Adafruit Flex Perma-Proto Half-Sized Breadboard Flex-PCB

via Pololu - New Products

This half-sized perma-proto board from Adafruit functions similarly to a standard perf-board in that through-hole parts must be soldered to the board, but the holes are internally connected like on a 420-point breadboard, with four bus lines that each span the length of the board and 30 rows of electrically connected pins. Unlike breadboards and perf-boards, this flex perma-proto board is made from thin polyamide film, which makes it incredibly flexible. Three mounting holes and its flexible design make this board great for fitting your circuit onto a curved surface or into your wearable electronics project.

Adafruit Perma-Proto Full-Sized Breadboard PCB (3-Pack)

via Pololu - New Products

These full-sized perma-proto boards from Adafruit function similarly to standard perf-boards in that through-hole parts must be soldered to the board, but the holes are internally connected like on a 840-point breadboard, with four bus lines that each span the length of the board and 60 rows of electrically connected pins. They also feature a labeled silkscreen and mounting holes, which make it easy to transfer your prototype to a permanent circuit board and project box. These boards are sold in packs of three.

Adafruit Perma-Proto Half-Sized Breadboard PCB (3-Pack)

via Pololu - New Products

These half-sized perma-proto boards from Adafruit function similarly to standard perf-boards in that through-hole parts must be soldered to the board, but the holes are internally connected like on a 420-point breadboard, with four bus lines that each span the length of the board and 30 rows of electrically connected pins. They also feature a labeled silkscreen and mounting holes, which make it easy to transfer your prototype to a permanent circuit board and project box. These boards are sold in packs of three.

Adafruit Perma-Proto Quarter-Sized Breadboard PCB (3-Pack)

via Pololu - New Products

These quarter-sized perma-proto boards from Adafruit function similarly to standard perf-boards in that through-hole parts must be soldered to the board, but the holes are internally connected like on a 210-point breadboard, with four bus lines that each span the length of the board and 15 rows of electrically connected pins. They also feature a labeled silkscreen and mounting holes, which make it easy to transfer your prototype to a permanent circuit board and project box. These boards are sold in packs of three.

Pi in the Sky: hardware for high-altitude balloonists from Dave Akerman

via Raspberry Pi

Liz: Regular readers will be very familiar with the name Dave Akerman. Dave has been sending Raspberry Pis to the stratosphere under weather balloons since we launched the Pi in 2012, and his work in helping schools develop their own in-house space programs has been fantastic to watch. He and his friend Anthony Stirk have just produced a telemetry add-on board for the Raspberry Pi to help schools (and everybody else) reproduce the sort of spectacular results you’ve seen from him before. Here he is to introduce it: over to you, Dave!

High Altitude Ballooning is an increasingly popular hobby (I nearly said that interest has been “ballooning”, but fortunately I stopped myself just in time …), bringing what is termed “near space” within the reach of pretty much anyone who is willing to put in the effort and spend a moderate amount of money.

moon and sky from stratosphere


Although it’s possible to successfully fly and retrieve a balloon with a simple GSM/GPS tracker, the chances are that this will end in failure and tears. GSM coverage in the UK is nowhere near 100%, especially in rural areas which is where we want (and aim) the flights to land. The next step up, in reliability and price, is a “Spot” tracker which works solely via satellites, but those don’t work if they land upside down. Also, neither of these solutions will tell you how high the flight got, or record any science data (e.g. temperature, pressure), or indeed tell you anything about the flight until they land. If you’re lucky. A lost flight is a sad thing indeed.

pic from stratosphere


For some countries (e.g. USA, but not the UK), if you are a licensed amateur radio operator you can fly an APRS tracker, in which case the flight will be tracked for you via the ground-based APRS network run by other radio hams. Sadly UK laws prohibit radio hams transmitting from an airborne vehicle, so APRS is out for us.

