Author Archives: Rob Zwetsloot

(Raspberry) Pi Commander | The MagPi 95

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Adrien Castel’s idea of converting an old electronic toy into a retro games machine was no flight of fancy, as David Crookes discovers

The 1980s was a golden era for imaginative electronic toys. Children would pester their parents for a Tomytronic 3D or a Nintendo Game & Watch. And they would enviously eye anyone who had a Tomy Turnin’ Turbo Dashboard with its promise of replicating the thrill of driving (albeit without the traffic jams).

All of the buttons, other than the joystick, are original to the toy – as are the seven red LED lights

Two years ago, maker Matt Brailsford turned that amazing toy into a fully working Out Run arcade machine and Adrien Castel was smitten. “I loved the fact that he’d upcycled an old toy and created something that could be enjoyed as a grown-up,” he says. “But I wanted to push the simulation a bit further and I thought a flying sim could do the trick.”

“I didn’t want to modify the look of the toy”

Ideas began flying around Adrien’s mind. “I knew what I wanted to achieve so I made an overall plan in my head,” he recalls. First he found the perfect toy: a battery-powered Sky Fighter F-16 tabletop game made by Dival. He then decided to base his build around a Raspberry Pi 3A+. “It’s the perfect hardware for projects like this because of its flexibility,” Adrien says.

Taking off

The toy needed some work. Its original bright red joystick was missing and Adrien knew he’d have to replace the original screen with a TFT LCD. To do this, he 3D-printed a frame to fit the TFT display and he created a smaller base for the replacement joystick. Adrien also changed the microswitches for greater sensitivity but he didn’t go overboard with the changes.

The games can make use of the full screen. Adrien would have liked a larger screen, but the original ratio oddly lay between 4:3 and 16:9, making a bigger display harder to find

“I knew I would have to adapt some parts for the joystick and for the screen, but I didn’t want to modify the look of the toy,” Adrien explains. “To be honest, modifying the toy would have involved some sanding and painting and I was worried that it would ruin the overall effect of the project if it was badly executed.”

A Raspberry Pi 3A+ sits at the heart of the Pi Commander, alongside a mini audio amplifier, and it’s wired up to components within the toy

As such, a challenge was set. “I had to keep most of the original parts such as throttle levers and LEDs and adapt them to the new build,” he says. “This meant getting them to work together with the system and it also meant using the original PCB, getting rid of the components and re-routing the electronics to plug on the GPIOs.”

There were some enhancements. Adrien soldered a PAM8403 3W class-D audio amplifier to Raspberry Pi and this allowed a basic speaker to replace the original for better sound. But there were some compromises too.

The original PCB was used and the electronics were re-routed. All the components need to work between 3.3 to 5V with the lowest possible amperage while fitting into a tight space

“At first I thought the screen could be bigger than the one I used, but the round shape of the cockpit didn’t give much space to fit a screen larger than four inches.” He also believes the project could be improved with a better joystick: “The one I’ve used is a simple two-button arcade stick with a jet fighter look.”

Flying high

By using the retro gaming OS Recalbox (based on EmulationStation and RetroArch), however, he’s been able to perfect the overall feel. “Recalbox allowed me to create a custom front end that matches the look of a jet fighter,” he explains. It also means the Pi Commander plays shoot-’em-up games alongside open-source simulators like FlightGear (flightgear.org). “It’s a lot of fun.”

Read The MagPi for free!

Find more fantastic projects, tutorials, and reviews in The MagPi #93, out now! You can get The MagPi #95 online at our store, or in print from all good newsagents and supermarkets. You can also access The MagPi magazine via our Android and iOS apps.

Don’t forget our super subscription offers, which include a free gift of a Raspberry Pi Zero W when you subscribe for twelve months.

And, as with all our Raspberry Pi Press publications, you can download the free PDF from our website.

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El Carrillon | The MagPi 92

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Most Raspberry Pi projects we feature debut privately and with little fanfare – at least until they’re shared by us.

The El Carrillon project, however, could hardly have made a more public entrance. In September 2019 it was a focal point of Argentina’s 49th annual Fiesta Nacional de la Flor (National Flower Festival), where its newly overhauled bell tower proudly rang out a brand-new, Raspberry Pi-enabled tune.

