Educating young people in AI, machine learning, and data science: new seminar series

A recent Forbes article reported that over the last four years, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) tools in many business sectors has grown by 270%. AI has a history dating back to Alan Turing’s work in the 1940s, and we can define AI as the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings.

A woman explains a graph on a computer screen to two men.
Recent advances in computing technology have accelerated the rate at which AI and data science tools are coming to be used.

Four key areas of AI are machine learning, robotics, computer vision, and natural language processing. Other advances in computing technology mean we can now store and efficiently analyse colossal amounts of data (big data); consequently, data science was formed as an interdisciplinary field combining mathematics, statistics, and computer science. Data science is often presented as intertwined with machine learning, as data scientists commonly use machine learning techniques in their analysis.

Venn diagram showing the overlaps between computer science, AI, machine learning, statistics, and data science.
Computer science, AI, statistics, machine learning, and data science are overlapping fields. (Diagram from our forthcoming free online course about machine learning for educators)

AI impacts everyone, so we need to teach young people about it

AI and data science have recently received huge amounts of attention in the media, as machine learning systems are now used to make decisions in areas such as healthcare, finance, and employment. These AI technologies cause many ethical issues, for example as explored in the film Coded Bias. This film describes the fallout of researcher Joy Buolamwini’s discovery that facial recognition systems do not identify dark-skinned faces accurately, and her journey to push for the first-ever piece of legislation in the USA to govern against bias in the algorithms that impact our lives. Many other ethical issues concerning AI exist and, as highlighted by UNESCO’s examples of AI’s ethical dilemmas, they impact each and every one of us.

Three female teenagers and a teacher use a computer together.
We need to make sure that young people understand AI technologies and how they impact society and individuals.

So how do such advances in technology impact the education of young people? In the UK, a recent Royal Society report on machine learning recommended that schools should “ensure that key concepts in machine learning are taught to those who will be users, developers, and citizens” — in other words, every child. The AI Roadmap published by the UK AI Council in 2020 declared that “a comprehensive programme aimed at all teachers and with a clear deadline for completion would enable every teacher confidently to get to grips with AI concepts in ways that are relevant to their own teaching.” As of yet, very few countries have incorporated any study of AI and data science in their school curricula or computing programmes of study.

A teacher and a student work on a coding task at a laptop.
Our seminar speakers will share findings on how teachers can help their learners get to grips with AI concepts.

Partnering with The Alan Turing Institute for a new seminar series

Here at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, AI, machine learning, and data science are important topics both in our learning resources for young people and educators, and in our programme of research. So we are delighted to announce that starting this autumn we are hosting six free, online seminars on the topic of AI, machine learning, and data science education, in partnership with The Alan Turing Institute.

A woman teacher presents to an audience in a classroom.
Everyone with an interest in computing education research is welcome at our seminars, from researchers to educators and students!

The Alan Turing Institute is the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence and does pioneering work in data science research and education. The Institute conducts many different strands of research in this area and has a special interest group focused on data science education. As such, our partnership around the seminar series enables us to explore our mutual interest in the needs of young people relating to these technologies.

This promises to be an outstanding series drawing from international experts who will share examples of pedagogic best practice […].

Dr Matt Forshaw, The Alan Turing Institute

Dr Matt Forshaw, National Skills Lead at The Alan Turing Institute and Senior Lecturer in Data Science at Newcastle University, says: “We are delighted to partner with the Raspberry Pi Foundation to bring you this seminar series on AI, machine learning, and data science. This promises to be an outstanding series drawing from international experts who will share examples of pedagogic best practice and cover critical topics in education, highlighting ethical, fair, and safe use of these emerging technologies.”

Our free seminar series about AI, machine learning, and data science

At our computing education research seminars, we hear from a range of experts in the field and build an international community of researchers, practitioners, and educators interested in this important area. Our new free series of seminars runs from September 2021 to February 2022, with some excellent and inspirational speakers:

  • Tues 7 September: Dr Mhairi Aitken from The Alan Turing Institute will share a talk about AI ethics, setting out key ethical principles and how they apply to AI before discussing the ways in which these relate to children and young people.
  • Tues 5 October: Professor Carsten Schulte, Yannik Fleischer, and Lukas Höper from Paderborn University in Germany will use a series of examples from their ProDaBi programme to explore whether and how AI and machine learning should be taught differently from other topics in the computer science curriculum at school. The speakers will suggest that these topics require a paradigm shift for some teachers, and that this shift has to do with the changed role of algorithms and data, and of the societal context.
  • Tues 3 November: Professor Matti Tedre and Dr Henriikka Vartiainen from the University of Eastern Finland will focus on machine learning in the school curriculum. Their talk will map the emerging trajectories in educational practice, theory, and technology related to teaching machine learning in K-12 education.
  • Tues 7 December: Professor Rose Luckin from University College London will be looking at the breadth of issues impacting the teaching and learning of AI.
  • Tues 11 January: We’re delighted that Dr Dave Touretzky and Dr Fred Martin (Carnegie Mellon University and University of Massachusetts Lowell, respectively) from the AI4K12 Initiative in the USA will present some of the key insights into AI that the researchers hope children will acquire, and how they see K-12 AI education evolving over the next few years.
  • Tues 1 February: Speaker to be confirmed

How you can join our online seminars

All seminars start at 17:00 UK time (18:00 Central European Time, 12 noon Eastern Time, 9:00 Pacific Time) and take place in an online format, with a presentation, breakout discussion groups, and a whole-group Q&A.

Sign up now and we’ll send you the link to join on the day of each seminar — don’t forget to put the dates in your diary!

In the meantime, you can explore some of our educational resources related to machine learning and data science:

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Celebrating the community: Laura

We love seeing all the wonderful things people are doing in the community — that’s why we’re sharing our new series of short films documenting some of the incredible journeys of community members in all corners of the globe!

A young woman with a robot she has built.
Laura found her peer group at a local CoderDojo and has travelled the world with her friends and the robots they have built together.

Today we bring you the third wonderful film in this series of community stories. For the series, we’ve been super lucky to collaborate with digital makers all over the world, and today’s story exemplifies how truly global the community is.

Watch our video to find out how this ambitious young digital maker’s passion for creating with technology has propelled her around the world! 

Say hi to Laura

Laura’s journey began in her hometown of Timișoara, Romania. In Laura’s words: “I joined my local CoderDojo, and it changed my life.”

Help us celebrate Laura by liking and sharing her story on Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook!

Laura (17) started attending her CoderDojo coding club four years ago because she loves problem-solving and wanted to learn more about how digital technology works. Her biggest discovery at CoderDojo, however, was the other young people there, who were just as passionate about technology as she was. Laura says, “I had the opportunity to meet people with the same interests. Everybody was working, exchanging ideas, having fun!”

Laura and the new friends she made worked together to solve problems in their local community: they built an autonomous waste-collecting robot and a drone-mounted air pollution monitor. 

“I want to bring a change to the world.”

Laura

But Laura’s tech journey did not stop there. In 2017, she travelled to Dublin to present her latest project — a Raspberry Pi-powered, mind-controlled robot! — at Coolest Projects International, which introduced her to a global community of digital makers. And since then she’s even taken part in a robotics competition at MIT!

At a Coolest Projects event, a teenage girl tests out her mind-controlled robot at a laptop with a man.
At Coolest Projects International 2017, Laura demonstrated her mind-controlled robot to our CEO Philip — she said the robot worked really well with Philip because he has no hair!

Working alongside like-minded peers and connecting with a global community of young tech creators has had a profound impact on Laura. She says, “I never imagined that I would have so many opportunities to travel, expand my horizons, and meet so many people. It’s thanks to CoderDojo and Coolest Projects that I’ve been able to build an amazing network of friends, and together we’re ready to take on the world.” 

We are so excited to see what Laura will do next. Help us celebrate Laura by liking and sharing her story on Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook!

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Archimedes the AI robot | HackSpace #45

When we saw Alex Glow’s name in the latest issue of HackSpace magazine, we just had to share their project. HackSpace #45 celebrates the best Raspberry Pi builds of all time, and we remembered spotting Alex’s wearable robotic owl familiar back in the day. For those of you yet to have had the pleasure, meet Archimedes…

archimedes owl on maker's shoulder
Archimedes taking a perch on his maker’s shoulder

Back in 2018, Hackster’s Alex Glow built Archimedes, an incredible robot companion using a combination of Raspberry Pi Zero W and Arduino with the Google AIY Vision Kit for its ‘brain’.

An updated model, Archie 2, using Raspberry Pi 3B, ESP32-powered Matrix Voice, and an SG90 micro-servo motor saw the personable owl familiar toughen up – Alex says the 3D-printed case is far more durable – as well as having better voice interaction options using Matrix HAL (for which installer packages are provided for Raspberry Pi and Python), plus Mycroft and Snips.ai voice assistant software.

archimedes owl insides laid out on table
Owl innards

Other refinements included incorporating compact discs into the owl’s wings to provide an iridescent sheen. Slots in the case allowed Alex to feed through cable ties to attach Archie’s wings, which she says now “provide a lively bounce to the wings, in tune with his active movements (as well as my own).”

archimedes owl wing detail
Raspberry Pi getting stuffed into Archimedes’ head

HackSpace magazine issue 45 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 or your local newsagents.

