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Raspberry Pi and CoderDojo join forces

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We’ve got some great news to share today: the Raspberry Pi Foundation is joining forces with the CoderDojo Foundation, in a merger that will give many more young people all over the world new opportunities to learn how to be creative with technology.

CoderDojo is a global network of coding clubs for kids from seven to 17. The first CoderDojo took place in July 2011 when James Whelton and Bill Liao decided to share their passion for computing by setting up a club at the National Software Centre in Cork. The idea was simple: provide a safe and social place for young people to acquire programming skills, learning from each other and supported by mentors.

Photo: a mentor helps a child at a CoderDojo

Since then, James and Bill have helped turn that idea into a movement that reaches across the whole world, with over 1,250 CoderDojos in 69 countries, regularly attended by over 35,000 young Ninjas.

Raspberry Pi and CoderDojo have each accomplished amazing things over the last six years. Now, we see an opportunity to do even more by joining forces. Bringing together Raspberry Pi, Code Club, and CoderDojo will create the largest global effort to get young people involved in computing and digital making. We have set ourselves an ambitious goal: to quadruple the number of CoderDojos worldwide, to 5,000, by the end of 2020.

Photo: children and teenagers work on laptops at a CoderDojo, while adults help

The enormous impact that CoderDojo has had so far is down to the CoderDojo Foundation team, and to the community of volunteers, businesses, and foundations who have contributed expertise, time, venues, and financial resources. We want to deepen those relationships and grow that community as we bring CoderDojo to more young people in future.

The CoderDojo Foundation will continue as an independent charity, based in Ireland. Nothing about CoderDojo’s brand or ethos is changing as a result of this merger. CoderDojos will continue to be platform-neutral, using whatever kit they need to help young people learn.

Photo: children concentrate intently on coding activities at a CoderDojo event

In technical terms, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is becoming a corporate member of the CoderDojo Foundation (which is a bit like being a shareholder, but without any financial interest). I will also join the board of the CoderDojo Foundation as a director. The merger is subject to approval by Irish regulators.

How will this work in practice? The two organisations will work together to advance our shared goals, using our respective assets and capabilities to get many more adults and young people involved in the CoderDojo movement. The Raspberry Pi Foundation will also provide practical, financial, and back-office support to the CoderDojo Foundation.

Last June, I attended the CoderDojo Coolest Projects event in Dublin, and was blown away by the amazing projects made by CoderDojo Ninjas from all over the world. From eight-year-olds who had written their first programs in Scratch to the teenagers who built a Raspberry Pi-powered hovercraft, it was clear that CoderDojo is already making a huge difference.

Photo: two girls wearing CoderDojo t-shirts present their Raspberry Pi-based hovercraft at CoderDojo Coolest Projects 2016

I am thrilled that we’re going to be working closely with the brilliant CoderDojo team, and I can’t wait to visit Coolest Projects again next month to meet all of the Ninjas and mentors who make CoderDojo possible.

If you want to find out more about CoderDojo and how you can get involved in helping the movement grow, go here.

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Weaponising a teddy bear

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At primary school, I loved my Tamagotchi: it moved, it beeped, it was almost like I could talk to it! Nowadays, kids can actually have conversations with their toys, and some toys are IoT devices, capable of accessing online services or of interacting with people via the Internet. And so to one of this week’s news stories: using a Raspberry Pi, an eleven-year-old has demonstrated how to weaponise a teddy bear. This has garnered lots of attention, because he did it at a cybersecurity conference in The Hague, and he used the Bluetooth devices of the assembled experts to do it.

AFP news agency on Twitter

Eleven-year-old “cyber ninja” stuns security experts by hacking into their bluetooth devices to manipulate teddy bear #InternetofThings https://t.co/bx9kTbNUcT

Reuben Paul, from Texas, used a Raspberry Pi together with his laptop to download the numbers of audience members’ smartphones. He then proceeded to use a Python program to manipulate his bear, Bob, using one of the numbers he’d accessed, making him blink one of his lights and record an audio message from the audience.

Reuben has quite of bit of digital making experience, and he’s very concerned about the safety risks of IoT devices. “IoT home appliances, things that can be used in our everyday lives, our cars, lights, refrigerators, everything like this that is connected can be used and weaponised to spy on us or harm us,” he told AFP.

Apparently even his father, software security expert Mano Paul, was unaware of just how unsafe IoT toys can be until Reuben “shocked” him by hacking a toy car.

Reuben is using his computer skills for good: he has already founded an organisation to educate children and adults about cybersecurity. Considering that he is also the youngest Shaolin Kung Fu black belt in the US and reportedly has excellent gymnastics skills, I’m getting serious superhero vibes from this kid!

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And to think that the toys that were around when I was Reuben’s age could be used for nothing more devious than distracting me from class…

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Open source energy monitoring using Raspberry Pi

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OpenEnergyMonitor, who make open-source tools for energy monitoring, have been using Raspberry Pi since we launched in 2012. Like Raspberry Pi, they manufacture their hardware in Wales and send it to people all over the world. We invited co-founder Glyn Hudson to tell us why they do what they do, and how Raspberry Pi helps.

