A media player for Scott

Projects don’t have to be hugely complicated to make a huge difference. In Luxembourg, Alain Wall has used a Raspberry Pi to make a very simple media player for his autistic son, Scott. It’s very easy to use, very robust, and easy to clean; and it offers Scott a limited (so not overwhelming) but meaningful degree of choice. Here’s Scott using his player. Watch to the end for the best smile in the world.

Dem Scott sain neien TV. Scott’s new TV

Hei ass den Scott deen sain neien Mediaplayer test. En kann sech seng Filmer selwer starten an stoppen. A media player nearly indestructible an controllable with 6 Buttons to choose a movie Deutsch: http://ift.tt/1VW1Sae English: http://ift.tt/1QbGh6H or http://ift.tt/1oYtoaa

Alain hooked up six big piezo buttons and some speakers to a 20-in monitor and a Raspberry Pi – this isn’t the most complicated build you’ll see around these parts. (You can see a how-to guide over at Instructables.) But it is one of the most effective: as Alain says, “Scott loves it.”

Here’s another video from Alain demonstrating the setup.

Scott TV Simple MediaPlayer For My Autistic Son Scott

This is a simple media player for my autistic son. It had to be easy to use, nearly indestructible and easy to clean http://ift.tt/1QbGh6H Deutsch: http://ift.tt/1VW1Sae

Thanks very much for sharing the project, Alain; all the very best from us at Pi Towers to you and the rest of the family, especially Scott!

 

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Raspberry Pi telehealth kit piloted in NHS

I had to spend a couple of nights in hospital last year – the first time I’d been on a hospital ward in about fifteen years. Things have moved on since my last visit: being me, the difference I really noticed was the huge number of computers, often on wheely trolley devices so they could be pushed around the ward, and often only used for one task. There was one at A&E when I came in, used to check NHS numbers and notes; another for paramedics to do a temperature check (this was at the height of the Ebola scare). When my blood was taken for some tests, another mobile computer was hooked up to the vials of blood and the testing hardware right next to my bed, feeding back results to a database; one controlled my drip, another monitored my oxygen levels, breathing, heart rate and so on on the ward. PCs for logging and checking were everywhere. I’m sure the operating room was full of the things too, but I was a bit unconscious at that point, so had stopped counting. (I’m fine now, by the way. Thanks for worrying.)

intensivecare

The huge variety of specialised and generic compute in the hospital gave me something to think about other than myself (which was very, very welcome under the circumstances). Namely, how much all this was costing; and how you could use Raspberry Pis to take some of that cost out. Here’s a study from 2009 about some of the devices used on a ward. That’s a heck of a lot of machines. We know from long experience at Raspberry Pi that specialised embedded hardware is often very, very expensive; manufacturers can put a premium on devices used in specialised environments, and increasingly, people using those devices are swapping them out for something based on Raspberry Pi (about a third of our sales go into embedded compute in industry, for factory automation and similar purposes). And we know that the NHS is financially pressed.

This is a long-winded way of saying that we’re really, really pleased to see a Raspberry Pi being trialled in the NHS.

This is the MediPi. It’s a device for heart patients to use at home to measure health statistics, which means they don’t need daily visits from a medical professional. Telehealth devices like this are usually built on iPads using 3G and Bluetooth with specially commissioned custom software and custom peripherals, which is a really expensive way to do a few simple things.

medipi

MediPi is being trialled this year with heart failure patients in an NHS trust in the south of England. Richard Robinson, the developer, is a a technical integration specialist at the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) who has a particular interest in Raspberry Pi. He was shocked to find studies suggesting that devices like this were costing the NHS at least £2,000 a year per patient, making telehealth devices just too expensive for many NHS trusts to be able to use in any numbers. MediPi is much cheaper. The whole kit – that is, the Pi the touchscreen, a blood pressure cuff, a finger oximeter and some diagnostic scales – comes in at £250 (the hope is that building devices like this in bulk will bring prices even lower). And it’s all built on open-source software.