Many years ago, festival organisers created custom hardware with a PIC (programmable interface) microcontroller to control 18 tuned bells. Each bell is associated with a musical note, from A3 to D5 with all the semitones. Until its long overdue update, the tower’s 18 bells had rung the tune to Ayer, also known as Yesterday by The Beatles. They now have a brand-new repertoire of MIDI-based tunes, including the theme from Star Wars.

For Gerardo Richarte, the originator of the project, there was a little extra pressure: his dad is on the board of the NGO that organises Fiesta Nacional de la Flor, and challenged his son to come up with a way to update the bells so different songs could be played.

Ringing the changes

With the challenge accepted, Mariano Martinez Peck explains, “We chose Raspberry Pi because it was inexpensive, yet powerful enough to run Linux, Python, and VA Smalltalk. We could find ready-made HATs that actually matched the pinout of the existing flat cables without much hacking, and only a minimal amount of other hardware was needed. In addition, there was plenty of documentation, materials, tutorials, and GPIO libraries available.”

The bells had a pre-existing driver module

The project aim was to be able to run a mobile-friendly website within Raspberry Pi Zero that allowed control, configuration, and playback of MIDI songs on the bell tower. “In addition, we wanted to allow live playing from a MIDI keyboard,” says Mariano. The project developed as a live test and iteration update, but the final build only came together when Mariano and Gerardo’s moment in the spotlight arrived and El Carrillon rang out the first new tunes.

Coding a classic

The decades-old chimes were controlled by assembly code. This was superseded by Python when the team made the switch to Raspberry Pi Zero. Mariano explains, “Raspberry Pi allowed us to use Python to directly interface with both the old and new hardware and get the initial project working.”

However, the Python code was itself replaced by object-oriented VA Smalltalk code – an environment both Mariano and Gerardo are adept at using. Mariano says, “Smalltalk’s live programming environment works really well for fast, iterative development and makes software updates quick and easy without the need for recompilation that lower-level languages [such as assembly or C/C++] would need.”

El Carrillon’s bells can now play any MIDI file on Raspberry Pi, and the notes of the song will be mapped to the tuned bells. However, as the testing process revealed, some songs are more recognisable than others when reproduced on chimes.

A final feature enabled Gerardo to bag some brownie points with his father-in-law. He recently added a web interface for controlling, configuring, and playing songs, meaning the bells can now be controlled remotely and the song selected via a smartphone app.

The El Carrillon bell tower forms a striking backdrop to the flower festival and other cultural events

Read The MagPi for free!

Find more amazing projects and tutorials in The MagPi #92, out now! You can get The MagPi #92 online at our store, or in print from all good newsagents and supermarkets. You can also access The MagPi magazine via our Android and iOS apps.

Don’t forget our fantastic subscription offers, which include a free gift of a Raspberry Pi Zero W when you subscribe for twelve months.

And, as with all our Raspberry Pi Press publications, you can download the free PDF from our website.

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The MagPi 91: #MonthOfMaking is back for 2020!

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If you read The MagPi, it’s safe to say you like making in some way. The hobby has exploded in popularity over the last few years, thanks in no small part to a burgeoning online community and the introduction of low-cost computing with Raspberry Pi.

Last year we decided to celebrate making with a month-long online event called #MonthOfMaking. The idea was simply to get people to share what they’re making online, whatever it was. Whether you’re turning on your first LED with code or sending rockets to the moon, we want to create a space where you can share your proud achievements. So, let’s get making.

What is #MonthOfMaking?

#MonthOfMaking is simply an excuse to get people inspired to make something. And by make, we mean electronics, engineering, art, and craft projects. Get your creative powers buzzing and make something that you can show to the world.

There’s no skill-level threshold to participating either. If you’ve been wanting to start learning, this can be your jumping-on point. By sharing your builds with the community, you can learn and grow. Here are some simple rules to sum it all up:

  1. Find a new project, continue with one you’re working on, or finally crack on with something you’ve been putting off.
  2. Take pictures of your build progress and share it online with the hashtag #MonthOfMaking.
  3. If you can help someone with a problem, give them a hand.
  4. Have fun!