Hack space magazine issue 45 front cover

As always, every issue is free to download from the HackSpace magazine website.

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Ten years of the Raspberry Pi blog

(Buckle yourselves in: this is a long one.)

I had an email last month from UKScone, a Raspberry Pi user I met ten years ago at a Maker Faire in New York.

“Just had a thought. It’ll be 10 years soon since you setup the blog/forums 🙂 Going to do a blog piece about it?

Damn, I feel old.”

Scone was one of a surprisingly large group of people who’d travelled surprisingly long distances to look at a prototype of this Raspberry Pi thing we’d been writing about. That group of people had coalesced around this blog and the Raspberry Pi forums, which both got set up exactly ten years ago tomorrow.

Back in 2011, we thought that perhaps we might sell a few thousand computers.

As of today, we’ve sold more than 40 million of the things.

We’ve seen some spectacular stuff from our community. Remember the Raspberry Pi drawing machine that ran on hamster power?

We’ve kept every single blog post we’ve ever written up on this site, starting way back in July 2011. Ten years is a long time in internet terms, so you’ll find some dead links in some earlier posts; and this website has undergone a number of total redesigns, so early stuff doesn’t tend to have the pretty thumbnail associated with it to show you what it’s all about. (Our page design didn’t use them back then.) But all the same, for the internet archeologists among you, or those interested in the beginnings of Raspberry Pi, those posts from before we even had hardware are worth flicking through.

The incredible dad who recreated the Apollo mission in his son’s bedroom still makes me feel like an inadequate parent.

When we started doing this, I was a freelance writer and copy-editor, writing for several fragrance industry clients alongside the food and travel businesses I drummed work up for through a blog that worked as a kind of portfolio, alongside a food-trivia Twitter account. Blogs were awfully modern back then – I was one of the top three food bloggers by visitor numbers in the country – and Twitter was not yet a cesspool. Because it was modern. (In short, I was not anything approaching a tech writer, although I was a giant nerd already.) Then, one day in 2011, Eben Upton and David Braben showed Rory Cellan-Jones at the BBC a prototype, his YouTube video about it went viral – and Raspberry Pi found itself suddenly in need of somebody to run social media and press. I thought I’d do it for free for a few months, then hand over to someone else and go back to a life of being paid to eat nice things and go on holidays.

Water Droplet Photography created by Dave Hunt using a $25 Raspberry Pi to make a camera rig that would have cost thousands commercially.

I never went back. Ten years on, Eben and I (who met in the 90s and married a few years before the Raspberry Pi project kicked off in 2009) are still here. Raspberry Pi is now two organisations: Raspberry Pi Trading, where I work, which makes the computers, the magazines, the peripherals and all that good stuff; and the Foundation, which is headed up by Philip Colligan, and which runs all our charitable programs. The Foundation trains teachers, gives hardware to deprived kids, advises on the curriculum, offers training programs for free to everybody, allows children to send their code to space, and much more. I’m immensely proud of what Philip’s built over there: it’s more than we could have imagined when we were raising money by selling keyboard stickers from our kitchen table in 2011. (Before you ask, no, we don’t make them any more.) I still remember the envelope-stuffing paper cuts. Let us know in the comments if you’d like us to start making them again. We’re in a position to pay someone who isn’t me to cut them all out this time.

BeetBox – music employing capacitive touch, root veg and a Pi. I was a professional musician before I went into publishing and PR, and music projects have always hit a very special spot for me.

We’re a big team of photographers, videographers, editors, writers and social media people now, producing all the words, videos and pictures that come out of the organisation: Ashley looks after this blog these days, while I look after the team. One thing I’ve always missed about the early days, when I was doing everything (bad photography, social media, press, PR and all the public-facing writing we produced), has been the ability to talk more publicly about hardware development, hiccups in the very early development, and about how the business behind Raspberry Pi was built. Once Raspberry Pi was actually on the market and we started work on follow-up devices, we had to stop talking about that development work in order to avoid getting hit by the Osborne effect – the social phenomenon where people stop or delay buying a product when they know a newer version is in the works. And blogging was so easy right at the start, when every project was new – at a point when there were only 2000 Raspberry Pis in the world, everything somebody did with one felt special! But there’s still a ton of stuff for us to talk about – so many people are doing so many wonderful things with Raspberry Pi that choosing a subject for the day’s blog is one of the hardest parts of Ashley’s job.

Mike Cook is one of my childhood heroes – I used to save my pocket money for Micro User magazine just to read his hardware column. This project comes from very shortly after the first Pis started arriving in people’s houses. I couldn’t believe it when I realised he was using our hardware to do the things I’d loved reading about as a kid.

We have a big anniversary coming up next year, when it’ll be ten years since we sold the first Raspberry Pi. But we’re having a little, premature celebration here at Pi Towers today, as we congratulate ourselves on having kept this stream of news going for ten whole years.

Saved my all-time favourite for last. This paludarium simulating an Amazonian rainforest, complete with weather effects, is one of the most beautiful projects we’ve ever covered.

,

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Introducing the Raspberry Pi Computing Education Research Centre

I am delighted to announce the creation of the Raspberry Pi Computing Education Research Centre at the University of Cambridge.

University of Cambridge logo

With computers and digital technologies increasingly shaping all of our lives, it’s more important than ever that every young person, whatever their background or circumstances, has meaningful opportunities to learn about how computers work and how to create with them. That’s our mission at the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

Woman computing teacher and young female student at a laptop.
The Raspberry Pi Computing Education Research Centre will work with educators to translate its research into practice and effect positive change in learners’ lives.

Why research matters

Compared to subjects like mathematics, computing is a relatively new field and, while there are enduring principles and concepts, it’s a subject that’s changing all the time as the pace of innovation accelerates. If we’re honest, we just don’t know enough about what works in computing education, and there isn’t nearly enough investment in high-quality research.

Two teenagers sit at laptops in a computing classroom.
We need research to find the best ways of teaching young people how computers work and how to create with them.

That’s why research and evidence has always been a priority for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, from rigorously evaluating our own programmes and running structured experiments to test what works in areas like gender balance in computing, to providing a platform for the world’s best computing education researchers to share their findings through our seminar series. 

Through our research activities we hope to make a contribution to the field of computing education and, as an operating foundation working with tens of thousands of educators and millions of learners every year, we’re uniquely well-placed to translate that research into practice. You can read more about our research work here.

The Raspberry Pi Computing Education Research Centre 

The new Research Centre is a joint initiative between the University of Cambridge and the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and builds on our longstanding partnership with the Department of Computer Science and Technology. That partnership goes all the way back to 2008, to the creation of the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the invention of the Raspberry Pi computer. More recently, we have collaborated on Isaac Computer Science, an online platform that is already being used by 2000 teachers and 18,000 students of A level Computer Science in England, and that we will shortly expand to cover GCSE content.

Woman computing teacher and female students at a computer.
Computers and digital technologies shape our lives and society — how do we make sure young people have the skills to use them to solve problems?

Through the Raspberry Pi Computing Education Research Centre, we want to increase understanding of what works in teaching and learning computing, with a particular focus on young people who come from backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented in the field of computing or who experience educational disadvantage.

The Research Centre will combine expertise from both institutions, undertaking rigorous original research and working directly with teachers and other educators to translate that research into practice and effect positive change in young peoples’ lives.

The scope will be computing education — the teaching and learning of computing, computer science, digital making, and wider digital skills — for school-aged young people in primary and secondary education, colleges, and non-formal settings.

We’re starting with three broad themes: 

  • Computing curricula, pedagogy, and assessment, including teacher professional development and the learning and teaching process
  • The role of non-formal learning in computing and digital making learning, including self-directed learning and extra-curricular programmes
  • Understanding and removing the barriers to computing education, including the factors that stand in the way of young people’s engagement and progression in computing education

While we’re based in the UK and expect to run a number of research projects here, we are eager to establish collaborations with universities and researchers in other countries, including the USA and India. 

Get involved

We’re really excited about this next chapter in our research work, and doubly excited to be working with the brilliant team at the Department of Computer Science and Technology. 

If you’d like to find out more or get involved in supporting the new Computing Education Research Centre, please subscribe to our research newsletter or email research@raspberrypi.org.

You can also join our free monthly research seminars.

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Mega six-screen cyberdeck

Holy cyberdecks! Redditor Holistech (aka Sören Gebbert) really leaned in to the “more is more” idiom when building this big orange cyberdeck using three Raspberry Pis. Why use just one screen to manipulate enemy cyberware and take down your cyberpunk foes, when you can have six?

six screen cyber deck rear view
Rear view (keep reading for the big reveal)

From four to six

We first came across Sören’s work on hackster.io and we were impressed with what we found, which was this four‑screen creation running Linux Mint on a dual Raspberry Pi setup:

four screen cyberdeck
The first, four-screen, iteration of this project is still impressive

So imagine our surprise when we clicked through to check out Holistech on reddit, only to be confronted with this six‑screen monstrosity of brilliance:

six screen cyberdeck
Level up

He’s only gone and levelled up his original creation already. And before we even had the chance to properly swoon over the original.