MediPi issues on-screen instructions showing patients how to take and record their measurements. When they hit the “transmit” button MediPi compresses and encrypts the data, and sends it to their clinician. Doctors have asked to be able to send messages to patients using the device, and patients can reply to them. MediPi also includes a heart questionnaire which patients respond to daily using the touch screen.

Richard Robinson says:

We created a secure platform which can message using Spine messaging and also message using any securely enabled network. We have designed it to be patient-friendly, so it has a simple touch-tiled dashboard interface and various help screens, and it’s low cost.

Clinicians don’t want to be overwhelmed with enormous amounts of data so we have developed a concentrator that will take the data and allow clinicians certain views, such as alerts for ‘out of threshold’ values.

My aim for this is that we demonstrate that telehealth is affordable at scale.

We’re really excited about this trial, and we’ll be keeping an eye on how things pan out. We’d love to see more of this sort of cost-reducing innovation in the heath sector; the Raspberry Pi is stable enough and cheap enough to provide it.

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New 8-megapixel camera board on sale at $25

The 5-megapixel visible-light camera board was our first official accessory back in 2013, and it remains one of your favourite add-ons. They’ve found their way into a bunch of fun projects, including telescopes, kites, science lessons and of course the Naturebytes camera trap. It was soon joined by the Pi NoIR infrared-sensitive version, which not only let you see in the dark, but also opened the door to hyperspectral imaging hacks.

As many of you know, the OmniVision OV5647 sensor used in both boards was end-of-lifed at the end of 2014. Our partners both bought up large stockpiles, but these are now almost completely depleted, so we needed to do something new. Fortunately, we’d already struck up conversation with Sony’s image sensor division, and so in the nick of time we’re able to announce the immediate availability of both visible-light and infrared cameras based on the Sony IMX219 8-megapixel sensor, at the same low price of $25. They’re available today from our partners RS Components and element14, and should make their way to your favourite reseller soon.

Visible light camera v2

The visible light camera…

...and its infrared cousin

…and its infrared cousin

In our testing, IMX219 has proven to be a fantastic choice. You can read all the gory details about IMX219 and the Exmor R back-illuminated sensor architecture on Sony’s website, but suffice to say this is more than just a resolution upgrade: it’s a leap forward in image quality, colour fidelity and low-light performance.

VideoCore IV includes a sophisticated image sensor pipeline (ISP). This converts “raw” Bayer-format RGB input images from the sensor into YUV-format output images, while correcting for sensor and module artefacts such as thermal and shot noise, defective pixels, lens shading and image distortion. Tuning the ISP to work with a particular sensor is a time-consuming, specialist activity: there are only a handful of people with the necessary skills, and we’re very lucky that Naush Patuck, formerly of Broadcom’s imaging team, volunteered to take this on for IMX219.

Naush says:

Regarding the tuning process, I guess you could say the bulk of the effort went into the lens shading and AWB tuning. Apart from the fixed shading correction, our auto lens shading algorithm takes care of module to module manufacturing variations. AWB is tricky because we must ensure correct results over a large section of the colour temperature curve; in the case of the IMX219, we used images illuminated by light sources from 1800K [very “cool” reddish light] all the way up to 16000K [very “hot” bluish light].

The goal of auto white balance (AWB) is to recover the “true” colours in a scene regardless of the colour temperature of the light illuminating it: filming a white object should result in white pixels in sunlight, or under LED, fluorescent or incandescent lights. You can see from these pairs of before and after images that Naush’s tune does a great job under very challenging conditions.

AWB with high colour temperature

AWB at higher colour temperature

AWB at lower colour temperature

AWB at lower colour temperature

As always, we’re indebted to a host of people for their help getting these products out of the door. Dave Stevenson and James Hughes (hope you and Elaine are having a great honeymoon, James!) wrote most of our camera platform code. Mike Stimson designed the board (his second Raspberry Pi product after Zero). Phil Holden, Shinichi Goseki, Qiang Li and many others at Sony went out of their way to help us get access to the information Naush needed to tune the ISP.

