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17000ft| The MagPi 98

via Raspberry Pi

How do you get internet over three miles up the Himalayas? That’s what the 17000 ft Foundation and Sujata Sahu had to figure out. Rob Zwetsloot reports in the latest issue of the MagPi magazine, out now.

Living in more urban areas of the UK, it can be easy to take for granted decent internet and mobile phone signal. In more remote areas of the country, internet can be a bit spotty but it’s nothing compared with living up in a mountain.

Tablet computers are provided that connect to a Raspberry Pi-powered network

“17000 ft Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation in India, set up to improve the lives of people settled in very remote mountainous hamlets, in areas that are inaccessible and isolated due to reasons of harsh mountainous terrain,” explains its founder, Sujata Sahu. “17000 ft has its roots in high-altitude Ladakh, a region in the desolate cold desert of the Himalayan mountain region of India. Situated in altitudes upwards of 9300 ft and with temperatures dropping to -50°C in inhabited areas, this area is home to indigenous tribal communities settled across hundreds of tiny, scattered hamlets. These villages are remote, isolated, and suffer from bare minimum infrastructure and a centuries-old civilisation unwilling but driven to migrate to faraway cities in search of a better life. Ladakh has a population of just under 300,000 people living across 60,000 km2 of harsh mountain terrain, whose sustenance and growth depends on the infrastructure, resources, and support provided by the government.”

A huge number of students have already benefited from the program

The local governments have built schools. However, they don’t have enough resources or qualified teachers to be truly effective, resulting in a problem with students dropping out or having to be sent off to cities. 17000 ft’s mission is to transform the education in these communities.

High-altitude Raspberry Pi

“The Foundation today works in over 200 remote government schools to upgrade school infrastructure, build the capacity of teachers, provide better resources for learning, thereby improving the quality of education for its children,” says Sujata. “17000 ft Foundation has designed and implemented a unique solar-powered offline digital learning solution called the DigiLab, using Raspberry Pi, which brings the power of digital learning to areas which are truly off-grid and have neither electricity nor mobile connectivity, helping children to learn better, while also enabling the local administration to monitor performance remotely.”

Each school is provided with solar power, Raspberry Pi computers to act as a local internet for the school, and tablets to connect to it. It serves as a ‘last mile connectivity’ from a remote school in the cloud, with an app on a teacher’s phone that will download data when it can and then update the installed Raspberry Pi in their school.

Remote success

“The solution has now been implemented in 120 remote schools of Ladakh and is being considered to be implemented at scale to cover the entire region,” adds Sujata. “It has now run successfully across three winters of Ladakh, withstanding even the harshest of -50°C temperatures with no failure. In the first year of its implementation alone, 5000 students were enrolled, with over 93% being active. The system has now delivered over 60,000 hours of learning to students in remote villages and improved learning outcomes.”

Not all children stay in the villages year round

It’s already helping to change education in the area during the winter. Many villages (and schools) can shut down for up to six months, and families who can’t move away are usually left without a functioning school. 17000 ft has changed this.

“In the winter of 2018 and 2019, for the first time in a few decades, parents and community members from many of these hamlets decided to take advantage of their DigiLabs and opened them up for their children to learn despite the harsh winters and lack of teachers,” Sujata explains. “Parents pooled in to provide basic heating facilities (a Bukhari – a wood- or dung-based stove with a long pipe chimney) to bring in some warmth and scheduled classes for the senior children, allowing them to learn at their own pace, with student data continuing to be recorded in Raspberry Pi and available for the teachers to assess when they got back. The DigiLab Program, which has been made possible due to the presence of the Raspberry Pi Server, has solved a major problem that the Ladakhis have been facing for years!”

Some of the village schools go unused in the winter

How can people help?

Sujata says, “17000 ft Foundation is a non-profit organisation and is dependent on donations and support from individuals and companies alike. This solution was developed by the organisation in a limited budget and was implemented successfully across over a hundred hamlets. Raspberry Pi has been a boon for this project, with its low cost and its computing capabilities which helped create this solution for such a remote area. However, the potential of Raspberry Pi is as yet untapped and the solution still needs upgrades to be able to scale to cover more schools and deliver enhanced functionality within the school. 17000 ft is very eager to help take this to other similar regions and cover more schools in Ladakh that still remain ignored. What we really need is funds and technical support to be able to reach the good of this solution to more children who are still out of the reach of Ed Tech and learning. We welcome contributions of any size to help us in this project.”