Under the hood

Originally, Sören wanted to use Raspberry Pi Zero because they’re tiny and easily hidden away inside projects. He needed more power though, so he went with Raspberry Pi 4 instead.

cyberdecks on a desk
The whole family

Sören 3D-printed the distinctive orange frame. On the back of the rig are openings for a fan for active cooling and a mini control display that shows the CPU temperature and the fan speed.

Six 5.5″ HD resolution screens are the eyes of the project. And everything is powered by hefty 26,000 mAh battery power banks.

Carry on

And it gets even better: this whole multi-screen thing is portable. Yes, portable. You can fold it up, pack it away in its suitably steampunk metal box, and carry it with you.

There are plenty more photos. Head to Instagram to take a closer look at how Sören’s genius design folds in on itself to enable portability.

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Amazing science from the winners of Astro Pi Mission Space Lab 2020/21

The Raspberry Pi Foundation and ESA Education are excited to announce the winners and highly commended Mission Space Lab teams of the 2020/21 European Astro Pi Challenge!

ESA Astronaut Thomas Pesquet with the Astro Pi computers aboard the International Space Station
ESA Astronaut Thomas Pesquet floating aboard the International Space Station with the two Astro Pi computers

In Mission Space Lab, teams of young people aged up to 19 create scientific experiments that run on the International Space Station’s two Astro Pi computers — space-hardened Raspberry Pis with cameras and an array of sensors.

In the final phase of Mission Space Lab, teams analyse the data captured during their experiment’s three-hour runtime on the ISS and write a short report describing their experiment’s hypothesis, methods, results, and conclusions.

The Maldives shown from space by an Astro Pi computer on the International Space Station
The Maldives as captured by the Mechabot team

You can read the best reports below! From 154 final reports, the Astro Pi team has now chosen 10 winners and 5 highly commended teams that have each demonstrated great scientific merit and innovative use of the Astro Pi hardware.

Our winning teams are…

Zeus from Tudor Vianu National College of Computer Science in Romania, who used photos of Earth captured by the Astro Pi’s camera, historical data sets, and machine learning to develop a weather forecast system that predicts meteorological phenomena on Earth.

Mag-AZ from Escola Secundária Domingos Rebelo in Portugal, who attempted to create an algorithm that could calculate the location of the magnetic poles of any planet or star by using the Astro Pi’s sensors to map Earth’s magnetic fields.

Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan shown from space by an Astro Pi computer on the International Space Station
Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan as captured by the Jupiter team

Atlantes from Niubit Coding Club in Spain, who used a sonification process to convert data captured by the Astro Pi’s sensors into music, inspired by Commander Chris Hadfield’s performance of Space Oddity on the ISS in 2013. You can see more about their experiment here.

Mateii from Saint Sava National College in Romania, who investigated the potential growth of Aspergillus and Penicillium mold on the ISS in comparison to on Earth using a simulation model and Astro Pi sensor readings taken inside the Columbus module.

The River Nile in Egypt seen by an Astro Pi computer on the International Space Station
The river Nile in Egypt as captured by the Mechabot team

Juno from Institut d’Altafulla in Spain, who attempted to determine how much heat the astronauts aboard the ISS experience by using temperature, pressure, and humidity data captured by the Astro Pi’s sensors together with psychrometric calculations.

Albedo from Lycée Albert Camus in France, who investigated albedo on Earth, using photos captured by the Astro Pi’s camera to classify cloud, land, and sea coverage, and analysing their corresponding albedo values.

The river Nile in Sudan shown from space by an Astro Pi computer on the International Space Station
The river Nile in Sudan as captured by the Spacepi2 team

SpaceRad from Centrum Nauki Keplera – Planetarium Wenus in Poland, who also investigated albedo (the proportion of light or radiation that is reflected by a surface) on Earth to evaluate the efficacy of using solar farms to combat climate change.

Magtrix from The Leys School in the United Kingdom, who analysed whether geographical features of Earth such as mountains affect the planet’s magnetic field using the Astro Pi’s magnetometer, GPS data, and photos of Earth captured by the Astro Pi’s camera.

Newfoundland and Labrador shown from space by an Astro Pi computer on the International Space Station
Newfoundland and Labrador as captured by the SpaceRad team

Mechabot from Robone Robotics Club in Germany, who investigated how the Earth’s magnetic field correlates with its climate, and how this affects near-Earth objects’ behaviour in low-Earth orbit.

Spacepi2 from Zanneio Model High School in Greece, who investigated urbanisation on Earth by comparing photos captured by the Astro Pi’s camera with historical data using an automated photo classification program they created and NDVI analysis.

Sakhalin Oblast in Russia shown from space by an Astro Pi computer on the International Space Station
Sakhalin Oblast in Russia as captured by the Liontech team

Highly commended teams

Bergson from Lycée Henri-Bergson Paris in France, who built an AI model predicting nitrogen dioxide pollution levels on Earth using NDVI analysis of photos taken by the Astro Pi’s camera.

The Tiwi Islands off the coast of Northern Australia shown from space by an Astro Pi computer on the International Space Station
The Tiwi Islands off the coast of Northern Australia as captured by the Magtrix team

LionTech from Mihai Eminescu National College, Oradea in Romania, who attempted to measure the velocity of the ISS in orbit, and also created an algorithm to detect smoke, pollution, and types of cloud coverage in the images they captured using the Astro Pi’s camera.

RosSpace from Ceo Boecillo in Spain, who are the third team in our list to have investigated Earth’s albedo levels in relation to global warming using photo analysis. A popular theme this year!

The Amur River and Sea of Oghotsk in Eastern Russia shown from space by an Astro Pi computer on the International Space Station
The Amur river and the Sea of Oghotsk (right) in Eastern Russia as captured by the Zeus team

Jupiter from Institut d’Altafulla in Spain, who looked at variations in the current surface area of water bodies on Earth compared to historical records as an indicator of climate change.

And a special mention for:

Ultrafly from Ultrafly Coding Club in Canada, who were the youngest team to make the highly commended list this year, with an average age of 8! Their experiment explored whether the environmental variables on the ISS created allergy-friendly living conditions for the astronauts on board.

The prize? A special webinar with ESA Astronaut Luca Parmitano

Every Astro Pi team that reached Phase 2 of Mission Space Lab by having their experiment idea accepted this year will receive participation certificates recognising their achievement, and the winners and highly commended teams will receive special certificates and an additional prize.

The prize for this year’s winners and highly commended teams is the chance to pose their questions to ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano during a webinar in September! We’ll shortly email the teams’ mentors the instructions for submitting their teams’ questions to Luca.

ESA Astronaut Luca Parmitano floating aboard the ISS with two Astro Pi computers
ESA Astronaut Luca Parmitano floating aboard the ISS with the two Astro Pi computers

This Q&A event for the finalists will conclude this year’s European Astro Pi Challenge. It’s been an incredible year for the Challenge, with 15756 young people from 23 countries participating in Mission Zero or Mission Space Lab.

Everyone on the Raspberry Pi and ESA Education teams congratulates this year’s participants for their efforts, especially given the obstacles many teams had to overcome due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Thank you and congratulations to everyone who has taken part — we hope you found it as fun and inspiring as we did!

We can’t wait to welcome you back for the next European Astro Pi Challenge!

While this year’s Challenge is coming to an end, the European Astro Pi Challenge will return with both Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab in September!

Logo of the European Astro Pi Challenge

We invite all teachers, educators, club leaders, and young people who love coding and space science to follow our updates on astro-pi.org and the Astro Pi Twitter account to make sure you don’t miss any announcements.

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How pillars and triangles can focus your game design

In game design, freedom can lead to paralysis. But in the latest issue of Wireframe magazine, Stuart Maine explains how game pillars and the iron triangle will help you focus on what’s important.

The flexibility of the medium of video games lets us experience concepts like the non-Euclidean geometry behind Superliminal’s ‘whatever you see is reality’
The flexibility of the medium of video games lets us experience concepts like the non-Euclidean geometry behind Superliminal’s ‘whatever you see is reality’

This article will cover two game development tools that are designed to help decide what’s important in the game you’re making. The iron triangle revolves around the practical realities of making a game, while game pillars cover the creative side, but both relate to the importance of focus. Let’s begin with pillars.

Game pillars

Every game media has its strengths, such as wargaming’s communities, the shared experiences of board games, or the collaboration of RPGs. One of the advantages of video games is their sheer flexibility – we can race across alien worlds, explore Egyptian tombs, or keep fit while going on magical quests. But that infinite flexibility can be a real problem for game creators, because if the game you’re making can include literally anything, then how do you know what to focus on?

