More Raspberry Pi labs in West Africa

via Raspberry Pi

Back in May 2013, we heard from Dominique Laloux about an exciting project to bring Raspberry Pi labs to schools in rural West Africa. Until 2012, 75 percent of teachers there had never used a computer. The project has been very successful, and Dominique has been in touch again to bring us the latest news.

A view of the inside of the new Pi lab building

Preparing the new Pi labs building in Kuma Tokpli, Togo

Growing the project

Thanks to the continuing efforts of a dedicated team of teachers, parents and other supporters, the Centre Informatique de Kuma, now known as INITIC (from the French ‘INItiation aux TIC’), runs two Raspberry Pi labs in schools in Togo, and plans to open a third in December. The second lab was opened last year in Kpalimé, a town in the Plateaux Region in the west of the country.

Student using a Raspberry Pi computer

Using the new Raspberry Pi labs in Kpalimé, Togo

More than 400 students used the new lab intensively during the last school year. Dominique tells us more:

“The report made in early July by the seven teachers who accompanied the students was nothing short of amazing: the young people covered a very impressive number of concepts and skills, from the GUI and the file system, to a solid introduction to word processing and spreadsheets, and many other skills. The lab worked exactly as expected. Its 21 Raspberry Pis worked flawlessly, with the exception of a couple of SD cards that needed re-cloning, and a couple of old screens that needed to be replaced. All the Raspberry Pis worked without a glitch. They are so reliable!”

The teachers and students have enjoyed access to a range of software and resources, all running on Raspberry Pi 2s and 3s.

“Our current aim is to introduce the students to ICT using the Raspberry Pis, rather than introducing them to programming and electronics (a step that will certainly be considered later). We use Ubuntu Mate along with a large selection of applications, from LibreOffice, Firefox, GIMP, Audacity, and Calibre, to special maths, science, and geography applications. There are also special applications such as GnuCash and GanttProject, as well as logic games including PyChess. Since December, students also have access to a local server hosting Kiwix, Wiktionary (a local copy of Wikipedia in four languages), several hundred videos, and several thousand books. They really love it!”

Pi lab upgrade

This summer, INITIC upgraded the equipment in their Pi lab in Kuma Adamé, which has been running since 2014. 21 older model Raspberry Pis were replaced with Pi 2s and 3s, to bring this lab into line with the others, and encourage co-operation between the different locations.

“All 21 first-generation Raspberry Pis worked flawlessly for three years, despite the less-than-ideal conditions in which they were used — tropical conditions, dust, frequent power outages, etc. I brought them all back to Brussels, and they all still work fine. The rationale behind the upgrade was to bring more computing power to the lab, and also to have the same equipment in our two Raspberry Pi labs (and in other planned installations).”

Students and teachers using the upgraded Pi labs in Kuma Adamé

Students and teachers using the upgraded Pi lab in Kuma Adamé

An upgrade of the organisation’s first lab, installed in 2012 in Kuma Tokpli, will be completed in December. This lab currently uses ‘retired’ laptops, which will be replaced with Raspberry Pis and peripherals. INITIC, in partnership with the local community, is also constructing a new building to house the upgraded technology, and the organisation’s third Raspberry Pi lab.

Reliable tech

Dominique has been very impressed with the performance of the Raspberry Pis since 2014.

“Our experience of three years, in two very different contexts, clearly demonstrates that the Raspberry Pi is a very convincing alternative to more ‘conventional’ computers for introducing young students to ICT where resources are scarce. I wish I could convince more communities in the world to invest in such ‘low cost, low consumption, low maintenance’ infrastructure. It really works!”

He goes on to explain that:

“Our goal now is to build at least one new Raspberry Pi lab in another Togolese school each year. That will, of course, depend on how successful we are at gathering the funds necessary for each installation, but we are confident we can convince enough friends to give us the financial support needed for our action.”

A desk with Raspberry Pis and peripherals

Reliable Raspberry Pis in the labs at Kpalimé

Get involved

We are delighted to see the Raspberry Pi being used to bring information technology to new teachers, students, and communities in Togo – it’s wonderful to see this project becoming established and building on its achievements. The mission of the Raspberry Pi Foundation is to put the power of digital making into the hands of people all over the world. Therefore, projects like this, in which people use our tech to fulfil this mission in places with few resources, are wonderful to us.

More information about INITIC and its projects can be found on its website. If you are interested in helping the organisation to meet its goals, visit the How to help page. And if you are involved with a project like this, bringing ICT, computer science, and coding to new places, please tell us about it in the comments below.

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A Playmobil Wedding Band

via Arduino Blog

Two of Boris Werner’s friends, both musicians, were getting married, so for a unique gift he decided on a miniature stage setup with a Playmobil bride and groom as the guitarists.

After some research and ordering quite a few parts, he was able to construct an impressive festival-inspired stage, complete with guitars, lights, and some tunes.

In order to bring this diorama to life, he used an Arduino Uno board to play WAV files from a micro SD card, along with NeoPixel rings in the background, and MOSFET-driven LEDs for lighting. There’s even a tiny disco ball that spins via a stepper motor, propelling the tiny bride, groom, and their young son as the drummer into the limelight.

You can check it out in the video below, and see Werner’s series of posts on the construction here.