For donations from outside India, write to sujata.sahu@17000ft.org. Indian citizens can donate through 17000ft.org/donate.


The MagPi magazine is out now, available in print from the Raspberry Pi Press onlinestore, your local newsagents, and the Raspberry Pi Store, Cambridge.

You can also download the PDF directly from the MagPi magazine website.

Subscribers to the MagPi for 12 months get a free Adafruit Circuit Playground, or can choose from one of our other subscription offers, including this amazing limited-time offer of three issues and a book for only £10!


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Raspberry Pi powered e-paper display takes months to show a movie

via Raspberry Pi

We loved the filmic flair of Tom Whitwell‘s super slow e-paper display, which takes months to play a film in full.

Living art

His creation plays films at about two minutes of screen time per 24 hours, taking a little under three months for a 110-minute film. Psycho played in a corner of his dining room for two months. The infamous shower scene lasted a day and a half.

Tom enjoys the opportunity for close study of iconic filmmaking, but you might like this project for the living artwork angle. How cool would this be playing your favourite film onto a plain wall somewhere you can see it throughout the day?

The Raspberry Pi wearing its e-Paper HAT

Four simple steps

Luckily, this is a relatively simple project – no hardcore coding, no soldering required – with just four steps to follow if you’d like to recreate it:

  1. Get the Raspberry Pi working in headless mode without a monitor, so you can upload files and run code
  2. Connect to an e-paper display via an e-paper HAT (see above image; Tom is using this one) and install the driver code on the Raspberry Pi
  3. Use Tom’s code to extract frames from a movie file, resize and dither those frames, display them on the screen, and keep track of progress through the film
  4. Find some kind of frame to keep it all together (Tom went with a trusty IKEA number)
Living artwork: the Psycho shower scene playing alongside still artwork in Tom’s home

Affordably arty

The entire build cost £120 in total. Tom chose a 2GB Raspberry Pi 4 and a NOOBS 64gb SD Card, which he bought from Pimoroni, one of our approved resellers. NOOBS included almost all the libraries he needed for this project, which made life a lot easier.

His original post is a dream of a comprehensive walkthrough, including all the aforementioned code.

2001: A Space Odyssey would take months to play on Tom’s creation

Head to the comments section with your vote for the creepiest film to watch in ultra slow motion. I came over all peculiar imaging Jaws playing on my living room wall for months. Big bloody mouth opening slooooowly (pales), big bloody teeth clamping down slooooowly (heart palpitations). Yeah, not going to try that. Sorry Tom.

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Raspberry Pi turns retro radio into interactive storyteller

via Raspberry Pi

8 Bits and a Byte created this voice-controllable, interactive, storytelling device, hidden inside a 1960s radio for extra aesthetic wonderfulness.

A Raspberry Pi 3B works with an AIY HAT, a microphone, and the device’s original speaker to run chatbot and speech-to-text artificial intelligence.

This creature is a Bajazzo TS made by Telefunken some time during the 1960s in West Germany, and this detail inspired the espionage-themed story that 8 Bits and a Byte retrofitted it to tell. Users are intelligence agents whose task is to find the evil Dr Donogood.

The device works like one of those ‘choose your own adventure’ books, asking you a series of questions and offering you several options. The story unfolds according to the options you choose, and leads you to a choice of endings.

In with the new (Raspberry Pi tucked in the lower right corner)

What’s the story?

8 Bits and a Byte designed a decision tree to provide a tight story frame, so users can’t go off on question-asking tangents.

When you see the ‘choose your own adventure’ frame set out like this, you can see how easy it is to create something that feels interactive, but really only needs to understand the difference between a few phrases: ‘laser pointer’; ‘lockpick’; ‘drink’; take bribe’, and ‘refuse bribe’.

How does it interact with the user?

Skip to 03mins 30secs to see the storytelling in action

Google Dialogflow is a free natural language understanding platform that makes it easy to design a conversational user interface, which is long-speak for ‘chatbot’.