A pillar saying your game is a platformer doesn’t really help, it’s what you do or say with that basic framework that matters
A pillar saying your game is a platformer doesn’t really help, it’s what you do or say with that basic framework that matters

Let’s assume you have an idea for a game based on a particular world or character, or a certain type of gameplay. Alternatively, you might have used player types (see Wireframe issue 39) to decide on a particular audience and the features they like, or if you’re working with someone else’s IP, then that brand’s owners might have a type of gameplay in mind. Game pillars help move beyond those starting points and guide you through development.

The basics

A game’s pillars are a list of around three ‘core statements’ created early in that game’s development. You could come up with your pillars before you’ve started development to help narrow down the possible game you might make, or you might do this after prototyping has given you an idea you want to pursue. You can even retroactively create pillars to help rescue a game that’s been in development for a while and has lost its way.

  • Each statement should be short – no more than a sentence – and each should be phrased as a rule you will follow throughout development.
  • Use active language. We will, we like, this game is, our audience wants, and so on. Don’t use negative language if you can rephrase the same statement as a positive.
  • Importantly, make your pillars focus on how your players will feel over the things they will do. This is probably the most important concept here, so let’s explore it further.
During development, Rime began to deviate from its original goals and the team had to take the decision to refocus on their pillars
During development, Rime began to deviate from its original goals and the team had to take the decision to refocus on their pillars

Dig deeper into the ‘why’

It’s easy to write ‘our game will feature 2D puzzles and platforming’, and technically that is a pillar because you can refer back to it later. But it doesn’t really say anything about what that platforming is for. By that, I mean why are you making a game about platforming? To dig deeper into the ‘why’ behind your pillar, you could rewrite that sentence to one of these:

  • Explore evocative alien worlds, telling a story through atmosphere and details
  • It’s satisfying to master deep systems and figure out hidden rules
  • Our players will achieve a state of flow through challenging, precision gameplay

Those are my example guesses at a pillar each for the platform games Flashback, Spelunky, and Celeste. All are 2D platformers, but they’re ‘about’ very different things.

What to do with your pillars

Note that none of the above examples specifically talk about the gameplay being platforming, because pillars should focus on the feelings and emotions you want your game to evoke, rather than how you’re going to do it. That’s because pillars aren’t a feature list to check off, more a tool to help remember the things that are important when you’re submerged in the day-to-day realities of game development. Pillars are the why of your game, and the actual development process is coming up with the what to match those initial goals.

Another benefit of pillars is they can be used to communicate the game’s vision to the public, helping to balance reality and hype
Another benefit of pillars is they can be used to communicate the game’s vision to the public, helping to balance reality and hype

Print your chosen pillars as large as you can and put them up somewhere you’ll see them every day. That way they’ll become ingrained in your thoughts and you’ll easily be able to refer to them when someone suggests a new feature or change to the game. Will that change help bring your game closer to your pillars (great), not really affect them (neutral), or work against them (bad)?

I’ve seen studios use pillars on struggling games to discard any areas which don’t match them. You particularly see this if a game is taking too long to release (because most professional studios have to get a game out to some sort of deadline – more on this below), with people looking back to their pillars to help work out what to cut. If feature A is cool, but feature B aligns with the pillars, it’ll take a strong argument to keep A.

Establishing pillars

There are a couple of approaches for coming up with a game’s pillars, each with advantages, but also potential problems to look out for. Both of these approaches assume you already know to some degree what the game will be. Your pillars will help guide the eventual game’s details, but they’re a tool for staying on track as you forge ahead, not for coming up with ideas in the first place. If you haven’t agreed on a concept for your game yet, then run game jams, conduct audience and market research, or paper prototype ideas first.

When you’re working with someone else’s brand, involve that IP’s holder in pillar discussions so that they’re onboard with your chosen direction
When you’re working with someone else’s brand, involve that IP’s holder in pillar discussions so that they’re onboard with your chosen direction

Second, both approaches assume any business, audience, IP, or technology factors are already agreed and set in stone. For example, you might already know that this will be a multiplayer game, that it must be released within this time frame, or that it must be built on the technology created for your previous game. We’ll talk more about this with the iron triangle, but basically, any real-world issues that are beyond your control must be acknowledged or you risk coming up with pillars that set you up for difficulties later.

Duke Nukem Forever is an example of a major game that suffered for its lack of creative direction
Duke Nukem Forever is an example of a major game that suffered for its lack of creative direction

Two approaches

The two approaches are to have the entire team brainstorm potential pillars, or have vision holders dictate them:

ONE: If the entire team is involved, then you run brainstorming sessions where everyone’s potential pillar ideas are stuck up on a wall. Then the group chooses the best pillars or combines a couple of ideas into pillars (remember the point about keeping them short – mashing many ideas into a long pillar is cheating). 

The advantage of this approach is that everyone understands and buys into the chosen pillars because they had a say in creating them. The downside is that this process can take time, with potentially conflicting ideas needing to be whittled down until an agreement is reached.

TWO: The other approach is for ‘creative vision holders’ to come up with the game’s pillars and then present them to the rest of the team. Obviously, this is much less collaborative and more about saying, ‘I have a vision for this game which I think could be incredible, will you help me make it?’ The advantage of this is that everyone can rally behind a singular vision that someone is passionate about bringing to the world. As a result, the game’s pillars are likely to be extremely focused and all pointing in the same direction. The downside is that it requires everyone else to get on board with the game’s pillars even though they didn’t help come up with them.

Either way, once the pillars have been created, everyone on the team has to work with them in mind – there’s an implied contract that these rules must be enforced to ensure the game keeps moving in the right direction. Even though it can be unpopular to say no to someone’s idea, that’s what pillars are there to help with (and of course, pillars don’t say ‘that idea is bad’, simply that it doesn’t fit this particular game. Write the idea down and maybe build your next game around it).

Examples

Here are some actual pillars from games I’ve worked on:

  • Live through the apocalypse by any means necessary.
    This pillar from a military-themed game establishes that any action is acceptable in order to survive, implying a gritty, survival-of-the-fittest tone. 
  • Does it make me feel loved?
    A pillar from a game that was designed to appeal to an audience that liked romances and was looking for escapism. This guided our characters, environments, and art style.
  • Make me feel powerful, and make me say, ‘That was awesome!’
    It’s always worth considering a pillar covering who the player is in this game. If you’re making a game about being a giant robot, then ensure players feel big and powerful.
  • Small actions = epic reactions.
    From a puzzle game themed around combat. Because the player is making very small actions (tap, drag) we wanted to ensure the game responded with weighty reactions.
  • Express your own style in a safe way.
    If you’re working on a game for kids, it’s worth thinking about the challenges and worries in their lives, and whether your game can help them safely explore those areas.
  • Trust the player – it’s their game, let them play how they like.
    We used this for a procedurally created game, reminding the team not to create puzzles but to focus on systems that players could use and abuse any way they wanted.

The value of pillars

I realise that game pillars are quite an abstract topic, but in my experience across many games and studios, they have proven their worth. At the start of a project, they help avoid the ‘blank page’ problem of being able to make anything you can imagine, and later they help you say ‘this, but not that’ and avoid wandering in the development wilderness. So however you choose to structure or word your game pillars, I wholeheartedly recommend spending a little time thinking about the why before you launch into the what.

Owlboy: a game that favoured quality over time. It took about nine years to make, but looked spectacular
Owlboy: a game that favoured quality over time. It took about nine years to make, but looked spectacular

Speaking of which, let’s take a look at the iron triangle and how it will impact your game, because no matter what you do in the games industry, the triangle will impact you. As a result, it’s important to have an idea of how it works and what it means to your projects. A quick disclaimer: I’m going to simplify a complex area for space reasons, so if it interests you, check out online resources on this and other project management topics.

Art versus business

Have you ever played a game and clearly seen that it was unfinished? Missing features, obvious bugs, and a lack of polish show that you’re playing a game that needed more development time. The iron triangle is the reason games are released in an unfinished state, but it isn’t some malevolent force – it’s simply where reality butts up against creativity in game development.

Although no one sets out to make a bad game, movie licences often feel the pressure of the iron triangle due to their fixed release date
Although no one sets out to make a bad game, movie licences often feel the pressure of the iron triangle due to their fixed release date

Coined by Dr. Martin Barnes, the triangle applies to premium games as much as free ones, and to indie games as equally as blockbusters. It relates to…

Three areas of game development

  • Quality: How ‘good’ is your game? Good could mean it has many features, levels, NPCs, and weapons, or that what you have is highly polished and balanced. It also dictates how many bugs you let through into the finished game (no one ever fixes all their bugs, you just choose which are most important).
  • Time: Implementing all of the above takes time, so this point of the triangle relates to how long your game will take to be released. Most game developers have to release their games to some sort of deadline; see ‘Time = money’ for more on this.
  • Money: The longer a game’s in development, the more money it costs, with most coming from the wages or living expenses of the team working on it. Money is the most complicated of the three factors because there’s a limit to how much you can throw at a game. A feature that’s going to take a lone developer ten months can’t be done in one simply by paying to put ten developers on it – people get in each other’s way and you have to pay even more because that many people need a lot of management.