For these reasons, pretty much everyone involved in the hobby in the UK, and many other countries, uses radio trackers operating in an ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Medical) band where airborne usage is allowed. These work throughout the flight, transmitting GPS co-ordinates plus temperature and anything else that you can add a sensor for. Many radio trackers can also send down live images, meaning that you can see what your flight is seeing without having to wait for it to land. Here’s a diagram showing how telemetry from the flight ends up as a balloon icon on a Google map:

tracking system


What’s not shown here is that, provided you tell them, the other balloonists will help track for you. So not only will you be receiving telemetry and images directly via your own radio receiver, but others will do to. All received data is collated on a server so if you do lose contact with the flight briefly then it doesn’t matter. However, this does not mean you can leave the tracking up to others! You’ll need to receive at the launch site (you have to make sure it’s working!) and also in the chase car once it lands. The expense of doing this is small – a TV dongle for £12 or so will do it, with a £15 aerial and a laptop, ideally with a 3G dongle or tethered to a phone.

Traditionally, balloonists build their own radio trackers, and for anyone with the skills or the time and ability to learn programming and some digital electronics, this is definitely the most rewarding route to take. Imagine receiving pictures of the Earth from 30km up, using a piece of kit that you designed and built and programmed! So if you are up to this challenge (and I suspect that most people reading are) then I recommend that you do just that. It takes a while, but during the development you’ll have plenty of time to research other aspects of the hobby (how to predict the flight path, and obtain permission, and fill the balloon, etc.). And when you’re done, you can hold in your hand something that is all your own work and has, to all intents and purposes, been to space.

weather balloon bursting


For some though, it’s just not practical to develop a new tracker. Or you might be a programming whizz, but not know which end of a soldering iron to pick up. It was with these people in mind that we (myself and Anthony Stirk – another high altitude balloonist) developed our “Pi In The Sky” telemetry board. Our principle aim is to enable schools to launch balloon flights with radio trackers, without having to develop the hardware and software first. It is also our hope that older children and students will write their own software or at least modify the provided (open source) software, perhaps connecting and writing code for extra sensors (the board has an i2c connection for add-ons).

The board and software are based on what I’ve been flying since my first “Pi In The Sky” flight over 2 years ago, so the technology has been very well proven (approximately 18 flights and no losses other than deliberate ones!). So far the board itself has clocked up 5 successful flights, with the released open-source software on 3 of those. Here’s the board mounted to a model B (though we very strongly recommend use of a model A, which consumes less power and weighs less):

Pi in the Sky board

It comes in a kit complete with a GPS antenna, SMA pigtail (from which you can easily make your own radio aerial), stand-offs for a rigid mounting to the Pi board, and battery connectors. Software is on, with installation instructions at, or there is a pre-built SD card image for the tragically lazy. We do recommend manual installation as you’ll learn a lot.

By now you’re probably itching to buy a board and go fly it next weekend. Please don’t. Well, buy the board by all means, but from the moment you decide that this is the project for you, you should task yourself with finding out all you can about how to make your flight a safe success. For a start, this means learning about applying for flight permission (which, if you want to launch from your garden at the end of an airport runway, isn’t going to be given). Permission is provided together with a NOTAM (NOtice To AirMen) which tells said pilots what/where/when your launch will be, so they can take a different path. You also need to learn about predicting the flight path so that it lands well away from towns or cities or motorways or airports. I hope I don’t need to explain how important all of this is.



There’s lots more to learn about too, for example:

  • How to track the flight
  • How to fill a balloon
  • Where to buy the balloon
  • What size balloon? What size parachute? How to tie it all together?

None of this is complicated (it’s not, ahem “rocket science”), but there is a lot to know. Don’t be surprised if the time between “I’ll do it!” and “Wow, I did it!” is measured in months. Several of them. In fact, worry if it’s less than that – this research takes time. We will be producing some teaching materials, but meantime please see the following links:

As for the board, it provides a number of features borne out of a large number of successful flights:

  • Efficient built-in power regulator providing run time of over 20 hours from 4 AA cells (using a model A Pi)
  • Highly sensitive UBlox GPS receiver approved for altitudes up to 50km
  • Temperature compensated, license-free (Europe) frequency agile, 434MHz radio transmitter
  • Temperature sensor
  • Battery voltage monitoring
  • Sockets for external i2c devices, analog input, external temperature sensor
  • Allows use of Raspberry Pi camera
  • Mounting holes and spacers for a solid connection to the Pi

The open-source software provides these features:

  • Radio telemetry with GPS and sensor data using UKHAS standard
  • Radio image download using SSDV standard
  • Multi-threaded to maximize use of the radio bandwidth
  • Variable image size according to altitude
  • Stores full-definition images as well as smaller transmitted images
  • Automatically chooses better images for download
  • Configurable via text file in the Windows-visible partition of the SD card
  • Supplied as github repository with instructions, or SD card image

Finally, anyone interested in high altitude ballooning, using our board or not, should come to the UKHAS Conference on 16th August 2014 at the University of Greenwich. Anthony and I will be presenting our board during the morning sessions, and will run a workshop on the board in the afternoon. For tickets click here.

Arduino Plays Timberman or how to cheat in video games

via Arduino Blog


Playing addictive and repetitive video games is a pleasure for some people but not so engaging for others. Valentin Haun found the solution to reach high score without getting bored: he made an Arduino Uno playing Timberman for him.

You can find the code and the circuit example for this program on Github

Take a look at the older and slower version made for iPhone

New Product Friday: New Puppy Friday

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

We have our usual selection of new stuff this week, in addition to a special guest star. This week is the acting debut of Wedge. Wedge belongs to Chris, who you might remember from last week.

One of the perks of working at SparkFun is the ability to be around puppies without having to actually own a puppy.

In the video, we show the new Rapsberry Pi cases which were actually released last week. You can find them here. We’re currently out of stock, but more are on order.

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Need a pressure sensor you can use underwater? Check out the new MS5803 breakout board. What makes the MS5803 unique is the the gel membrane and antimagnetic stainless steel cap that protects against 30 bar water pressure.

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We forgot to talk about this last week, but we have the essential sensor kit back in stock. This kit contains all the basic sensors you’ll need to start playing around with integrating sensors into your projects. It includes an accelerometer, photocell, temperature sensor, infrared sensor, and more.

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This week we also have the LilyPad Arduino USB back in stock. This board uses the ATmega32U4 which eliminates the need for a separate FTDI and lets you do some cool HID stuff too. The new version has some production-level revisions (footprints and such) and a better USB connection.

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The new version of the RedBoard shows up in retail packaging this week. The RedBoard was our answer to the ever-changing Arduino versions. The design is loosely based on the older Duemilanove with the bootloader from the UNO. It’s what we like to think of as a ‘best of both worlds’ board.

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Lastly, we have a new version of the XBee shield this week as well. This popular board gets a few minor tweaks, mainly updating to the new R3 shield footprint. If you need to use XBees with Arduino, this is the shield you need to get.

That does it for this week. Thanks for watching and of course we’ll be back again next week with more new stuff for you. See you then.

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Raspberry Pi Model B+

via Pololu - New Products

The Raspberry Pi is a credit card-sized computer with an ARM processor that can run Linux. This item is the Raspberry Pi Model B+, which has 512 MB of RAM, an Ethernet port, HDMI output, audio output, RCA composite video output (through the 3.5 mm jack), four USB ports, and 0.1″-spaced pins that provide access to general purpose inputs and outputs (GPIO). The Raspberry Pi requires a microSD card with an operating system on it (not included). The Raspberry Pi is very popular, with lots of example projects and information available online.

Useful Strategies for Makers: Part 2

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

Personal passion should be the real driving force for learning in any classroom, especially a makerspace. When students come up with their own ideas for projects that reflect their interests, they become intrinsically motivated to learn everything they need to complete the project. This is why it is so important to let students come up with their own ideas for projects. For the second installment in the Useful Strategies for Makers series (Part 1 is here), I want to highlight some strategies for helping students come up with ideas for projects that reflect their personal interests and passions.

Give them a menu of challenges or prompts

I wish that all of my students would come into class on the first day of school and know exactly what project they want to work on that semester. But the fact is that they usually have no idea what is even possible with the materials and tools, let alone what they want to make. I find that a really effective way to scaffold the ideation process is to give my students a menu of challenges, or prompts. This is different from giving them a list of projects to chose from. Challenges or prompts are more open-ended and allow students the flexibility needed to make the project their own idea and to reflect their own interests. One of the more successful prompts that I gave my students last year was: make something that plays music. Two students who love cooking made a working piano out of brownies and marshmallows. One student made a drum playing robot using Legos. Two other musical students laser cut and assembled real working wood violins. Because the prompt was so vague, we saw an awesome range of student projects that truly reflected their interests. For more on creating your own prompts, see this great post by Gary Stager.