There are a few steps between the user talking to the radio, and the radio figuring out how to respond. The speech-to-text and chatbot software need to work in tandem. For this project, the data flow runs like so:

1: The microphone detects that someone is speaking and records the audio.

2-3: Google AI (the Speech-To-Text box) processes the audio and extracts the words the user spoke as text.

4-5: The chatbot (Google Dialogflow) receives this text and matches it with the correct response, which is sent back to the Raspberry Pi.

6-7: Some more artificial intelligence uses this text to generate artificial speech.

8: This audio is played to the user via the speaker.

Make sure to check out more of 8 Bits and a Byte’s projects on YouTube. We recommend Mooomba the cow roomba.

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Build an arcade cabinet | Hackspace 35

via Raspberry Pi

Games consoles might be fast and have great graphics, but they’re no match for the entertainment value of a proper arcade machine. In this month’s issue of Hackspace magazine, you’re invited to relive your misspent youth with this huge build project.

There’s something special about the comforting solidity of a coin-eating video game monolith, and nothing screams retro fun like a full-sized arcade cabinet sitting in the corner of the room. Classic arcade machines can be a serious investment. Costing thousands of pounds and weighing about the same as a giant panda, they’re out of reach for all but the serious collector. Thankfully, you can recreate that retro experience using modern components for a fraction of the price and weight.

An arcade cabinet is much easier to make than you might expect. It’s essentially a fancy cupboard that holds a monitor, speakers, a computer, a keyboard, and some buttons. You can make your own cabinet using not much more than a couple of sheets of MDF, some clear plastic, and a few cans of spray paint.

If you want a really authentic-looking cabinet, you can find plenty of plans and patterns online. However, most classic cabinets are a bit bigger than you might remember, occupying almost a square metre of floor space. If you scale that down to approximately 60 cm2, you can make an authentic-looking home arcade cabinet that won’t take over the entire room, and can be cut from just two pieces of 8 × 4 (2440 mm × 1220 mm) MDF. You can download our plans, but these are rough plans designed for you to tweak into your own creation. A sheet of 18 mm MDF is ideal for making the body of the cabinet, and 12 mm MDF works well to fill in the front and back panels. You can use thinner sheets of wood to make a lighter cabinet, but you might find it less sturdy and more difficult to screw into.

The sides of the machine should be cut from 18 mm MDF, and will be 6 feet high. The sides need to be as close to identical as possible, so mark out the pattern for the side on one piece of 18 mm MDF, and screw the boards together to hold them while you cut. You can avoid marking the sides by placing the screws through the waste areas of the MDF. Keep these offcuts to make internal supports or brackets. You can cut the rest of the pieces of MDF using the project plans as a guide. 

Why not add a coin machine for extra authenticity

Attach the side pieces to the base, so that the sides hang lower than the base by an inch or two. If you’re more accomplished at woodworking and want to make the strongest cabinet possible, you can use a router to joint and glue the pieces of wood together. This will make the cabinet very slightly narrower and will affect some measurements, but if you follow the old adage to measure twice and cut once, you should be fine. If you don’t want to do this, you can use large angle brackets and screws to hold everything together. The cabinet will still be strong, and you’ll have the added advantage that you can disassemble it in the future if necessary.

Keep attaching the 18 mm MDF pieces, starting with the top piece and the rear brace. Once you have these pieces attached, the cabinet should be sturdy enough to start adding the thinner panels. Insetting the panels by about an inch gives the cabinet that retro look, and also hides any design crimes you might have committed while cutting out the side panels.

The absolute sizing of the cabinet isn’t critical unless you’re trying to make an exact copy of an old machine, so don’t feel too constrained by measuring things down to the millimetre. As long as the cabinet is wide enough to accept your monitor, everything else is moveable and can be adjusted to suit your needs.

Make it shiny

You can move onto decoration once the cabinet woodwork is fitted together. This is mostly down to personal preference, although it’s wise to think about which parts of the case will be touched more often, and whether your colour choices will cause any problems with screen reflection. Matt black is a popular choice for arcade cabinets because it’s non-reflective and any surface imperfections are less noticeable with a matt paint finish.

Aluminium checker plate is a good way of protecting your cabinet from damage, and it can be cut and shaped easily.