Getting ideas and inspiration

We’ve all been there. Sat down at a work bench or desk, staring at some components and thinking… what can I make with this? What would I like to make? Like any other creative pursuit, you’ll need some inspiration. If the projects in the magazine haven’t inspired you, then here are some website suggestions…

Instructables

Instructables is one of the oldest sites out there for finding amazing project guides and ideas, and we’ve been fans of it for years. The best part is you can search by specific project types as well, including Raspberry Pi if you’d like to keep it on‑brand. They’ve recently added more arts and crafts stuff if you fancy trying your hand at knitting.

Hackaday and Hackster

For more serious hacks for more advanced makers, Hackaday and Hackster have some great projects that really take a deep dive into a project. If you’re curious as to the limits of electronics and programming, these may be the place to look. Equally, if you want to do something huge with a lot of computer power, they should be your first stop.

Raspberry Pi projects

There are so many amazing things on the Raspberry Pi projects site that can help you with your first steps in just about any field of making. It’s also home to loads of great and simple home-grown projects that are perfect for young makers and older makers alike.

Planning your build

Step 01 Read and understand

Basing your build on a tutorial you’ve seen? Seen a few things you’d like to combine into something else? Always make sure to read the instructions you’ve found properly so that you know if it’s within your skill level.

Step 02 Order supplies
Write a list of what you need. Always double‑check you have the component you think you have. Sometimes you may need to buy from separate places, so just make sure the delivery times work for you.

Step 03 Follow along and be safe

Need adult supervision for a project? Absolutely get some. Even adults need to be wary, so always take safety precautions and wear protective clothing when needed. Make sure to follow any tutorials you’ve found as closely as you can.

Read The MagPi for free!

The rest of our #MonthOfMaking guide, along with loads more amazing projects and tutorials, can be found in The MagPi #91, out today, including our starter electronics guide! You can get The MagPi #91 online at our store, or in print from the Raspberry Pi Store in Cambridge and all good newsagents and supermarkets. You can also access The MagPi magazine via our Android and iOS apps.

We have a new US subscription offer!

Don’t forget our amazing subscription offers, which include a free gift of a Raspberry Pi Zero W when you subscribe for twelve months. Until the end of March, you can get a twelve-month subscription in the US for only $60! Head to magpi.cc/usa to find out more.

And, as with all our Raspberry Pi Press publications, you can download the free PDF from our website.

The post The MagPi 91: #MonthOfMaking is back for 2020! appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Free Raspberry Pi 4 cooling stand with The MagPi 90!

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In issue 88 of The MagPi, we discovered that Raspberry Pi 4 can be kept cooler than usual if placed on its side. This gave us an idea, and thanks to many Top People, it resulted in the small, simple, and very practical Raspberry Pi 4 stand that you will find on the cover of all physical copies of The MagPi 90.

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To complement this gift, we also got heat tester extraordinaire Gareth Halfacree to put the stand and several cooling cases through their paces to see just how well they can keep Raspberry Pi 4 nice and cool.

The stand also has an extra benefit: you can place three Raspberry Pis in it at once! A good idea if you plan to do a little cluster computing with a few Raspberry Pi 4s.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall…

While the Raspberry Pi 4 stand is a pretty big deal all by itself, issue 90 of The MagPi also includes a guide to building the ultimate smart mirror — including a bit of voice control!

While a magic mirror may not show you who the fairest of them all is (I can answer that question for you: it’s me), our guide will definitely show you the easiest way to set up your own magic mirror. It’ll be straightforward, thanks to the complete step-by-step tutorial we’ve put together for you.

Projects and more!

Feeling the urge to make something new with Raspberry Pi? Then take a look at our amazing selection of project showcases, and at a feature of some easy starter projects to help you get inspired. All this, along with our usual selection of reviews, tutorials, and community news, in The MagPi 90!

Get The MagPi 90 today

You can get The MagPi issue 90 online in our store with international delivery available, or from the Raspberry Pi Store in Cambridge and all good newsagents and supermarkets. You can also access The MagPi magazine via our Android and iOS apps.