Choose your priorities

Now we know the three points of the iron triangle – where things get interesting is that those points are all interrelated, and the rule is you can only control two of the three points. You can select which two points you want to control, but you have no say on what happens to the third. That’s why it’s called an iron triangle – the outcome of the third point is decided by what you do with the two you’ve chosen to control.

Shigeru Miyamoto spoke about delaying The Ocarina of Time until it was of the highest quality, making ‘cost’ the element out of his control
Shigeru Miyamoto spoke about delaying The Ocarina of Time until it was of the highest quality, making ‘cost’ the element out of his control

These are the outcomes you can expect based on the two points of the triangle you choose to control:

  • Controlling time and money is where you see licensed tie-in games. Because they need to release alongside (say) a movie, they must come out on a certain date, and they can’t cost more than a certain amount otherwise it isn’t worth making the game in the first place. The point of the triangle not controlled here is quality, meaning the game will be as big and polished as it happens to be when the time and money run out.
  • The second choice is to control time and quality, meaning the game must come out on a certain date and be at least ‘this’ good (e.g. large, polished, and bug-free). This option means you relinquish control over the game’s cost – it will simply cost as much as it needs to, to ensure it hits your quality bar and is released on time.
  • Finally, you can control money and quality, meaning the game will be big and polished, but the team is kept small to limit development costs. This means you have no control over how long the game will take to release because a small team making a polished product can only work so fast.

Business realities

You might be wondering why any of this matters – after all, you could be making a game in your spare time or working at a studio where other people make these decisions. But if you understand which of the points of the triangle your project is trying to control, then you can work more effectively, making choices that work towards those needs rather than against them.

As a side note, if you’re working at a studio and whoever’s in charge insists they can control all three points of the iron triangle, consider that a Big Red Warning. That sort of denial of the fundamentals of project management means overtime – and a game that’s likely to go off the rails.

The iron triangle isn’t about hateful business realities quashing your creative dreams, it’s about choosing and understanding your priorities so that you control your game, not the other way around.

Recap

To recap: choosing your game’s pillars helps you focus on what’s important, and choosing which two points of the iron triangle you want to control helps you focus on the reality of making a game. Both of these are important, because not deciding on a game’s pillars can lead to the end result being a mess of conflicting ideas pulling in multiple directions, and ignoring the iron triangle leads to games spiralling into overtime, delays, and impossible demands. Yes, making games should be fun, but a little focus early in a project’s life can pay off big time later on.

Get your copy of Wireframe issue 52

You can read more features like this one in Wireframe issue 52, available directly from Raspberry Pi Press — we deliver worldwide.

Wireframe issue 52's cover

And if you’d like a handy digital version of the magazine, you can also download issue 52 for free in PDF format.

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Learn the Internet of Things with “IoT for Beginners” and Raspberry Pi

Want to dabble in the Internet of Things but don’t know where to start? Well, our friends at Microsoft have developed something fun and free just for you. Here’s Senior Cloud Advocate Jim Bennett to tell you all about their brand new online curriculum for IoT beginners.

IoT — the Internet of Things — is one of the biggest growth areas in technology, and one that, to me, is very exciting. You start with a device like a Raspberry Pi, sprinkle some sensors, dust with code, mix in some cloud services and poof! You have smart cities, self-driving cars, automated farming, robotic supermarkets, or devices that can clean your toilet after you shout at Alexa for the third time.

robot detecting a shelf restock is required
Why doesn’t my local supermarket have a restocking robot?

It feels like every week there is another survey out on what tech skills will be in demand in the next five years, and IoT always appears somewhere near the top. This is why loads of folks are interested in learning all about it.

In my day job at Microsoft, I work a lot with students and lecturers, and I’m often asked for help with content to get started with IoT. Not just how to use whatever cool-named IoT services come from your cloud provider of choice to enable digital whatnots to add customer value via thingamabobs, but real beginner content that goes back to the basics.

IoT for Beginners logo
‘IoT for Beginners’ is totally free for anyone wanting to learn about the Internet of Things

This is why a few of us have spent the last few months locked away building IoT for Beginners. It’s a free, open source, 24-lesson university-level IoT curriculum designed for teachers and students, and built by IoT experts, education experts and students.

What will you learn?

The lessons are grouped into projects that you can build with a Raspberry Pi so that you can deep-dive into use cases of IoT, following the journey of food from farm to table.

collection of cartoons of eye oh tee projects

You’ll build projects as you learn the concepts of IoT devices, sensors, actuators, and the cloud, including:

  • An automated watering system, controlling a relay via a soil moisture sensor. This starts off running just on your device, then moves to a free MQTT broker to add cloud control. It then moves on again to cloud-based IoT services to add features like security to stop Farmer Giles from hacking your watering system.
  • A GPS-based vehicle tracker plotting the route taken on a map. You get alerts when a vehicle full of food arrives at a location by using cloud-based mapping services and serverless code.
  • AI-based fruit quality checking using a camera on your device. You train AI models that can detect if fruit is ripe or not. These start off running in the cloud, then you move them to the edge running directly on your Raspberry Pi.
  • Smart stock checking so you can see when you need to restack the shelves, again powered by AI services.
  • A voice-controlled smart timer so you have more devices to shout at when cooking your food! This one uses AI services to understand what you say into your IoT device. It gives spoken feedback and even works in many different languages, translating on the fly.

Grab your Raspberry Pi and some sensors from our friends at Seeed Studio and get building. Without further ado, please meet IoT For Beginners: A Curriculum!

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Celebrating the community: Avye

We’re excited to share another incredible story from the community — the second in our new series of inspirational short films that celebrate young tech creators across the world.

A young teenager with glasses smiles
Avye discovered robotics at her local CoderDojo and is on a mission to get more girls like her into tech.

These stories showcase some of the wonderful things that young people are empowered to do when they learn how to create with technology. We hope that they will inspire many more young people to get creative with technology too!

Meet Avye

This time, you will meet an accomplished, young community member who is on a quest to encourage more girls to join her and get into digital making.

Help us celebrate Avye by liking and sharing her story on Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook!

For as long as she can remember, Avye (13) has enjoyed creating things. It was at her local CoderDojo that seven-year-old Avye was introduced to the world of robotics. Avye’s second-ever robot, the Raspberry Pi–powered Voice O’Tronik Bot, went on to win the Hardware category at our Coolest Projects UK event in 2018.

A girl shows off a robot she has built
Avye showcased her Raspberry Pi–powered Voice O’Tronik Bot at Coolest Projects UK in 2018.

Coding and digital making have become an integral part of Avye’s life, and she wants to help other girls discover these skills too. She says, I believe that it’s important for girls and women to see and be aware of ordinary girls and women doing cool things in the STEM world.” Avye started running her own workshops for girls in their community and in 2018 founded Girls Into Coding. She has now teamed up with her mum Helene, who is committed to helping to drive the Girls Into Coding mission forwards.

I want to get other girls like me interested in tech.

Avye

Avye has received multiple awards to celebrate her achievements, including the Princess Diana Award and Legacy Award in 2019. Most recently, in 2020, Avye won the TechWomen100 Award, the Women in Tech’s Aspiring Teen Award, and the FDM Everywoman in Tech Award!

We cannot wait to see what the future has in store for her. Help us celebrate Avye and inspire others by liking and sharing her story on Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook!

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Charge your Tesla automatically with Raspberry Pi

It’s the worst feeling in the world: waking up and realising you forgot to put your electric car on charge overnight. What do you do now? Dig a bike out of the shed? Wait four hours until there’s enough juice in the battery to get you where you need to be? Neither option works if you’re running late. If only there were a way to automate the process, so that when you park up, the charger find its way to the charging port on its own. That would make life so much easier.

This is quite the build

Of course, this is all conjecture, because I drive a car made in the same year I started university. Not even the windows go up and down automatically. But I can dream, and I still love this automatic Tesla charger built with Raspberry Pi.

Wait, don’t Tesla make those already?

Back in 2015 Tesla released a video of their own prototype which can automatically charge their cars. But things have gone quiet, and nothing seems to be coming to market any time soon – nothing directly from Tesla, anyway. And while we like the slightly odd snake-charmer vibes the Tesla prototype gives off, we really like Pat’s commitment to spending hours tinkering in order to automate a 20-second manual job. It’s how we do things around here.

This video makes me feel weird

Electric vehicle enthusiast Andrew Erickson has been keeping up with the prototype’s whereabouts, and discussed it on YouTube in 2020.

How did Pat build his home-made charger?

Tired of waiting on Tesla, Pat took matters into his own hands and developed a home-made solution with Raspberry Pi 4. Our tiny computer is the “brains of everything”, and is mounted to a carriage on Pat’s garage wall.

automatic tesla charger rig mounted on garage wall
The entire rig mounted to Pat’s garage wall

There’s a big servo at the end of the carriage, which rotates the charging arm out when it’s needed. And an ultrasonic distance sensor ensures none of the home-made apparatus hits the car.

automatic tesla charger sensors
Big white thing on the left is the charging arm. Pat pointing to the little green Raspberry Pi camera module up top. And the yellow box at the bottom is the distance sensor

How does the charger find the charging port?