Wallpaper or posters make a great choice for decorating the outside of the cabinet, and they are quick to apply. Just be sure to paste all the way up to the edge, and protect any areas that will be handled regularly with aluminium checker plate or plastic sheet. The edges of MDF sheets can be finished with iron-on worktop edging, or with the chrome detailing tape used on cars. You can buy detailing tape in 12 mm and 18 mm widths, which makes it great for finishing edges. The adhesive tape provided with the chrome edging isn’t always very good, so it’s worth investing in some high-strength, double-sided clear vinyl foam tape.

You’ve made your cabinet, but it’s empty at the moment. You’re going to add a Raspberry Pi, monitor, speakers, and a panel for buttons and joysticks. To find out how, you can read the full article in HackSpace magazine 35.  

Get HackSpace magazine 35 Out Now!

Each month, HackSpace magazine brings you the best projects, tips, tricks and tutorials from the makersphere. You can get it from the Raspberry Pi Press online store, The Raspberry Pi store in Cambridge, or your local newsagents.

Each issue is free to download from the HackSpace magazine website.

If you subscribe for 12 months, you get an Adafruit Circuit Playground Express , or can choose from one of our other subscription offers, including this amazing limited-time offer of three issues and a book for only £10!

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Raspberry Pi enables world’s smallest iMac

via Raspberry Pi

This project goes a step further than most custom-made Raspberry Pi cases: YouTuber Michael Pick hacked a Raspberry Pi 4 and stuffed it inside this Apple lookalike to create the world’s smallest ‘iMac’.

Michael designed and 3D printed this miniature ‘iMac’ with what he calls a “gently modified” Raspberry Pi 4 at the heart. Everything you see is hand-painted and -finished to achieve an authentic, sleek Apple look.

This is “gentle modification” we just mentioned

Even after all that power tool sparking, this miniature device is capable of playing Minecraft at 1000 frames per second. Michael was set on making the finished project as thin as possible, so he had to slice off a couple of his Raspberry Pi’s USB ports and the Ethernet socket to make everything fit inside the tiny, custom-made case. This hacked setup leaves you with Bluetooth and wireless internet connections, which, as Michael explains in the build video, “if you’re a Mac user, that’s all you’re ever going to need.”

We love watching 3D printer footage set to relaxed elevator music

This teeny yet impactful project has even been featured on forbes.com, and that’s where we learned how the tightly packed tech manages to work in such a restricted space:

“A wireless dongle is plugged into one of the remaining USB ports to ensure it’s capable of connecting to a wireless keyboard and mouse, and a low-profile ribbon cable is used to connect the display to the Raspberry Pi. Careful crimping of cables and adapters ensures the mini iMac can be powered from a USB-C extension cable that feeds in under the screen, while the device also includes a single USB 2 port.”

Barry Collins | forbes.com

The maker also told forbes.com that this build was inspired by an iRaspbian software article from tech writer Barry Collins. iRaspbian puts a Mac-like interface — including Dock, Launcher and even the default macOS wallpaper — on top of a Linux distro. We guess Michael just wanted the case to match the content, hey?

Check out Michael’s YouTube channel for more inexplicably cool builds, such as a one billion volt Thor hammer.

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Magpie MIDI is an adaptive harmonica-style computer interface

via Arduino Blog

For those with certain physical restrictions, interfacing with a computer can be a difficult task. As a possible solution, Shu Takahashi and Pato Montalvo have come up with the Magpie MIDI hands-free interface. The adaptive tool, inspired in part by a harmonica, has 13 air holes that enable its user to “sip” and “puff” all 26 letters of the alphabet.

The Magpie MIDI also features an integrated joystick and potentiometer, allowing it to function as a USB mouse for navigating a computer screen, as a MIDI controller, and even as a gaming device. Everything is controlled by an Arduino Leonardo, and uses a CD74HC4067 multiplexer to accommodate the available inputs.

More info on this amazing assistive technology project can be found in Takahashi’s tutorial, as well as the video below.

Magpie MIDI is an affordable adaptive tool that enables cerebral palsy patients and others with muscle control disabilities to express themselves in new ways. Meant to be easily customizable to meet different needs of varying degrees of disabilities, every aspect of hardware and software is open-source. The device offers new means for cerebral palsy patients and alike to express their creativity in areas of computer games, music, and writing.