We’re really happy with the way the new camera board has turned out, and we can’t wait to see what you do with it. Head over to RS Components or element14 to pick one up today.

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Scratch performance feel the speed!

The Scratch programming language, developed at MIT, has become the cornerstone of computing education at the primary level. Running the Scratch environment well was an early goal for Raspberry Pi. Since early 2013 we’ve been working with Tim Rowledge, Smalltalk hacker extraordinaire. Tim has been beavering away, improving the Scratch codebase and porting it to newer versions of the Squeak virtual machine. Ben Avison chipped in with ARM-optimised versions of Squeak’s graphics operations, and of course we did our bit by releasing two new generations of the Raspberry Pi hardware.

We thought you’d enjoy these two videos. The first shows Andrew Oliver’s Scratch implementation of Pacman running on an Intel Core i5 laptop with “standard” Scratch 1.4. (Yes, that Andrew Oliver. Thanks Andrew!) The second shows the same code running on a Raspberry Pi 3 with Tim’s optimised Scratch. The Raspberry Pi version is roughly twice as fast.

Pacman running on a Macbook i5 under MIT Scratch

A demonstration of how much slower standard Scratch can be than the optimised NuScratch that’s available for Raspberry Pi

PacMan running on Pi 3 under NuScratch

This is “PacMan running on Pi 3 under NuScratch” by raspberrypi on Vimeo, the home for high quality videos and the people who love them.

This is a great example of the sort of attention-to-detail work that we like to focus on, and that can make the difference between a mediocre user experience and the desktop-equivalent experience that we aspire to for Raspberry Pi 3. We think it’s as important to work as hard on improving and incrementing software as it is to do the same with the hardware it runs on. We’ve done similar work with Kodi and Epiphany, and you can expect a lot more of this from us over the next couple of years.

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Raspberry Pi Preserving Digital Heritage

The Raspberry Pi computer was inspired by the machines of the 80s, which were used interchangeably for programming and gaming. In fact, many of you will remember typing in the pages of code from a magazine to make a game. Some people used them as a basis on which to build their own games, taking the early steps into what has become an important industry.

Micro User magazine was an important part of the early computing education of a lot of people who work at Raspberry Pi. Mike Cook, who now writes for our official magazine, The MagPi, was author of the monthly Body Building feature.

In the 1980s, Micro User magazine was an important part of the early computing education of a lot of people who now work at Raspberry Pi. Mike Cook, who now writes for our official magazine, The MagPi, was author of the monthly Body Building hardware feature.

Nowadays, computer games are a crucial part of our cultural history. We see this in the enthusiasm for retro games projects that people create with our computers.

A trip down 8-bit memory lane is a lot of fun, but there’s a serious side to the preservation of games too. The games and machines that inspired a generation of digital creatives are old and obsolete. There will soon come a time when they no longer work; a lot of work is done by organisations like the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge to preserve old hardware, but it’s an uphill battle against the moulds that find the medium inside floppy discs so attractive, the leakage of electrolytic capacitors, tin whiskers developing in solder, and a million and one other sorts of entropy. In the future, there could be no way to revisit this part of our culture in the same way we can with books and objects without the work of archivists and historians.

A tiny part of the Centre for Computing History's collection on display

A tiny part of the Centre for Computing History’s collection on display

The cultural side of games is clear in the way they represent real places. The Museum of London are exploring this with an exhibit of representations of London in games. The earliest example is in 1982 text-based adventure game Streets of London for the ZX Spectrum; more recent ones include Tomb Raider III and Broken Sword.