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Address an environmental concern about your community

Some prompts are so good that they can anchor a whole class. A few years ago, I worked on a project called GreenFab, a Fab Lab for High School students in Hunts Point, South Bronx. We taught classes on physical computing, digital design, and fabrication through the lens of sustainability and green technologies. At the end of each semester, we gave students four weeks to work on a final project. The prompt that we gave them was that the project had to address an environmental concern that the students had about their community. The students created some amazing projects including: a table that charged USB devices with solar panels, an aquaponics system that grew food using fish waste, a cross-section model of a green roof with temperature sensors, a portable air conditioner, a device that dries your nail polish for you, and many, many more. Because we never defined the key words in that prompt (environment and community), the students were free to define those terms themselves and discover projects that they really cared about.

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(Photo credit: Stephanie Wentzel)

Check out some more projects from that program here:

Discover their passions and offer ideas

Jeff Sturges, Conductor of the Mt. Elliot Makerspace in Detroit, suggests asking students to think about what excites them. If you have time at the beginning of the year, it might be best to schedule one on one interviews and brainstorm project ideas with students. But you can also start the year with a survey to find out what really interests your students. Ask questions like: What are you passionate about? or What did you spend the most time this summer doing? Don’t be afraid to offer ideas to your students based on their interests and passions. Even if the core of the idea originally comes from the teacher, if it reflects the student’s interests sufficiently, they will be able to make the idea their own and get engaged in the project. I remember one student in the GreenFab program who was having a hard time finding a project that interested him. He clearly was not engaged in the assignment, preferring to day dream about playing basketball. I suggested that he try to make a device that automatically keeps score in a basketball game. He wound up using a whisker switch and an Arduino to make a counter that lit up an LED every time someone tossed a crumpled piece of paper in the recycling bin.

Create a project for a specific environments

Inspired by a class that Marina Zurkow taught while I was a student at NYU’s ITP, I created an Open Studio elective called Site: Specific at the Marymount School of New York. Open Studio classes are student-driven electives that we offer to 6th-9th graders. In Site: Specific, I ask students to start by deciding on a site in the school building and then designing and building an interactive installation that changes how people behave in that space. Starting with a specific environment or site really helps students come up with fantastic ideas. I’ve seen students turn the staircase bannister into a music instrument, an RFID card reader that dishes out compliments, and a device that automatically plays music when anyone enters the elevator. Because the project is tied to a specific public environment, students imaginations can run wild while constrained by the affordances of that site.

Create connections through improvisation

One of my favorite assignments at ITP was the first project in Tom Igoe’s networked objects class. He called this assignment the Physical Computing Improv Project. Here is his description:

This project is a quick one for me to get to know what your physical computing skills are. Pick at least one item from each of these three lists, and combine them into a responsive object…Your object has to respond to a person’s action….The interaction must be repeatable, and clear to the person in question. It doesn’t have to be meaningful, but it does have to be engaging in some way. Work alone on this. You have one week to complete it. Don’t over-think it.

  • Actions: squeezing, stroking, tapping, shaking, dancing, caressing, breathing, pushing
  • Things: feathers, cup, monkey, playground ball, sneakers, lentils, pudding
  • Responses: color, sound, animation, speech, music, kinetic movement

I converted a paintball gun into a laser shooter and made a game where you could fire lasers at images of monkeys and lentils. A computer would tell you would announce if you shot a monkey or a lentil. Another student made a small robot that pooped lentils when stroked. I loved the extreme constraints of this assignment. The selection of actions, things, and responses evoke whimsy and facilitate cognitive serendipity, or creating connections between seemingly different ideas.

