’m pretty behind on work. (I’ve wasted most of today trying to find a new hotel room in San Francisco that, unlike the one I slept in last night, doesn’t have biting insects. I have now found one, and a wifi connection. And immediately after posting this, I am going to scrub myself vigorously in the shower. It has been a testing 24 hours.)

To keep you busy while I carefully wash everything in my suitcase, here is an excellent interactive image of a Raspberry Pi, created by the EverPi folk in Brazil (let us know your names, guys, so we can credit you properly) with all the components, down to the tiniest resistors, labelled when you hover over with the mouse pointer. Ever wondered what the component marked D2 does? Here’s your chance to find out.

Please excuse me while I go and cry in the bathroom.

Edited to add: Carrie Anne has also sent me this most excellent video of what happens when I’m not in the office to cheer me up. The crates in this video contain one Ben Nuttall, and one Gordon Hollingworth. I thought it might cheer you up too.



Gameboy cosplay (Pi-powered, naturally)

via Raspberry Pi

We have no details about this other than the video below. (A picture appeared on Reddit last August, but there’s been absolutely no other information: we do not know who these people are, what the event they’re at is, how many worked on the outfit, or where they’re from.) But it’s magnificent, so we had to share. Great job, shady-looking guy! Get in touch with us if you see this: we’d like to know who you are, and what other superpowers you have.

Thanks to Recantha for the spot!

Graphic equaliser

via Raspberry Pi

Our good friends at Adafruit put this project on their Learning System earlier this month. It’s a beaut: you’ll learn something making it, and it looks fantastic when set up. Before we get into the nitty gritty, here’s some video:

This graphic equaliser (a spectrum analys/zer if you’re from the USA) is made from a RGB led strip, with everything down to the audio processing run on the Pi. Everything you see in the video is happening in real time. The setup runs Python, and is based on LightShowPi (which was originally designed to orchestrate Christmas lights), so you’ll be able add LightShowPi features like SMS control from your phone if you’re an advanced user.

Some soldering is required – but soldering is easy, and this is a good project to earn your soldering wings on if you haven’t already. There’s the usual full and helpful tutorial over at Adafruit, along with tips, a parts list, code and all that good stuff. I wish I’d had one of these for my student bedroom. Imagine the parties!

Mission Control desk

via Raspberry Pi

Some parents take the carrot approach to homework enforcement, others the stick.

This is the best carrot I’ve ever seen. Some world-class parenting skills are on display right here. This is the homework desk of Jeff Highsmith’s older son:

And this is what it looks like when he’s finished his homework and is allowed to raise the lid.

The desk came about as the result of a family visit to the Kennedy Space Center. It’s not an exact facsimile of an Apollo Mission control desk (the real ones don’t make whooshy fizzy rocket noises, deep mechanical clankings and exciting beepings, and, as Jeff says, they do more monitoring than controlling), but those of you who have seen the real thing will definitely recognise what this is based on.

Here is a wonderful, wonderful how-to video which walks you around the build and the finished desk. We love the clear panel to display the Pi and the Arduino!

(Eben got to the bit in the video where Jeff’s son issues the command to stir the oxygen tanks and shouted: “NOOOOOOO!”)

The whole thing is run on a Raspberry Pi and Arduino, working together. Jeff says:

The programming of the console, which I posted to GitHub, has the Arduino and the Raspberry Pi working cooperatively. The Arduino uses four I/O expanders (MCP23017) to read the state of switches and buttons. Whenever a switch (be it a momentary push-button switch, a rocker switch, or a toggle switch) changes state (on to off or off to on), the Arduino tells the Raspberry Pi over a serial connection (USB cable). The Raspberry Pi plays a sound or starts a sequence of events, if necessary, and sends any commands for controlling LEDs to the Arduino. The Arduino uses five LED matrix drivers (HT16K33 on a carrier board from Adafruit) to control all of the LEDs. That allows for 640 separate LEDs, which sounds like a lot, until you consider that the numerical displays have eight LEDs per digit and the LED bargraph displays have 24 LEDs per graph (they make three colors by having a red and green LED in each segment so they can make red, yellow, or green). The potentiometers are read by the analog inputs of the Arduino.

The EECOM panel contains four potentiometers that are each mapped to a 12-segment bargraph display. Turning the knobs adjusts the number of segments lit, and I made it so all the segments change color to reflect how urgent a given value is. If the value is adjusted to the safe middle four segments, all segments lit are lit green. If it’s adjusted a bit higher or a bit lower, all lit segments are lit yellow. If the level is adjusted way too high or way too low, lit segments are red.

It even plays real clips from the real Apollo 11 mission, which Jeff was able to source online. You can read much more about the build, what all those wonderful switches and dials do in Jeff’s article for MAKE. Jeff, I hope you’re at the big Maker Faire Bay Area this May. We’re sending our education team, and they’re big fans; they’d like to pick your brains!