Streets of London

You can’t understand a game by looking at it in a museum case: it has to be experienced. The museum collection includes ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 machines, but the curators found that these old computers were not robust enough for ‘hands-on’ exhibits. Long load times from cassettes, 30-year-old worn keyboards and obsolete monitor connections all hampered their efforts.

Step up the Raspberry Pi, and the resources for retro gaming provided by RetroPie and the many emulators it supports. This seems appropriate, given that the Pi is the inheritor of the DIY ethos of these early games machines. All the interactive exhibits are powered by Raspberry Pis, emulating Spectrums, Commodore 64s, and even a Windows 95 PC.

Commodore 64 emulator

What’s on-screen is only part of the experience, so the exhibits also have authentic input devices. Adventure game commands are typed (and mis-typed) into the squashy rubber-membrane keys of an adapted Spectrum keyboard. Platform antics are controlled with a C64-like joystick (instinctive flailing of the controller to make characters jump higher is optional). Even the original manuals are included, as referring to them was so often an important part of the experience.

Spectrum keyboard

As custodians of cultural history, it’s also important that the museum uses the right processes to preserve the games. They have acquired copies of games on the original cassettes and disks, and carefully transferred them to modern media. This is important for copyright, to ensure the authenticity of the code, and for the completeness of the collection.

It’s easy to forget that games are important historical artefacts. They tell us about past experiences, and the way they represent places and events is a part of our cultural history. Although digital artefacts are quickly obsolete, people are going to great lengths to develop ways of preserving them for generations to come.

Seeing representations of London in video games alongside the art, objects and literature in the collection at the Museum of London shows just how much a part of life digital objects are now. It also shows how the history of the early video games era is being passed on through the Raspberry Pi. It’s not just inspiring a new generation of digital creatives. It’s also helping us all to remember and understand our digital heritage.

London in Video Games is on display at The Museum of London until the end of April, and the museum plans to continue to explore digital preservation and games emulation. We know there are lots of people in our community with expertise in emulation and archiving of retro games: let us know in the comments if you might be able to lend your expertise to projects like this.

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Astro Pi: the animated adventures of Izzy and Ed

Right now, two Raspberry Pi computers are orbiting Earth on board the International Space Station.

Our intrepid Astro Pi units Izzy and Ed launched in December and were deployed by British ESA astronaut Tim Peake in February. We’ve seen the first part of their animated adventures; now we bring you the second part of their story, featuring some very special guests.

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We’re especially excited that our Astro Pis have met Robonaut, NASA’s humanoid robot, as well as human crew members from ESA, NASA and Roscosmos.

After Ed and Izzy finished running apps and experiments coded by UK school students, they entered a flight recorder mode where they saved sensor readings to a database every ten seconds. They each recorded their orientation and acceleration, as well as temperature, humidity and pressure, over a period of about two weeks. We’ve now made the data they recorded on the ISS available for everyone to download, so you can analyse it any way you like, and we’ve also prepared a Flight Data Analysis resource to help you interpret and handle the data. We’re really looking forward to seeing how you use these data to analyse and interpret the movement of the space station and the environment on board.

Both Astro Pi units have been tweeting about some of their activities, including some great Earth observation images from Izzy, and they’re also talking about opportunities to get involved with their mission. Follow Ed and Izzy on Twitter to see what they’re up to!

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European Maker Week

A large part of the Raspberry Pi community identify as makers. We all love to make things – from robots to yarn to pottery to art – and share our creations with others. European Maker Week is a celebration of this rapidly growing community, and it takes place between 30 May and 5 June in 28 countries.

European Maker Week banner: "a celebration of makers and innovators all over Europe"

EMW is an initiative promoted by European Commission and implemented by Maker Faire Rome in collaboration with Startup Europe. Over 80 events are scheduled for the week so there’s plenty to get involved with. And if you’re running a Raspberry Jam that week, you can submit it to the EMW website to be included on the map.

