Tag Archives: dogs

Working Doctor Who props with Raspberry Pi

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Doctor Who fans are enjoying a richly layered Series 9 so far this autumn, with plenty of nods to classic Who and a fabulously creepy two-parter that concluded on Saturday. I resisted the temptation to share Richard Hopkinsamazing K-9 build blog here when I found it a while ago, because I thought it’d be best appreciated alongside the superb screen presence of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor to remind us what a wonderful fictional universe this is (not everyone agrees with me about Capaldi, of course; note, though, that I’ll be moderating the comments scrupulously).

Richard Hopkins' version of K-9, a robotic dog in Doctor Who

Richard Hopkins’ K-9, pictured in August with side monitor and newly functioning camera and wagging tail. Photo by Richard Hopkins | CC BY-SA 4.0

While some projects might occupy a few entries on their author’s more general blog, it’s easy to appreciate that the scope of this project, which has been ongoing since May 2014, warrants a blog all to itself. A Raspberry Pi as the brains of the robot was part of the project from the very beginning. It controls K-9’s expressive, servo-driven ears and tail as well as the scooter motors that move him around, runs Node-RED to allow browser-based control and to display a power monitoring dashboard on the panel on his side, and lets him to respond to voice commands and hold a basic conversation. A Raspberry Pi camera module on a long cable sits behind his eye panel. Who wouldn’t want to share their home with a robot like this?

K9 Progress August 2015

The addition of a wagging tail, side monitor dashboard and eye camera is significant progress.

As fantastic as Richard’s build is, it’s not the only homemade, Raspberry Pi-powered K-9. William Reichardt’s wooden-bodied K-9 is tricked out with a thermal printer in its head; and if, like me, you don’t have the time or the technical chops for a project this complex, you can still house your Raspberry Pi in a fine LEGO K-9 case.

Meanwhile, if the current series of Doctor Who has seen the Doctor swap his sonic screwdriver for a pair of sonic sunglasses (they look great, but we’re hoping they’re not forever, yes?), fans seem committed to the classic tool. I found four different Raspberry Pi-powered sonic screwdrivers for everything from door locking to a TV-B-Gone, after which I stopped counting.

Sonic screwdriver, as seen in Doctor Who Sonic screwdriver, as seen in Doctor Who Sonic screwdriver, as seen in Doctor Who Sonic screwdriver, as seen in Doctor Who

Alan O’Donohoe has made a Raspberry Pi-controlled Dalek that responds to Twitter, a Doctor Who story premise that I never want Stephen Moffat to consider.

#TweetMyDalek – Raspberry Pi controlled Dalek

At our Preston Geek Up meet: A 12″ model of a Dr Who Dalek is controlled by tweets, received by a battery powered Raspberry Pi computer running Linux The RGB LED responds to colours tweeted with hashtag #cheerlights Dalek robot developed by Alan O’Donohoe, @teknoteacher

Last of all, something we can’t leave out of any conversation about Doctor Who-related Raspberry Pi projects is Dave Akerman‘s TARDIS.

The TARDIS, as seen in Doctor Who, except slightly smaller on the inside

Slightly smaller on the inside

OK, so it’s hard to call this a fully working prop; it’s pretty small on the outside to begin with, and then the inside is, if anything, a little bit smaller. However, with the help of a high altitude balloon, it did fly to the edge of space, which counts for a lot with us. This might seem like the kind of thing for which you need long experience, and it’s true that a HAB flight demands some months of preparation. But having seen our first few successful launches following this summer’s Skycademy training for educators, we know that a stratospheric TARDIS is something that’s within the reach of primary schools.

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Twitter for dogs

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Henry Conklin’s dog, Oliver, is one of those very vocal dogs who likes to try to let you know what he’s thinking. By barking. A lot. Henry says:

I decided that his thoughts and comments needed to be shared with the world. Thus the @OliverBarkBark project was born. By connecting a Rasberry Pi, a wifi dongle, and a microphone, I was able to make a system that automatically detected, filtered, and published each and every one of Oliver’s deafening vocalizations.

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 12.58.14

Henry has built a system around a Raspberry Pi that listens out for sounds over a certain volume, and triggers a recording when that constraint is met.


But there are things in Oliver the dog’s vicinity which are also pretty noisy, so a second, filtering step is needed. Henry says:

Oliver barking is by far the loudest thing within several miles, so the volume threshold should be sufficient. However, the recordings are still triggered occasionally by unwanted junk. To guard against this, I needed to perform a second step to filter the barks from the junk.

I took a machine learning approach to filter out the barks. I built a model using the pyAudioAnalysis library and around a day’s worth of barks (about 20). I then set up a bash script to run every ten minutes, classify each recorded sound, and forward the barks on to the next step.

The output is forwarded to the Twitter API, where they’re published by an account called @OliverBarkBark. Right now, a random string of barks, woofs, howls, and ruffs are published, but Henry is looking at adding some more sophistication by designing a dog-to-text translator which will say “bark” when Oliver barks, “ruff” when Oliver ruffs, and “woof”…you get the idea.


All the code you’ll need to replicate the scheme in your own house (you’ll need a dog first) is available on Henry’s GitHub at https://github.com/HenryWConklin/barkdetect. Thanks Henry, and please give Oliver a biscuit for us.

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Laser Dog Monitor

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Dave Young lives in Denver with a baby, a wife, and a dog called Penny. Penny’s a good dog (good dog, Penny!) – she’s a softie around the baby, walks to heel, and doesn’t destroy things. All that good dog stuff.

But Penny has one weak spot. Dave says:

Her only issue is that she goes BONKERS for food. My wife and I have done a great job training it out of her when we’re around so we no longer have to worry about a cheese board sitting on the low coffee table, but I know she gets on the counters any time we are away. Sounds like a job for a machine!

How’s it work? There’s a laser tripwire, which triggers audio of Dave saying “Hey!” in a COMMANDING MANNER. The setup also takes a picture of Penny’s infraction using the Raspberry Pi camera board.

Full instructions are available over at Element14 so you can make your own. I’m already thinking about ways you could expand this project: Mooncake, the Raspberry Pi cat, doesn’t respond well to voice commands, but we think a Pi-powered water pistol could be just the ticket on those days we want to defrost prawns. Ideas for your own feature-creep in the comments please!

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