Raspberry Pi 3 – A Parent’s perspective

As a parent I am really impressed by the latest incarnation of the Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi 3 with it’s significant advancement in processor performance and the additional USB ports coupled with on board WIFI now make this a very capable little computer.  I liked the previous incarnations (I have most of them) but the difference between this version and my previous models is the fact that my Raspberry Pi 3 has been commondeered by my 5 year old daughter.  What is important to me are not the same things as those which are important to my daughter.  So whilst I am happy about all the GPIO and programming possibilities or it’s ability to be set up as a mini server we can get to those things in time.

My daughter has more modest but equally as important computing needs.  She is just learning to read and write has loved the fact that Libre Office is installed.  I’ve installed CUPS so the printer is also available but she is now happily typing her own little stories on a computer which is not an iPad and learning keyboard skills and mouse control too.  She also loves paint programs like RM Colour Magic which they still love to use at school (some old software is still worth having.) To fill this gap I installed Tux Paint.  This has also been a big hit with it’s stamps, shapes, brush shapes and easy to use colour pallette.  Many happy hours have been spent using these two pieces of software.

By the time you then add scratch programming with Daddy and making geometric patterns or programming simple games (yes, Daddy’s a Computing Teacher) then the possibility of things which you can now do with a Raspberry Pi 3 make this little computer very desirable.

Today we were painting an old whiskas cat treat tub which is shaped like a cat’s head and we are going to paint it black.  Gotham will have the Bat Signal by the time we are finished we will have the Cat Signal.  I’m planning to install at least one RGB LED and then we can have a program which can control the Cat signal which she can play with.  Meanwhile it’s a great computer and crafting project.  Pictures to follow…

 

Raspberry Pi Zero

At Christmas I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of the elusive Raspberry Pi Zeros.  I didn’t get mine off of the front cover of a copy of the MagPi Magazine as like many people I missed that boat but I did quickly manage to purchase one from thePiHut.  The small form factor has presented some opportiunities for my desire to create small form factor mobile robot using the Raspberry Pi but has brought some challenges that have required some further research and development.

In order to use the Raspberry Pi Zero as a controller the first thing I have had to do is learn how to use the device headless (without a monitor.)  I did purchase the essentials kit from thePiHut and solder the header connections on following this video, I then watched these two tutorials on how to configure the wifi adapter and ensure that the device can be found without needing to know the IP address. Actually, I have now started doing this to all my raspberry pis.  This should mean that if I can purchase more Raspberry Pi Zeros then I should be able to do so without the need for micro HDMI connectors.

So, What’s the plan?

I’ve been granted a sum of money to improve one of our courses that we offer as part of our enrichment courses.  At school we currently offer a SQA NPA award in Games Programming this sounds attractive and the pupils like it well enough but they can usually achieve the qualification easily enough but hate every minute of the evidence gathering aspect of this qualification.  We also have a surplus of time left over which we use to build other skills and have in the past used our Lego Robotics kits to develop their programming skills.  The pupils really love this, creating devices that follow black lines and navigate mazes and leave all sorts of programming opportunities.

I would like to take this further and suppliement these skills using the Raspberry Pis to allow pupils to develop projects from scratch to the point that we could even have our own PiWars.

So, what’s the plan?  I’d like to develop my own robot with 4 micro gear motors powered by 4 AA batteries.  Have the Pi Zero powered by a battery power pack and other than that I will need to mount an H-bridge motor controller.  Extra features which I would like to add are an RGB LED which I plan to have displaying one of 4 colours – flashing orange for forward normal operations, flashing red for turning to port (left), flashing green for starboard (right) and flashing white for astern (backwards.). I would also like to fit an HC-SR04 Ultrasonic Sensor so that the robot could be programmed to run autonomously.

Issues?

So, there are many issues which I can work on and some which are more problematic.  I will work on ensuring that I have enough GPIO pins for all the functions as well as the programming Python to thread so that I can run the lights as well as the motors however the current supply of Raspberry Pi Zeros mean that I wouldn’t be able to get devices for a class load of these projects and I am wrestling in my brain about this.  It seems that their availability seems to be more of an issue than was seen at first.

When will they be available in sufficient numbers?  Will they be supplied by a main manufacturer.  So, it’s quite nice at one level that smaller retailers seem to be leading the way with the supply of the Pi Zeros however this isn’t ideal for schools as Local Authorities have approved lists of suppliers and none of these suppliers are on the approved lists.  Adding suppliers requires significant financial information from the retailer and takes a significant amount of effort from somebody (e.g. me) rendering this an almost impossible task when you have other things needing done at the same time.

So, will RS components, CPC, Farnell and other similarly large retailers supply the Raspberry Pi Zero so that schools can buy them or not?  Otherwise I will need to significantly modify my plans.

Has the $5 price point ruined the viability of an otherwise attractive device?

As sometimes the form factor is the attraction and the price could be the stumbling block if it’s preventing manufacturers from developing the Raspberry Pi Zero.

 

Getting Ready for Jam Packed UK visit to Hamilton Grammar School

Well folks, after months of discussion and preparation we are in the final throws of the preparations for the visit by the Jam Packed team (@jampackeduk) to Hamilton Grammar School (@officialHGS). The classes are looking forward to being involved in the workshops and we are all looking forward to a couple of great days.  As I write this, there are at least 15 people for the Staff CPD (Although I suspect some more might turn up on the day?!?) as well as 35 signups for the Family Hack in the evening too!  It’s always hard to know who will turn up but I’m pleased to see the variety of colleagues who will come along from near and far to take part tomorrow.  And I’m hoping that we make them feel welcome.

The Raspberry Jam is an exciting prospect too.  There will be plenty of space for people to bring their projects in the 6 ICT labs which are under our control.  A couple can be used for workshops and a couple for talks too (if people want to do that!!!)  Other than that we have space to share our projects and chat to those who want to come along and see/try them.

 

 

I’m also hoping we create a space where coding happens… and that shared ideas, techniques, pedagogy and practice all happen.

I’m looking forward to seeing some of our young people come and show us what they can do, share their projects not as pupils but on an equal footing. (At least until Monday!!! – when they can come back to school with their heads held high and with the silent knowledge that they are also part of the community which we are Jam Packed into. (groan  Sorry couldn’t help it!)

Colin MacLeod

@colinlmacleod