The stand is available with print copies of the magazine

Don’t forget our amazing subscription offers either, which include a gift of a Raspberry Pi Zero W when you subscribe for twelve months.

And, as with all our Raspberry Pi publications, you can download this issue as a free PDF from our website.

The post Free Raspberry Pi 4 cooling stand with The MagPi 90! appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Hands-free Raspberry Pi Airdrum | The MagPi 89

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We’re always going to beat the drum for projects that seek to improve the lives of people with disabilities. That’s why we fell in love with the Airdrum, which was created to allow anyone, in particular people with disabilities, to play a musical instrument.

The Airdrum – speaker and MIDI song demo

This video demonstrates the speaker functionality with playing a song from a midi file on the Raspberry pi using Fluidsynth. (The hand movement is just for fun) The Airdrum is powered by a power supply for demonstration purposes.

Raspberry Pi Airdrum

Designed by two Dutch electrical engineering students, Alessandro Verdiesen and Luuk van Kuijk, the project came to life during their first year at university. “We aimed to develop a musical instrument that could be used to generate music by moving,” explains Alessandro, who has recently been working on a fully modular version 2.0.

After speaking with therapists and health care institutions, the pair decided to make a drum that could be played by moving objects above a set of panels and they put Raspberry Pi at its heart. “The basic functionality of the Airdrum is to detect the distance of an object above each connected panel and play a sound,” says Alessandro. “These panels contain IR distance sensors and coloured LEDs for visual feedback.”

Sorting the bass-ics

From the outset, Alessandro and Luuk needed their project to be accessible, affordable, adjustable and, in the latest iteration, modular, with each drummable section containing an Arduino Mini, an IR sensor, and LEDs. They also wanted the instrument to have a broader appeal and be suitable for everybody, including professional musicians, so it had to sound as good as it played.

“We needed it to be as versatile as it can be and allow people to choose custom sounds, colours, and lights while being a standalone instrument and a multi-purpose input/output device,” Alessandro reveals. To make it easy to place the modules together, they used magnetic connections between the panels. This allowed them to be placed together in various configurations, with a minimum of two per Airdrum.

These speaker modules can bookend the sensor panels, although the sound can be outputted via the Raspberry Pi to a different sound system too

With a structured plan that divided milestones into electrical, mechanical, and software components, the pair used 3D printing for the enclosure, which allowed rapid prototyping for quick interactions. They used speaker panels to bookend the modules for auditive feedback.

Panel beating

Each of the panels includes a buck converter so that the current through the connectors can be drawn to a minimum. The master module panel contains Raspberry Pi 3 running custom programs written in C and Python, as well as the free, open-source software synthesiser FluidSynth. It connects to the other panels through I2C, constantly polling the panels for their measurements and for the configuration of their colour.

“If an object has been detected, the Raspberry Pi generates a sound and outputs it on the AUX audio jack,” says Alessandro. “This output is then used by the mono D-class amplifiers in the speaker panels to make the tones audible.”

Custom-made Airdrum detecting modules fit snugly into their 3D-printed cases and can be arranged in a full circle if you have enough of them

The pair chose Raspberry Pi because of its versatility and technical prowess. “The Airdrum needed something powerful enough to run software to generate audio through MIDI using the input from the panels and the Raspberry Pi is a great universal and low-cost development board with integrated DAC for audio,” explains Alessandro. “It also has a I2C bus to act as a data transfer master unit and they’re compact enough to fit inside of the casing. The Raspberry Pi enables easy implementation of future upgrades, too.”

Indeed, the pair want to explore the MIDI possibilities and connect the Airdrum with a smartphone or tablet. An app is being planned, as is a built-in synthesiser. “The people we have shown the Airdrum to have been very enthusiastic,” Alessandro says. “That has been very motivating.”

Read The MagPi for free!

There’s loads more amazing projects and tutorials in The MagPi #89, out today, including our 50 tools and tips for makers, and a huge accessory guide! You can get The MagPi #89 online at our store, or in print from the Raspberry Pi Store in Cambridge and all good newsagents and supermarkets. You can also access The MagPi magazine via our Android and iOS apps.