Map showing European Maker Week events in countries across Europe

European Maker Week events

This weekend, Maker Faire UK takes place in Newcastle. Maker Faire Rome, the largest in Europe, takes place in October, and their call for makers opens on 26 April – it’s a great opportunity to show off your latest Raspberry Pi project, or to attend and observe the great hacks on display in the city of Rome. This year a prize of €100,000 is available for the best maker project with the highest social impact.

Banners at the entrance to Maker Faire Rome: "16-18 Ottobre 2015" and "Scopri. Inventa. Crea."

20151018_132236

Maker Faire Rome

There are many ways of connecting with the wider maker community. We strongly encourage you to check out a Maker Faire if you get the chance, and if you’re near a hackspace, a maker space, a fab lab or a repair café, you’ll find people there who are happy to share skills and tools. And, of course, there are Raspberry Jams around the world for you to get involved with too, such Raspberry Jam Berlin, Pi and More in Trier, and Rhône Raspberry Jam. A jam doesn’t have to be a huge event, it can be a small gathering – why not think about setting one up? Head over to our Jam page to find out how to get started!

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Weather, security and temperature cam

We see a lot of Raspberry Pis being used as security cameras – check out this fine example that we blogged back in 2013 – they’re a cheap and effective solution for people who want to deter burglars and vandals.

This very serious-looking camera housing is only £5.49 on Amazon - click the image to buy.

This very serious-looking fake camera housing is only £5.49 on Amazon – click the image to buy, and then stick a camera board inside.

The good folks at Adafruit had one of those ideas that makes you slap yourself in the forehead for not coming up with it yourself. They’ve made a camera system which can upload images to the cloud, so you can check on it from wherever you are – but it also uploads other sensor data of your choosing (in this example, temperature) and graphs it using matplotlib. A sort of proto-Nest, if you will.

camera_monitor_picam_and_temp_on_pitft v1

We’re using Adafruit’s adafruit.io here: it’s their new Internet of Things API. It’s still in Beta, but pretty solid; we’d be interested to hear how you get on with it.

You can find an exhaustive how-to here. Jeremy Blythe from Adafruit says:

This project uses two Raspberry PIs – a sender and a receiver. The sender has a Raspberry Pi Camera and an MCP9808 temperature sensor to publish data to adafruit.io. The receiver, a dashboard somewhere else in the world, subscribes to this data feed and displays it.

This dashboard Raspberry Pi has a PiTFT and displays the image whenever it’s sent to the feed (every 5 minutes), the current temperature is overlaid on the image using pygame. The final cherry on the cake here is that if you tap the screen you flip to the graph view. This takes the data from the feed using the io-client-python data method, pulls out the last 24 hours and uses matplotlib to draw a graph of temp/time. Of course, you can see the feeds in the adafruit.io online dashboard too!

There’s a lot you can do in terms of feature-creep here; we’re thinking about what other sensors you could usefully add, and what else you might be able to do with a big dataset of images. Go wild – and tell us if you make one yourselves!

 

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Edinburgh Mini Maker Faire

Not all the tech fun in the UK happens down near Pi Towers in Cambridge. Here in Scotland, the Mini Maker Faire has been the Edinburgh International Science Festival’s grand finale for four years now. This year’s was the biggest yet, so I headed over to see what was going on. There were plenty of projects using Raspberry Pis, loads of new maker spaces and Jams, and even a mildly terrifying giant robot stalking around the courtyard. I’m sure someone did a headcount of the children at the end, don’t worry.

rsz_wp_20160410_13_04_44_pro

The first person to spot my neon Pi T-shirt was Tony from Newcastle MakerSpace, promoting the MakerFaire coming up on 23 April and attracting over 10,000 attendees. His mini Pi-powered Pacman arcade cabinet drew a sizeable queue, and his dinky Pi Zero game controllers looked like the ultimate in portable gaming: just plug into a TV and play!