A Raspberry Pi Camera Module takes photos and sends them back to a machine learning model (Pat used TensorFlow Lite) running on his Raspberry Pi 4. This is how the charging arm finds its way to the port. You can watch the model in action from this point in the build video.

automatic tesla charger in action
“Marco!” “Polo!” “Marco!” “Polo!”

Top stuff, Pat. Now I just need to acquire a Tesla from somewhere so I can build one for my own garage. Wait, I don’t have a garage either…

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New Raspberry Pi 400 layouts

Raspberry Pi 400 is now available with keyboard layouts for Portugal, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. You can buy these four new variants from our lovely Raspberry Pi Approved Resellers. Happy Friday!

How many layouts are available?

Raspberry Pi 400 hasn’t even celebrated its first birthday yet (remember the launch in November?), but at only 249 days old, it already has ten variants to choose from.

At launch, users could choose between English (UK and US), French, Italian, German, and Spanish keyboard layouts, and the new variants support Portuguese, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian. With a variant for Japan coming soon, Raspberry Pi 400 will soon be available with the same range of layouts as our official keyboard.

Top view of a woman's hands using the Raspberry Pi 400 keyboard and official Raspberry Pi mouse
The nail varnish that shook the internet

Can we see?

Here are the keyboard layouts of the four new variants, so you can take a closer look.

Swedish keyboard

Raspberry Pi 400 Keyboard Print SE

Users in Sweden can buy Raspberry Pi 400 with the new Swedish keyboard layout from our resellers Electrokit and RaspberryPi.dk.

Portuguese keyboard

Raspberry Pi 400 Keyboard Print PT

If you’re in Portugal, you can buy a Portuguese Raspberry Pi 400 from the good people at Robert Mauser Ltd.

Norwegian keyboard

Raspberry Pi 400 Keyboard Print NO

If you’re looking to purchase Raspberry Pi 400 in our Norwegian layout, RaspberryPi.dk can help.

Danish keyboard

Raspberry Pi 400 Keyboard Print DK

And for those of you in Denmark, RaspberryPi.dk can ship you a Danish Raspberry Pi 400 too.

Let me see them ALL

All the keyboard layouts for Raspberry Pi 400 are available for your perusal from our Raspberry Pi Datasheets page.

That is a suspiciously neat desk

Which Raspberry Pi 400 do you have on your desk?

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Collection of Raspberry Pi retro tech projects

During lockdown, Stuart (aka JamHamster) wanted to keep busy whilst between jobs, and ended up building a mini empire of rescued retro systems. Cassette tapes, Game Boys, and floppy disks were all among the treasures he reclaimed.

All up and running on my 'shelf of deceit' where nothing is what it seems
Stuart calls this the “shelf of deceit” – where nothing is what it appears to be

Cassette tape starter

Stuart got started by fitting a TZXDuino tape loader into a cassette tape shell. Remember those? This allows him to load software onto a ZX Spectrum by inserting a tape into the tape deck, just as Nature intended. He has since improved the design (check out V2 on YouTube) and carefully documented it on GitHub, so people can build their own.

Here’s how the cassette tape project went down

With that first project in the bag and getting attention on a Facebook group (Spectrum for Everyone), Stuart went forth and sourced more retro tech to revive with tiny pieces of new technology.

Enter Raspberry Pi

Then Stuart discovered our tiny computer and realised there was heaps of scope for hiding them inside older tech. Although we can’t quite officially endorse Stuart’s method of “carefully” removing a port on his Raspberry Pi – it’ll void your warranty – we will say that we like people who go about intentionally voiding their warranties. It’s a cool video.

Here's the collection so far and I'm really pleased with how they worked out
You can see all the modern devices labelled alongside the retro tech they’re encased in

He has since created loads of retrofit projects with Raspberry Pi. Let’s take a quick look at a few of them.

Raspberry Pi 3 Game Boy build

Another gem of a build video from JamHamster on YouTube

First up is a Game Boy build with a Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+. Stuart built an aluminium chassis from scrap, and this sandwiches the Raspberry Pi to hold it in place inside the Game Boy enclosure, as well as acting as a heatsink. There’s a grille in the cartridge and he also added four rear buttons. The hardest part of this build, apparently, was soldering the custom HDMI cable.

Better-than-real CRT screen

Stuart liked the look of an old-fashioned CRT (cathode-ray tube) screen for playing retro games on, but they chew through energy and aren’t that portable. So he had the idea to make a space-efficient LCD system that sits on a desktop and just looks like a retro TV.

This project features a 3.5-inch screen of the type that’s usually found on a car dashboard to help the driver to reverse. Stuart converted it to 5V, and added a cut-down Raspberry Pi 3 and a custom-machined chassis. A custom-ground curved lens makes it look like a real CRT, and he added ports on the back for two Atari joysticks, as well as an external composite input and USB.

The Pi 'CRT' has two onboard Atari Joystick ports and plenty of connectors for other machines
This Raspberry Pi-powered “CRT” display has two onboard Atari joystick ports and plenty of connectors for other machines

The build process for this project is also documented on Github. Here are some extra pictures.

Sega Game Gear build

Stuart’s sister gave him her Game Gear to fix, but the batteries leaked and killed it so he converted it to a Raspberry Pi 3B portable gaming system. And because it was for his sister, he went all out, spending six weeks refining it.

He also ended up rewriting elements of the Arduino Joystick library for responsiveness and ease of configuration. Here’s the Github link for those interested in that part of the build.

Check out the carnage that Stuart rescued with Raspberry Pi 3B

RetroPie cassette

Stuart’s latest cassette build features a Raspberry Pi Zero running RetroPie. He wanted to make one with a transparent case, so he encased the Raspberry Pi in a heatsink sandwich to hide the wiring. He added a full-size USB port and a 3.5 mm media connector for sound and visuals. Here are some shots of the inside.

I'm really pleased with the 80s green
I love the 80s green

Try new things, expect failure, enjoy the process

There were far too many cracking retro builds for us to list here, so follow Stuart on Twitter @RealJamHamster and subscribe to JamHamster on YouTube to properly check everything out.

They need hefty heatsinks but I like working with metal and had fun with some of the designs
They need hefty heatsinks, but Stuart likes working with metal and had fun with some of the designs

Makers, tinkerers, and crafters don’t always have a practical reason for embarking on projects, and Stuart is no different. Here’s what he had to say about why projects like this make him happy:

“I will be happy to admit that I have no clue what I’m doing most of the time, and I am by no means an expert, but I believe everyone should try new things as you never know what you’ll be good at. 9 out of 10 of my ideas don’t work but that tenth one is generally pretty good. I’ve been between roles during lockdown so I am building these out of scrap metal and whatever I have lying around, which is an extra challenge. My philosophy is to try new things, expect failure, learn to enjoy the process and that it’ll be done when it’s done.”

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HIIT Pi makes Raspberry Pi your home workout buddy

Has your fitness suffered during locked down? Have you been able to keep up diligently with your usual running routine? Maybe you found it easy to recreate you regular gym classes in your lounge with YouTube coaches. Or maybe, like a lot of us, you’ve not felt able to do very much at all, and needed a really big push to keep moving.

From James’s YouTube channel

Maker James Wong took to Raspberry Pi to develop something that would hold him accountable for his daily HIIT workouts, and hopefully keep his workouts on track while alone in lockdown.

What is a HIIT workout?

HIIT is the best kind of exercise, in that it doesn’t last long and it’s effective. You do short bursts of high-intensity physical movement between short, regular rest periods. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training.

James was attracted to HIIT during lockdown as it didn’t require any gym visits or expensive exercise equipment. He had access to endless online training sessions, but felt he needed that extra level of accountability to make sure he kept up with his at-home fitness regime. Hence, HIIT Pi.

So what does HIIT Pi actually do?

HIIT Pi is a web app that uses machine learning on Raspberry Pi to help track your workout in real time. Users can interact with the app via any web browser running on the same local network as the Raspberry Pi, be that on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

HIIT Pi running software on server from ipad using raspberry pi
An iPad accessing a remote server running on James’s Raspberry Pi

HIIT Pi is simple in that it only does two things:

  • Uses computer vision to automatically capture and track detected poses and movement
  • Scores them according to a set of rules and standards
HIIT Pi running on Raspberry Pi and a Raspberry Pi camera module, propped up on a shelf
HIIT Pi is watching you via a Raspberry Pi camera module (top right)

So, essentially, you’ve got a digital personal trainer in the room monitoring your movements and letting you know whether they’re up to standard and whether you’re likely to achieve your fitness goals.

James calls HIIT Pi an “electronic referee”, and we agree that if we had one of those in the room while muddling through a Yoga With Adriene session on YouTube, we would try a LOT harder.

How does it work?

A Raspberry Pi camera module streams raw image data from the sensor roughly at 30 frames per second. James devised a custom recording stream handler that works off this pose estimation model and takes frames from the video stream, spitting out pose confidence scores using pre-set keypoint position coordinates.