Don’t forget our amazing subscription offers either, which include a free gift of a Raspberry Pi Zero W when you subscribe for twelve months.

And, as with all our Raspberry Pi publications, you can download the free PDF from our website.

The post Hands-free Raspberry Pi Airdrum | The MagPi 89 appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Build the ultimate 4K home theatre PC using a Raspberry Pi 4 and Kodi

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We love Raspberry Pi for how it’s helping a new generation of children learn to code, how it’s resulted in an explosion of new makers of all ages, and how it’s really easy to turn any TV into a smart TV.

While we always have a few Raspberry Pi computers at hand for making robots and cooking gadgets, or just simply coding a Scratch game, there’s always at least one in the house powering a TV. With the release of the super-powered Raspberry Pi 4, it’s time to fully upgrade our media centre to become a 4K-playing powerhouse.

We asked Wes Archer to take us through setting one up. Grab a Raspberry Pi 4 and a micro-HDMI cable, and let’s get started.

Get the right hardware

Only Raspberry Pi 4 can output at 4K, so it’s important to remember this when deciding on which Raspberry Pi to choose.

Raspberry Pi has been a perfect choice for a home media centre ever since it was released in 2012, due to it being inexpensive and supported by an active community. Now that 4K content is fast becoming the new standard for digital media, the demand for devices that support 4K streaming is growing, and fortunately, Raspberry Pi 4 can handle this with ease! There are three versions of Raspberry Pi 4, differentiated by the amount of RAM they have: 1GB, 2GB, or 4GB. So, which one should you go for? In our tests, all versions worked just fine, so go with the one you can afford.

Raspberry Pi Cases

Flirc Raspberry Pi 4 case

Made of aluminium and designed to be its own heatsink, the Flirc case for Raspberry Pi 4 is a perfect choice and looks great as part of any home media entertainment setup. This will look at home in any home entertainment system.

Official Raspberry Pi 4 case (in black and grey)

The official Raspberry Pi 4 case is always a good choice, especially the black and grey edition as it blends in well within any home entertainment setup. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also hack the case to hold a small fan for extra cooling.

Aluminium Heatsink Case for Raspberry Pi 4

Another case made of aluminium, this is effectively a giant heatsink that helps keep your Raspberry Pi 4 cool when in use. It has a choice of three colours – black, gold, and gunmetal grey – so is a great option if you want something a little different.

Optional Raspberry Pi add-ons

Maxtor 2TB external USB 3.0 HDD

4K content can be quite large and your storage will run out quickly if you have a large collection. Having an external hard drive connected directly to your Raspberry Pi using the faster USB 3.0 connection will be extremely handy and avoids any streaming lag.

Raspberry Pi Fan SHIM

The extra power Raspberry Pi 4 brings means things can get quite hot, especially when decoding 4K media files, so having a fan can really help keep things cool. Pimoroni’s Fan SHIM is ideal due to its size and noise (no loud buzzing here). There is a Python script available, but it also “just works” with the power supplied by Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins.

Raspberry Pi TV HAT

If you are feeling adventurous, you can add a Raspberry Pi TV HAT to your 4K media centre to enable the DVR feature in Kodi to watch live TV. You may want to connect your main aerial for the best reception. This will add a perfect finishing touch to your 4K media centre.

Rii i8+ Mini Wireless Keyboard

If your TV does not support HDMI-CEC, allowing you to use your TV remote to control Kodi, then this nifty wireless keyboard is extremely helpful. Plug the USB dongle into your Raspberry Pi, turn on the keyboard, and that’s it. You now have a mini keyboard and mouse to navigate with.

Read more for free…

Looking to read the rest of this article? We don’t blame you. Build the ultimate 4K home theatre PC using a Raspberry Pi 4 and Kodi is this month’s feature article for the brand-new MagPi magazine issue 87, out today.

You can read issue 87 today, for free, right now, by visiting The MagPi website.

You can also purchase issue 87 from the Raspberry Pi Press website with free worldwide delivery, from the Raspberry Pi Store, Cambridge, and from newsagents and supermarkets across the UK.

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