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MakLabs are also springing up across Scotland, with the largest meeting in Glasgow. Their showpiece was a Bigtrak-style toy tank with a webcam, controlled by REST and with a Pi acting as a server. While the internet was somewhat patchy in a hundred-year-old former veterinary school, it was still an impressive build.

Aberdeen boasts the 57North hacklab. It was hard to miss their amateur radio station tracker, with a PDP-8 minicomputer for added flashing light goodness. The hulking unit consisted of a Pi, two screens and the open-source XASTIR tracking software, showing the various stations.

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The newest Makerspace on the block is in Dundee, Scotland’s gaming capital, so it seemed fitting that a tiny minimalist Pi Zero platform game, using a Pimoroni pHAT, was pride of place. They’re running weekly meetups and hope to set up a Jam in the near future.

Finally, we spotted Robotical, a PhD project now seeking crowdfunding for its adorable walking robots. We watched a tense football match between two bots, controlled by Model B Pis in their back and with micro:bit remote controls to move them. (The red robot won, incidentally. My gaming reflexes aren’t what they used to be.)

rsz_wp_20160410_13_56_17_pro

It was great to see what the community up here is doing with their Pis, and I’m looking forward to the Edinburgh Raspberry Jam on the 30 April where there will no doubt be even more brilliant projects being demonstrated.

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Game Boy Zero

We see a lot of Pi Zero retro gaming mods, but I think this one might just take the biscuit.

Gameboy-Zero_3

This rather beautiful mod from Wermy (leave your real name in the comments if you’d like us to use it, Wermy!) has a few details that really make it stand out. Pi Zero in a controller or hand-held device isn’t new: we’ve seen it before. But this one’s got a couple of special features. First up, there’s this glorious cartridge hack:

Gameboy-Zero_2

What you’re seeing here is a customised Game Boy cartridge which has been re-soldered and gently Dremeled to house a micro SD adapter, which will accept any micro SD you pop in there, and enable the Pi Zero inside the Game Boy itself to read from it. (Wurmy’s running Emulation Station on the Game Boy Zero.)

People with sharp eyes will have noticed that the Game Boy Zero has one big cosmetic difference (aside from that display) from the original Game Boy. It has two extra buttons, so you can play SNES, NES, and later Game Boy model games on there. There are also a couple of shoulder triggers. (The buttons Wurmy has used are from a NES controller, and he says they’re very similar in look and feel to what you’ll find on the original Game Boy.)

The screen’s a little composite display from Adafruit, which was a little larger than the original display, and required some careful removing of struts inside the case. Wurmy’s added three buttons inside the case to control brightness, colour and contrast, along with a USB Bluetooth adaptor – it’s a tight fit to get everything inside the case, but he’s done a stand-up job.

final layout

Here it is in action.

Game Boy Zero with custom SD card reader game cartridge

UPDATE: I set up a blog where I’ll be posting how-to guides for this project. You can also enter there for a chance to win the one I’ll be building! http://www.sudomod.com I made a RetroPie handheld using a Raspberry Pi Zero and an original DMG-01 Game Boy.

Wurmy’s documenting the build here (and running a giveaway so you can win one of these gorgeous little things): head over to read more!

Oh – and to preempt Pi Zero stock woe in the comments, we’ve got some news from Eben:

Raspberry Pi Zero production is restarting in Wales next Monday after a hiatus to allow us to focus on Raspberry Pi 3 (a million units built and counting). We have placed 250ku of new orders, and are aiming to produce at least 50ku/month for the rest of this year. Distribution will continue to be via Pimoroni, Pi Hut, Adafruit and Micro Center for now.

To thank you for your patience, we’ve taken advantage of the hiatus to add a (much requested) new feature. I’ll leave you all to guess what it is (it’s not WiFi).

We expect the new Raspberry Pi Zero units (with the new feature) to be available in two to three weeks’ time. They’ll be stocked exclusively in the usual Pi Zero stores: The Pi Hut, Adafruit, Pimoroni and Micro Center.

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