HIIT Pi dashboard
HIIT Pi uses Dash, a laudable open source tool from the Plotly team

James’s original project post details the inner workings. You can also grab the code needed to create your own at-home Raspberry Pi personal trainer.

Get in touch with James here.

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Bluebot Shoal Fish Robot

If you loved the film Finding Dory, you might just enjoy the original story of these underwater robots, fresh out of the latest issue of The MagPi Magazine.

It’s no coincidence that the shoal of robot fish in this Raspberry Pi Zero W project look more than a little like Dory from Pixar’s movie. As with the film character, the Bluebot robot fish are based on the blue tang or surgeonfish. Unlike Dory, however, these robot fish are designed to be anything but loners. They behave collectively, which is the focus of the Blueswarm research project that began in 2016 at Harvard University.

Linked cameras attached to Raspberry Pi Zero W monitor what surrounding fish are doing. The Bluebot robot then mimics their behaviour, such as moving its fins
The Blueswarm team designed a PCB and wrote custom Python code for their subterranean Raspberry Pi experiments

Florian Berlinger and his PhD research project colleagues Radhika Nagpal, Melvin Gauci, Jeff Dusek, and Paula Wulko set out to investigate the behaviour of a synchronised group of underwater robots and how groups of such robot fish are co‑ordinated by observing each other’s movements. In the wild, birds, fish, and some animals co-ordinate in this way when migrating, looking for food and as a means of detecting and collectively avoiding predators. Simulations of such swarm behaviour exist, but Blueswarm has the additional challenge of operating underwater. Raspberry Pi Zero W works well here because multiple Bluebot robots can be accessed remotely over a secure wireless connection, and Raspberry Pi Zero W is physically small and light enough to fit inside a palm-sized robot. 

Mimicking movements

The team designed the fish-inspired, 3D-printed robot body as well as the fin-like actuators and the on-board printed circuit board which connects to all the electronics and communicates with Raspberry Pi Zero W. Designing the robot fish took the team four years, from working out how each robot fish would move and adding sensing capabilities, to refining the design and implementing collective behaviours, coded using Python 3. 

The Blueswarm team designed a PCB and wrote custom Python code for their subterranean Raspberry Pi experiments
The Blueswarm team designed a PCB and wrote custom Python code for their subterranean Raspberry Pi experiments

They used as many off-the-shelf electronics as possible to keep the robots simple, but adapted existing software algorithms for the purposes of their investigations, “with several clever twists on existing algorithms to make them run fast on Raspberry Pi,” adds Florian. 

On-board cameras that offer “an amazing 360-degree field of view” are one of the project’s real triumphs. These cameras are connected to Raspberry Pi via a duplexer board (so two cameras can operate as one) the project team co-designed with Arducam. Each Raspberry Pi Zero W inside follows the camera images and instructs the fins to move accordingly. The team developed custom algorithms for synchronisation, flocking, milling, and search behaviours to simulate how real fish move individually and as a group. As a result, says Florian, “Blueswarm can be used to study inter-robot co-ordination in the laboratory and to learn more about collective intelligence in nature.” He suggests other robot-based projects could make use of a similar setup. 

Imitation of life

Each robot fish cost around $250 and took approximately six hours to make. To make your own, you’d need a 3D printer, Raspberry Pi Zero W, a soldering station – and a suitably large tank for your robot shoal! Although the team hasn’t made the code available, the Blueswarm project paper has recently been published in Science Robotics and by the IEEE Robots and Automation Society. Several biology researchers have also been using the Bluebot shoal as ‘fish surrogates’ in their studies of swimming and schooling.

It may look cute, but Bluebot has a serious purpose
It may look cute, but Bluebot has a serious purpose

The MagPi #107 out NOW!

MagPi 107 cover

You can grab the brand-new issue right now from the Raspberry Pi Press store, the Raspberry Pi Store, Cambridge, or via our app on Android or iOS. You can also pick it up from supermarkets and newsagents. There’s also a free PDF you can download.

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Building a business with VNC Connect on Raspberry Pi

Our friends over at RealVNC are having a whale of a time with Raspberry Pi, so they decided to write this guest blog for us. Here’s what they had to say about what their VNC Connect software can do, and how Raspberry Pi can be integrated into industry. Plus, hear about a real-life commercial example.

What is VNC Connect?

RealVNC’s VNC Connect is a secure way for you to control your Raspberry Pi from anywhere, as if you were sat in front of it. This is particularly useful for Raspberry Pis which are running ‘headless’ without monitor connected. The desktop can instead be presented in the VNC Connect Viewer app on, say, a wirelessly-connected iPad, from which you have full graphical control of the Raspberry Pi. The two devices do not even have to be on the same local network, so you can take remote control over the Internet. Which is great for roaming robots.

real vnc overview
VNC Connect is all of these things

You can read more about RealVNC for Raspberry Pi here. It’s free to get started for non-commercial use.

Commercial potential

RealVNC have seen an increase in the use of Raspberry Pi in business, not just at home and in education. Raspberry Pi, combined with VNC Connect, is helping businesses both to charge for a service that they couldn’t previously provide, and to improve/automate a service they already offer.

We’ll get to the solar panels next… (this photo makes sense, honestly)

For example, Raspberry Pi is a useful, as well as a cost effective, “edge device” in complex hardware environments that require monitoring – a real IoT use case! Add VNC Connect, and the businesses which perform these hardware installations can provide monitoring and support services on a subscription basis to customers, building repeat revenue and adding value.

With VNC Connect being offered at an affordable price (less than the price of a cup of coffee per month for a single device), it doesn’t take these businesses long to make a healthy return.

A commercial example: monitoring solar panels

Centurion Solar provides monitoring software for home solar panels. Each installation is hooked up via USB to a Raspberry Pi-powered monitoring system, and access is provided both to the customer and to Centurion Solar, who run a paid monitoring and support service.

Monitoring solar panels online with Centurion Solar

Having every new system leave the factory pre-installed with VNC Connect allows Centurion Solar to provide assistance quickly and easily for customers, no matter where they are, or how tech-savvy they are (or aren’t).

The software is currently being used in over 15,000 systems across 27 countries, with more new users every week.

“We’ve gone from being in limp mode to overdrive in one easy step, using RealVNC as the driving force to get us there.”

Johan Booysen, Founder at Centurion Solar

You can read more here.

Possibilities across many sectors

There are many more industry sectors which could be considering Raspberry Pi as a lightweight and convenient monitoring/edge compute solution, just like Centurion Solar do. For example:

  • Energy
  • Manufacturing
  • Healthcare
  • Transport
  • Agriculture
  • Critical National Infrastructure
raspberry pi use in biological sciences jolle jolle
Remember this blog about how Raspberry Pi is a versatile tool for biological sciences?

The possibilities are only limited by imagination, and the folks down the road at RealVNC are happy to discuss how using Raspberry Pi in your environment could be transformative. You can reach us here.

From the engineers to the CEO, we’re all Raspberry Pi enthusiasts who love nothing more than sharing our experience and solving problems (our CEO, Adam, even publishes a popular bare-metal Raspberry Pi operating system tutorial on Github).

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Source: Raspberry Pi – Building a business with VNC Connect on Raspberry Pi

Translate dog barks with Raspberry Pi

I speak English. Super well. And I can read the rough, overall vibe of writing in French. I can also order beer and taxis in Spanish. Alas, my dog can do none of these things, and we are left in communication limbo. I try asking them (in English) why they’re so mean to that one Cockapoo who lives across the road, or why they don’t understand the importance of the eyedrops the vet insists I have to hold their eyelids open to administer. They just respond with a variety of noises that I cannot translate. We need to fix this, and thankfully NerdStroke has harnessed Raspberry Pi to build a solution.

NerdStroke’s YouTube channel is new, but good. Subscribe to it!
(Video features some bleeped-out strong language, as well as one unbleeped mild swear)

How does it work?

The dog wears a harness with a microphone that picks up its barks. The barks get processed through a device that determines what the dog is saying and then outputs it through speakers.

Raspberry Pi Zero is the affordable brain powering NerdStroke’s solution to this age-old human-and-pup problem. But writing code that could translate the multitude of frequencies coming out of a dog’s mouth when it barks was a trickier problem. NerdStroke tried to work it through on Twitch with fellow hobbyists, but alas, the original dream had to be modified.

dog bark translator hardware
The kit worked fine – it was the coding challenge that changed the course of this project

Spoiler alert: fast Fourier transforms did not work. You would need a clear, pure tone for that to work in a project like this, but as we said above, dogs bark in a rainbow of tones, pitches, and all the rest.

So what’s the solution?

Because of this, a time-based model was devised to predict what a dog is likely to be barking about at any given time of day. For example, if it’s early morning, they probably want to go out to pee. But if it’s mid-morning, they’re probably letting you know the postman has arrived and is trying to challenge your territory by pushing thin paper squares through the flap in your front door. It’s a dangerous world out there, and dogs just want to protect us.

Nerdstroke had his good friend record some appropriate soundbites to go with each bark, depending on what time of day it happened. And now, Nugget the dog can tell you “I want to cuddle” or “Why aren’t you feeding me?”