Hi, I’m Glyn from OpenEnergyMonitor. The OpenEnergyMonitor project was founded out of a desire for open-source tools to help people understand and relate to their use of energy, their energy systems, and the challenge of sustainable energy.

Photo: an emonPi energy monitoring unit in an aluminium case with an aerial and an LCD display, a mobile phone showing daily energy use as a histogram, and a bunch of daffodils in a glass bottle

The next 20 years will see a revolution in our energy systems, as we switch away from fossil fuels towards a zero-carbon energy supply.

By using energy monitoring, modelling, and assessment tools, we can take an informed approach to determine the best energy-saving measures to apply. We can then check to ensure solutions achieve their expected performance over time.

We started the OpenEnergyMonitor project in 2009, and the first versions of our energy monitoring system used an Arduino with Ethernet Shield, and later a Nanode RF with an embedded Ethernet controller. These early versions were limited by a very basic TCP/IP stack; running any sort of web application locally was totally out of the question!

I can remember my excitement at getting hold of the very first version of the Raspberry Pi in early 2012. Within a few hours of tearing open the padded envelope, we had Emoncms (our open-source web logging, graphing, and visualisation application) up and running locally on the Raspberry Pi. The Pi quickly became our web-connected base station of choice (emonBase). The following year, 2013, we launched the RFM12Pi receiver board (now updated to RFM69Pi). This allowed the Raspberry Pi to receive data via low-power RF 433Mhz from our emonTx energy monitoring unit, and later from our emonTH remote temperature and humidity monitoring node.

Diagram: communication between OpenEnergyMonitor monitoring units, base station and web interface

In 2015 we went all-in with Raspberry Pi when we launched the emonPi, an all-in-one Raspberry Pi energy monitoring unit, via Kickstarter. Thanks to the hard work of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the emonPi has enjoyed several upgrades: extra processing power from the Raspberry Pi 2, then even more power and integrated wireless LAN thanks to the Raspberry Pi 3. With all this extra processing power, we have been able to build an open software stack including Emoncms, MQTT, Node-RED, and openHAB, allowing the emonPi to function as a powerful home automation hub.

Screenshot: Emoncms Apps interface to emonPi home automation hub, with histogram of daily electricity use

Emoncms Apps interface to emonPi home automation hub

Inspired by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we manufacture and assemble our hardware in Wales, UK, and ship worldwide via our online store.

All of our work is fully open source. We believe this is a better way of doing things: we can learn from and build upon each other’s work, creating better solutions to the challenges we face. Using Raspberry Pi has allowed us to draw on the expertise and work of many other projects. With lots of help from our fantastic community, we have built an online learning resource section of our website to help others get started: it covers things like basic AC power theory, Arduino, and the bigger picture of sustainable energy.

To learn more about OpenEnergyMonitor systems, take a look at our Getting Started User Guide. We hope you’ll join our community.

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Making sweet, sweet music with pisound

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I’d say I am a passable guitarist. Ever since I learnt about the existence of the Raspberry Pi in 2012, I’ve wondered how I could use one as a guitar effects unit. Unfortunately, I’m also quite lazy and have therefore done precisely nothing to make one. Now, though, I no longer have to beat myself up about this. Thanks to the pisound board from Blokas, musicians can connect all manner of audio gear to their Raspberry Pi, bringing their projects to a whole new level. Essentially, it transforms your Pi into a complete audio workstation! What musician wouldn’t want a piece of that?

pisound: a soundcard HAT for the Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi with pisound attached

The pisound in situ: do those dials go all the way to eleven?

pisound is a HAT for the Raspberry Pi 3 which acts as a souped-up sound card. It allows you to send and receive audio signals from its jacks, and send MIDI input/output signals to compatible devices. It features two 6mm in/out jacks, two standard DIN-5 MIDI in/out sockets, potentiometers for volume and gain, and ‘The Button’ (with emphatic capitals) for activating audio manipulation patches. Following an incredibly successful Indiegogo campaign, the pisound team is preparing the board for sale later in the year.

Setting the board up was simple, thanks to the excellent documentation on the pisound site. First, I mounted the board on my Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins and secured it with the supplied screws. Next, I ran one script in a terminal window on a fresh installation of Raspbian, which downloaded, installed, and set up all the software I needed to get going. All I had to do after that was connect my instruments and get to work creating patches for Pure Data, a popular visual programming interface for manipulating media streams.

pisound with instruments and computer

Image from Blokas

Get creative with pisound!