Embrace constraints

All of these ideas: using prompts or challenges, addressing environmental concerns, starting with passions, choosing specific sites, and making connections through improvisations have something in common: they place constraints around the ideation process. Constraints help students deal with the anxiety caused by the Paradox of Choice that makerspaces can create. The protean nature of a makerspace is both a blessing and a curse. While opening doors for students to invent almost anything they want, it can be a bit overwhelming, like entering an ice cream shop with hundreds of flavors. How do you choose? Constraints can be a helpful guide for students as the come up with creative ideas like sundaes that they can feel ownership over.

Okay, your student has a great idea for a project. Now what? In the next installment of the Useful Strategies for Makers series, I will present some tips and advice for students and teachers that will be helpful as students begin to plan out their projects.

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Explore the Data Dozen!

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

Today is the first day of our Data Dozen Sale! The data dozen is twelve hand-selected products that we chose because they are great for projects that interface with the new SparkFun Data Channel!

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These products are being marked down 15% for just one week (today until July 31st, 2014 at 11:59 p.m. MT). Here’s the lineup:

Check out the Data Dozen page for more details about the sale and these great products! No backorders are allowed, so get ‘em while supplies last!

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Exploring computing education in rural schools in India

via Raspberry Pi

Earlier this year, the Raspberry Pi Foundation supported a University of Cambridge team of two researchers, Dr Maximilian Bock and Aftab Jalia, in a pilot project exploring the possibilities of providing computing access and education in rural schools in India. Working with local organisations and using an adaptable three-day programme, they led two workshops in June 2014 introducing students and teachers to computing with the Raspberry Pi. The workshops used specially designed electronics kits, including Raspberry Pis and peripherals, that were handed over to the partner organisations.

Karigarshala students connect Raspberry Pis and peripherals The first workshop took place at Karigarshala Artisan School, run by Hunnarshala Foundation in Bhuj, Gujarat; the attendees were a group of 15-to-19-year old students who had left conventional education, as well as three local instructors. The students started off with very little experience with computers and most had never typed on a keyboard, so a session introducing the keyboard was included, followed by sessions on programming, using the Raspberry Pi camera module and working with electronics.

Karigarshala students mastering hardware control of an LED via the Raspberry Pi GPIO

Karigarshala students mastering hardware control of an LED via the Raspberry Pi GPIO

Students chose to spend their evenings revisiting what they had learned during the day, and by the end of the course all the students could write programs to draw shapes, create digital documents, connect electronic circuits, and control components such as LEDs using the Raspberry Pi.

Chamoli students practise on their own using a TV as a monitor

Chamoli students practise on their own using a TV as a monitor

The second workshop welcomed six- to twelve-year-old pupils of the Langasu Primary School in the remote Chamoli district, Uttarakhand, along with three of their teachers. This younger group of students followed a programme with more focus on activities featuring immediate feedback — for example, Sonic Pi for live-coding music — alongside programming and electronics tasks. As they learned, students soon began teaching other students.

In an Ideas Competition held at the end of the workshop, entries reflected students’ engagement with the Raspberry Pi as a device with which to build solutions: an inverter system to deal with frequent power outages, a weather station that gives warnings, a robot to assist with menial chores.

Weather station/forecaster Battery-operated inverter Pi-controlled chores robot

The Cambridge team’s “Frugal Engineering” approach, delivering computing education without the need for elaborate infrastructure, proved very successful in both schools. Hunnarshala Foundation has decided to integrate the Raspberry Pi into its vocational training curriculum, while students at Langasu Primary School will not only carry on learning with Raspberry Pis at school but will be able to borrow self-contained Raspberry Pi Loan Kits to use at home. The Cambridge team remains in touch with the schools and continues to provide off-site support.

September 2014 and February 2015 will see the team build on this successful pilot with induction workshops in three new schools, as well as follow-up visits to evaluate the use of Raspberry Pi in past project sites and to provide support and resources for expanding the programmes.

Thin (2mm) USB Cable A to Micro-B, 6 ft, Low/Full-Speed Only

via Pololu - New Products

This Micro-USB cable is extremely thin (2mm diameter), light, and flexible, which makes it easier to use than bulkier cables that tend to take up more desk space and pull small devices off tables. The 6 ft (1.8 m) cable is terminated on one end by a Type-A USB plug and on the other by a Micro-B USB plug. Note that this cable is only capable of low- and full-speed USB, not high-speed USB.