While the final project couldn’t quite translate the actual thoughts of a dog, we love the humour behind this halfway solution. And we reckon the product name, Holler Collar, would definitely sell.

Follow NerdStroke’s future projects

NerdStroke is all over the socials, so follow them on your platform of choice:

TWITCH – twitch.tv/nerdstoke
INSTAGRAM – instagram.com/nerdstoke
TWITTER – twitter.com/nerdstoke
GITHUB – github.com/nerdstoke
EMAIL – nerdstoke@gmail.com

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Recreate Gradius’ rock-spewing volcanoes | Wireframe #52

Code an homage to Konami’s classic shoot-’em-up, Gradius. Mark Vanstone has the code in the new edition of Wireframe magazine, available now.

Released by Konami in 1985, Gradius – also known as Nemesis outside Japan – brought a new breed of power-up system to arcades. One of the keys to its success was the way the player could customise their Vic Viper fighter craft by gathering capsules, which could then be ‘spent’ on weapons, speed-ups, and shields from a bar at the bottom of the screen.

Gradius screenshot
The Gradius volcanoes spew rocks at the player just before the end-of-level boss ship arrives.

Flying rocks

A seminal side-scrolling shooter, Gradius was particularly striking thanks to the variety of its levels: a wide range of hazards were thrown at the player, including waves of aliens, natural phenomena, and boss ships with engine cores that had to be destroyed in order to progress. One of the first stage’s biggest obstacles was a pair of volcanoes that spewed deadly rocks into the air: the rocks could be shot for extra points or just avoided to get through to the next section. In this month’s Source Code, we’re going to have a look at how to recreate the volcano-style flying rock obstacle from the game.

Our sample uses Pygame Zero and the randint function from the random module to provide the variations of trajectory that we need our rocks to have. We’ll need an actor created for our spaceship and a list to hold our rock Actors. We can also make a bullet Actor so we can make the ship fire lasers and shoot the rocks. We build up the scene in layers in our draw() function with a star-speckled background, then our rocks, followed by the foreground of volcanoes, and finally the spaceship and bullets.

Dodge and shoot the rocks in our homage to the classic Gradius.

Get the ship moving

In the update() function, we need to handle moving the ship around with the cursor keys. We can use a limit() function to make sure it doesn’t go off the screen, and the SPACE bar to trigger the bullet to be fired. After that, we need to update our rocks. At the start of the game our list of rocks will be empty, so we’ll get a random number generated, and if the number is 1, we make a new rock and add it to the list. If we have more than 100 rocks in our list, some of them will have moved off the screen, so we may as well reuse them instead of making more new rocks. During each update cycle, we’ll need to run through our list of rocks and update their position. When we make a rock, we give it a speed and direction, then when it’s updated, we move the rock upwards by its speed and then reduce the speed by 0.2. This will make it fly into the air, slow down, and then fall to the ground. 

Collision detection

From this code, we can make rocks appear just behind both of the volcanoes, and they’ll fly in a random direction upwards at a random speed. We can increase or decrease the number of rocks flying about by changing the random numbers that spawn them. We should be able to fly in and out of the rocks, but we could add some collision detection to check whether the rocks hit the ship – we may also want to destroy the ship if it’s hit by a rock. In our sample, we have an alternative, ‘shielded’ state to indicate that a collision has occurred. We can also check for collisions with the bullets: if a collision’s detected, we can make the rock and the bullet disappear by moving them off-screen, at which point they’re ready to be reused.

That’s about it for this month’s sample, but there are many more elements from the original game that you could add yourself: extra weapons, more enemies, or even an area boss.

Here’s Mark’s volcanic code. To get it working on your system, you’ll need to install Pygame Zero. And to download the full code and assets, head here.

Get your copy of Wireframe issue 52

You can read more features like this one in Wireframe issue 52, available directly from Raspberry Pi Press — we deliver worldwide.

Wireframe issue 52's cover

And if you’d like a handy digital version of the magazine, you can also download issue 52 for free in PDF format.

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Source: Raspberry Pi – Recreate Gradius’ rock-spewing volcanoes | Wireframe #52

Machine Learning made easy with Raspberry Pi, Adafruit and Microsoft

Machine learning can sound daunting even for experienced Raspberry Pi hobbyists, but Microsoft and Adafruit Industries are determined to make it easier for everyone to have a go. Microsoft’s Lobe tool takes the stress out of training machine learning models, and Adafruit have developed an entire kit around their BrainCraft HAT, featuring Raspberry Pi 4 and a Raspberry Pi Camera, to get your own machine learning project off to a flying start.

adafruit lobe kit
Adafruit developed this kit especially for the BrainCraft HAT to be used with Microsoft Lobe on Raspberry Pi

Adafruit’s BrainCraft HAT

Adafruit’s BrainCraft HAT fits on top of Raspberry Pi 4 and makes it really easy to connect hardware and debug machine learning projects. The 240 x 240 colour display screen also lets you see what the camera sees. Two microphones allow for audio input, and access to the GPIO means you can connect things likes relays and servos, depending on your project.

Microsoft Lobe

Microsoft Lobe is a free tool for creating and training machine learning models that you can deploy almost anywhere. The hardest part of machine learning is arguably creating and training a new model, so this tool is a great way for newbies to get stuck in, as well as being a fantastic time-saver for people who have more experience.

Get started with one of three easy, medium, and hard tutorials featured on the lobe-adafruit-kit GitHub.

‘Bakery’ identifies and prices different pastries

Lady Ada demonstrated Bakery: a machine learning model that uses an Adafruit BrainCraft HAT, a Raspberry Pi camera, and Microsoft Lobe. Watch how easy it is to train a new machine learning model in Microsoft Lobe from this point in the Microsoft Build Keynote video.

A quick look at Bakery from Adafruit’s delightful YouTube channel

Bakery identifies different baked goods based on images taken by the Raspberry Pi camera, then automatically identifies and prices them, in the absence of barcodes or price tags. You can’t stick a price tag on a croissant. There’d be flakes everywhere.

Extra functionality

Running this project on Raspberry Pi means that Lady Ada was able to hook up lots of other useful tools. In addition to the Raspberry Pi camera and the HAT, she is using:

  • Three LEDs that glow green when an object is detected
  • A speaker and some text-to-speech code that announces which object is detected
  • A receipt printer that prints out the product name and the price

All of this running on Raspberry Pi, and made super easy with Microsoft Lobe and Adafruit’s BrainCraft HAT. Adafruit’s Microsoft Machine Learning Kit for Lobe contains everything you need to get started.

full adafruit lobe kit
The full Microsoft Machine Learning Kit for Lobe with Raspberry Pi 4 kit

Watch the Microsoft Build keynote

And finally, watch Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott introduce Limor Fried, aka Lady Ada, owner of Adafruit Industries. Lady Ada joins remotely from the Adafruit factory in Manhattan, NY, to show how the BrainCraft HAT and Lobe work to make machine learning accessible.

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Celebrating the community: Zaahra and Eesa

Today we are launching an exciting series of impact stories from the community, to shine a spotlight on some of the young people who are learning and creating with technology through our educational initiatives.

A sister and brother smiling while doing digital making at a laptop
Zaahra and Eesa have been learning to create technology through attending Code Club and taking part in Coolest Projects!

These stories get to the heart of our mission: to put the power of computing and digital making into the hands of people all over the world.

Designed in close collaboration with families across the world, our new series of short inspirational films showcases some of the wonderful things that young people are empowered to do when they learn to use technology to address the issues that matter to them.

We are incredibly proud to be a part of these young people’s journeys — and to see the positive impact of engaging with our free programmes, coding clubs, and resources. We can’t wait to share their unique experiences and achievements with you as we roll out the series over the next few months.

And we invite you to celebrate these young people by liking and sharing their stories on social media!

Meet Zaahra and Eesa 

The first story takes you to a place not far from our home: London, UK.

Help us celebrate Zaahra and Eesa by liking and sharing their story on Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook!

Zaahra (12) and Eesa (8) are a sister and brother coding team and live in East London. For the last four years they’ve been learning about computing and digital making by attending regular sessions at their local Code Club. Zaahra and Eesa love working as a team and using technology to solve problems around them. When they found it difficult to communicate with their grandparents in their first language, Sylheti, the siblings decided to code a language learning app called ‘Easy Sylheti’. Eesa says, “We wanted to create something that was helpful to us, but also to our family and the community.”

A girl and boy standing on the grass in a park

When Zaahra and Eesa decided to take part in the Coolest Projects online tech showcase with their app, they never expected that it would be picked as a favourite by Coolest Projects special judge Eben Upton, CEO and co-inventor of Raspberry Pi!

“I’ve discovered that I’m capable of a lot more than I thought.”

Zaahra

Describing the effect of learning to create with technology and seeing the success of their app, Zaahra declares, “I’ve discovered that I’m capable of a lot more than I thought.” And she’s using her new-found confidence to continue helping her community: Zaahra has recently taken up a role as youth member on the Newham Youth Empowerment Fund Panel.

Help us celebrate Zaahra and Eesa by liking and sharing their story on Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook!

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