PSOC – design and implementation of a 12 lead portable ECG

via Dangerous Prototypes

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Alex Lao and his team at McMaster University have developed a compact, battery powered, 12-lead electro-cardiogram:

During the academic year of 2016-2017 at McMaster University, in conjunction with Dr. DeBruin, Christina Riczu, Thomas Phan and Emilie Corcoran, we developed a compact, battery powered, 12-lead electro-cardiogram. The project won 1st place in the biomedical category at the ECE Capstone Poster Day.

More details at Voltage Divide’s homepage.

Manufacturing Astro Pi case replicas

via Raspberry Pi

Tim Rowledge produces and sells wonderful replicas of the cases which our Astro Pis live in aboard the International Space Station. Here is the story of how he came to do this. Over to you, Tim!

When the Astro Pi case was first revealed a couple of years ago, the collective outpouring of ‘Squee!’ it elicited may have been heard on board the ISS itself. People wanted to buy it or build it at home, and someone wanted to know whether it would blend. (There’s always one.)

The complete Astro Pi

The Sense HAT and its Pi tucked snugly in the original Astro Pi flight case — gorgeous, isn’t it?

Replicating the Astro Pi case

Some months later the STL files for printing your own Astro Pi case were released, and people jumped at the chance to use them. Soon reports appeared saying you had to make quite a few attempts before getting a good print — normal for any complex 3D-printing project. A fellow member of my local makerspace successfully made a couple of cases, but it took a lot of time, filament, and post-print finishing work. And of course, a plastic Astro Pi case simply doesn’t look or feel like the original made of machined aluminium — or ‘aluminum’, as they tend to say over here in North America.

Batch of tops of Astro Pi case replicas by Tim Rowledge

A batch of tops designed by Tim

I wanted to build an Astro Pi case which would more closely match the original. Fortunately, someone else at my makerspace happens to have some serious CNC machining equipment at his small manufacturing company. Therefore, I focused on creating a case design that could be produced with his three-axis device. This meant simplifying some parts to avoid expensive, slow, complex multi-fixture work. It took us a while, but we ended up with a design we can efficiently make using his machine.

Lasered Astro Pi case replica by Tim Rowledge

Tim’s first lasered case

And the resulting case looks really, really like the original — in fact, upon receiving one of the final prototypes, Eben commented:

“I have to say, at first glance they look spectacular: unless you hold them side by side with the originals, it’s hard to pinpoint what’s changed. I’m looking forward to seeing one built up and then seeing them in the wild.”

Inside the Astro Pi case

Making just the bare case is nice, but there are other parts required to recreate a complete Astro Pi unit. Thus I got my local electronics company to design a small HAT to provide much the same support the mezzanine board offers: an RTC and nice, clean connections to the six buttons. We also added well-labelled, grouped pads for all the other GPIO lines, along with space for an ADC. If you’re making your own Astro Pi replica, you might like the Switchboard.

The electronics supply industry just loves to offer *some* of what you need, so that one supplier never has everything: we had to obtain the required stand-offs, screws, spacers, and JST wires from assorted other sources. Jeff at my nearby Industrial Paint & Plastics took on the laser engraving of our cases, leaving out copyrighted logos etcetera.

Lasering the top of an Astro Pi case replica by Tim Rowledge

Lasering the top of a case

Get your own Astro Pi case

Should you like to buy one of our Astro Pi case kits, pop over to www.astropicase.com, and we’ll get it on its way to you pronto. If you’re an institutional or corporate customer, the fully built option might make more sense for you — ordering the Pi and other components, and having a staff member assemble it all, may well be more work than is sensible.

Astro Pi case replica Tim Rowledge

Tim’s first full Astro Pi case replica, complete with shiny APEM buttons

To put the kit together yourself, all you need to do is add a Pi, Sense HAT, Camera Module, and RTC battery, and choose your buttons. An illustrated manual explains the process step by step. Our version of the Astro Pi case uses the same APEM buttons as the units in orbit, and whilst they are expensive, just clicking them is a source of great joy. It comes in a nice travel case too.

Tim Rowledge holding up a PCB

This is Tim. Thanks, Tim!

Take part in Astro Pi

If having an Astro Pi replica is not enough for you, this is your chance: the 2017-18 Astro Pi challenge is open! Do you know a teenager who might be keen to design a experiment to run on the Astro Pis in space? Are you one yourself? You have until 29 October to send us your Mission Space Lab entry and become part of the next generation of space scientists? Head over to the Astro Pi website to find out more.

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App note: Implementation of a single-phase electronic watt-hour meter using the MSP430AFE2xx

via Dangerous Prototypes

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Another energy meter from Texas Instruments using MSP430AFE2xx. Link here (PDF)

This application report describes the implementation of a single-phase electronic electricity meter using the Texas Instruments MSP430AFE2xx metering processors. It includes the necessary information with regard to metrology software and hardware procedures for this single chip implementation.

App note: Atmel AVR465: Single-phase power/energy meter with tamper detection

via Dangerous Prototypes

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A good read from Atmel on their 8-bit microcontroller single-phase energy meter design. Link here (PDF)

This application note describes a single-phase power/energy meter with tamper logic. The design measures active power, voltage, and current in a single-phase distribution environment. It differs from ordinary single-phase meters in that it uses two current transducers to measure active power in both live and neutral wires. This enables the meter to detect, signal, and continue to measure reliably even when subject to external attempts of tampering.