During my testing, I created some simple fuzz, delay, and tremolo guitar effects. The possibilities, though, are as broad as your imagination. I’ve come up with some ideas to inspire you:

  • You could create a web interface for the guitar effects, accessible over a local network on a smartphone or tablet.
  • How about controlling an interactive light show or projected visualisation on stage using the audio characteristics of the guitar signal?
  • Channel your inner Matt Bellamy and rig up some MIDI hardware on your guitar to trigger loops and samples while you play.
  • Use a tilt switch to increase the intensity of an effect when the angle of the guitar’s neck is changed (imagine you’re really going for it during a solo).
  • You could even use the audio input stream as a base for generating other non-audio results.

pisound – Audio & MIDI Interface for your Raspberry Pi

Indiegogo Campaign: https://igg.me/at/pisound More Info: http://www.blokas.io Sounds by Sarukas: http://bit.ly/2myN8lf

Now I have had a taste of what this incredible little board can do, I’m very excited to see what new things it will enable me to do as a performer. It’s compact and practical, too: as the entire thing is about the size of a standard guitar pedal, I could embed it into one of my guitars if I wanted to. Alternatively, I could get creative and design a custom enclosure for it.

Using Sonic Pi with pisound

Community favourite Sonic Pi will also support the board very soon, as Sam Aaron and Ben Smith ably demonstrated at our fifth birthday party celebrations. This means you don’t even need to be able to play an instrument to make something awesome with this clever little HAT.

The Future of @Sonic_Pi with Sam Aaron & Ben Smith at #PiParty

Uploaded by Alan O’Donohoe on 2017-03-05.

I’m incredibly impressed with the hardware and the support on the pisound website. It’s going to be my go-to HAT for advanced audio projects, and, when it finally launches later this year, I’ll have all the motivation I need to create the guitar effects unit I’ve always wanted.

Find out more about pisound over at the Blokas website, and take a deeper look at the tech specs and other information over at the pisound documentation site.

Disclaimer: I am personally a backer of the Indiegogo campaign, and Blokas very kindly supplied a beta board for this review.

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A live-streaming Raspberry Pi nest cam: your essential Easter Monday viewing

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It’s Easter Monday, a public holiday here in the UK, and Pi Towers is still and silent. Even the continuous flight augering piler on the massive building site next door is, for a time, quiet. So here is the briefest of posts, to share with you a Raspberry Pi cam live-streaming from a blue tit nest in Alan McCullagh‘s parents’ garden in Kilkenny, Ireland. You’ll need to have Flash installed to watch.

BirdBoxKK1

BirdBoxKK1 @ USTREAM: . Birds

The eggs are expected to hatch 14 days after the last laid egg, and the mother was still laying on Thursday, so check in towards the end of the month to catch a first glimpse of the chicks. Alan’s set-up is based on our Infrared Bird Box learning resource; tell us in the comments if you’ve made something similar, or if you plan to.

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An affordable ocular fundus camera

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The ocular fundus is the interior surface of the eye, and an ophthalmologist can learn a lot about a patient’s health by examining it. However, there’s a problem: an ocular fundus camera can’t capture a useful image unless the eye is brightly lit, but this makes the pupil constrict, obstructing the camera’s view. Ophthalmologists use pupil-dilating eye drops to block the eye’s response to light, but these are uncomfortable and can cause blurred vision for several hours. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have built a Raspberry Pi-based fundus camera that can take photos of the retina without the need for eye drops.

Dr Bailey Shen and co-author Dr Shizuo Mukai made their camera with a Raspberry Pi 2 and a Pi NoIR Camera Module, a version of the Camera Module that does not have an infrared filter. They used a small LCD touchscreen display and a lithium battery, holding the ensemble together with tape and rubber bands. They also connected a button and a dual infrared/white light LED to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins.

When the Raspberry Pi boots, a Python script turns on the infrared illumination from the LED and displays the camera view on the screen. The iris does not respond to infrared light, so in a darkened room the operator is able to position the camera and a separate condensing lens to produce a clear image of the patient’s fundus. When they’re satisfied with the image, the operator presses the button. This turns off the infrared light, produces a flash of white light, and captures a colour image of the fundus before the iris can respond and constrict the pupil.

This isn’t the first ocular fundus camera to use infrared/white light to focus and obtain images without eye drops, but it is less bulky and distinctly cheaper than existing equipment, which can cost thousands of dollars. The total cost of all the parts is $185, and all but one are available as off-the-shelf components. The exception is the dual infrared/white light LED, a prototype which the researchers explain is a critical part of the equipment. Using an infrared LED and a white LED side by side doesn’t yield consistent results. We’d be glad to see the LED available on the market, both to support this particular application, and because we bet there are plenty of other builds that could use one!

Read more in Science Daily, in an article exploring the background to the project. The article is based on the researchers’ recent paper, presenting the Raspberry Pi ocular fundus camera in the Journal of Ophthalmology. The journal is an open access publication, so if you think this build is as interesting as I do, I encourage you to read the researchers’ presentation of their work, its possibilities and its limitations. They also provide step-by-step instructions and a parts list to help others to replicate and build on their work.

It’s beyond brilliant to see researchers and engineers using the Raspberry Pi to make medical and scientific work cheaper and more accessible. Please tell us about your favourite applications, or the applications you’d develop in your fantasy lab or clinic, in the comments.

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