So then. Aquaponics. I’d assumed it was something to do with growing underwater plants. Dead wrong.

My educative moment occurred at Disneyworld’s Epcot a couple of years ago. There’s a ride called The Land, where, after enduring  a selection of creaking dioramas illustrating different US habitats, you’re taken on a little motorised punt thing on a watery track through greenhouses groaning under the weight of four-kilogramme mega-lemons, arboreal tomatoes and Mickey-shaped pumpkins.

Giant lemon, from Arild Finne Nybø on Flickr.

Giant lemon, from Arild Finne Nybø on Flickr.

At the end of the…river thing…, you’ll find a section on aquaponics. An aquaponics system creates an incredibly efficient symbiotic environment for raising food. Aquatic food (prawns, fish and the like) is raised in water. Waste products from those creatures, which in an aquatic-only environment would degrade the quality of the water, are diverted into a hydroponic system, where nitrogen-fixing bacteria turn them into nitrates and nitrites, which are used to feed edible plants. The water can then be recirculated into the fish tank.

Finesse is required. You need to be able to monitor and control temperature, drainage and pumping. Professional systems are expensive, so the enterprising aquaponics practitioner will want to build their own. Enter the Raspberry Pi. And a shipping container, a shed and some valves.

Raspbery Pi Controlled IBC based Aquaponics

Raspbery Pi Controlled IBC based Aquaponics. Details and scripts available at

MatthewH415, the maker, has documented the whole build at Instructables. He says:

This build uses the IBC method of Aquaponics, with modifications to include a Raspberry Pi for controlling a pump, solenoid drain, and temperature probes for water and air temperatures. The relays and timing is controlled with python scripting. Temperature and control data is collected every minute and sent to for graphing, and future expansion will include sensors for water level and PH values for additional control.

All of my scripts are available at, feel free to use them for your aquaponics setup. Thanks to Chris @ for the help with streaming data to their service, and to the amazingly detailed build instructions provided at

We love it. Thanks Matthew; come the apocalypse, we at Pi Towers are happy in the safe and secure knowledge that we’ll at least have tilapia and cucumbers.

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Astro Pi: Coding Challenges Results!


Back in early February we announced a new opportunity for young programmers to send their code up the International Space Station to be used by British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake.

Two challenges were on offer. The first required you to write Python Sense HAT code to turn Ed and Izzy (the Astro Pi computers) into an MP3 player, so that Tim can plug in his headphones and listen to music. The second required you to code Sonic Pi music for Tim to listen to via the MP3 player.

The competition closed on March 31st and the judging took place at Pi Towers in Cambridge last week. With the assistance of Flat Tim!

The judges were selected from companies who have contributed to the Astro Pi mission so far. These were;


Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark (Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys)

We also wanted to have some judges to provide musical talent to balance the science and technology expertise from the aerospace people. Thanks to Carl Walker at ESA we were able to connect with synthpop giants OMD (Enola Gay, Electricity, Maid of Orleans) and British/French film composer Ilan Eshkeri (Stardust, Layer Cake, Shaun the Sheep).


Ilan Eshkeri working on the Stardust soundtrack

We also secured Sam Aaron, the author of Sonic Pi and Overtone, a live coder who regularly performs in clubs across the UK.


Sam Aaron at TEDx Newcastle

Entries were received from all over the UK and were judged across four age categories; 11 and under, 11 to 13, 14 to 16 and 17 to 18. So the outcome is that four MP3 players and four songs will be going up to the ISS for Tim to use. Note that the Sonic Pi tunes will be converted to MP3 so that the MP3 player programs can load and play the audio to Tim.

The judging took two days to complete: one full day for the MP3 players and one day for the Sonic Pi tunes. So without further ado, let’s see who the winners are!

MP3 Player Winners

11 and under

11 to 13

14 to 16

  • Winner: Joe Speers
  • School: n/a (Independent entry)
  • Teacher/Adult: Craig Speers
  • Code on Github

17 to 18

Sonic Pi Winners

11 and under

11 to 13

  • Winner: Isaac Ingram
  • School: Knox Academy
  • Teacher/Adult: Karl Ingram

14 to 16

17 to 18

Congratulations to you all. The judges had a lot of fun with your entries and they will very soon be uploaded to the International Space Station for Tim Peake. The Astro Pi Twitter account will post a tweet to indicate when Tim is listening to the music.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation would like to thank all the judges who contributed to this competition, and especially our special judges: Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys from OMD, Ilan Eshkeri and Sam Aaron.

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Cat exercise wheel

This is not a hamster.

(I could stare at that all day.)

Cat owners among you with hard floor coverings will recognise the eldritch skittering of tiny paws at the witching hour, when all cats believe they have become rally cars. The owner of Jasper and Ruben (who, when researching this post, I thought was called Jasper Ruben; he remains anonymous for now – please leave a comment with your name if you’d like to!) has mechanised the problem. With a Raspberry Pi, natch.


This is the web interface for Jasper and Ruben’s wheel. Cat-propelled, and Raspberry Pi-monitored, it logs distance travelled, average speed, duration of feline whirring, and all that good stuff, and displays the statistics in real time.

Here’s the back, where the clever happens. (And the top of Ruben’s head.)


The Pi’s GPIO is hooked up to a coil sensor behind the wheel, which is housed in an old DSL splitter box, held as close as possible to the wheel without actually touching it. A coil sensor detects magnetic field, so the wheel itself has some modifications to make it detectable and measurable: six small ferrous nails hidden in the lining.


The Pi drives a camera board and interprets the feedback from the sensor, so it can display live statistics as the cat runs. It also enables the user to record any particularly nifty bits of cat-sprinting.

Being human, you want to see more video of the setup in action. Here’s Jasper, being taunted by a laser dot, with real-time stats at the top of the video.

And here’s proof that the cats will use the wheel spontaneously:

You can see a comprehensive photo how-to on Imgur; Jasper and Ruben’s owner is also answering questions about the build over on Reddit.

We want to see someone modify this to use the wheel’s rotation to charge a battery. What would you use it to power? (I’m thinking kibble dispenser…)

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Picademy: New dates announced!

Mad Fer It in Manchester

It’s been a while since we blogged on all things Picademy, so here’s a quick update…

For the uninitiated, Picademy is our free, two-day CPD event series for educators who want to use the Raspberry Pi for projects in the classroom. Over the past three months, we’ve been busy delivering four events in Manchester, creating over a hundred new Raspberry Pi Certified Educators in the process. The whole team was blown away by the passion of the people who attended. In fact, such was the rabid enthusiasm for Raspberry Pi in the area that we added two extra dates in April to cope with the demand – good job, Manchester!

A recent Picademy Manchester cohort.

A recent Picademy Manchester cohort

Picademy uses project-based learning to underpin its workshops, so that delegates can immediately see how the projects can be used in a classroom setting. This way of learning might be a little bit daunting for those who haven’t been in the classroom as a student for while, so we love it when people who might initially lack confidence using the Pi undergo a transformation and embrace the role reversal of teacher becoming student.

A willingness to embrace new ideas, being open to failure, and allowing yourself to make mistakes on the road to success are important messages to take away and think about from each event. One recent Picademy Manchester graduate has written a great blog post reflecting on her experiences at Picademy, and another praised the support she received:

“Thank you so much for a brilliant two days in Manchester. It’s one of the most supportive and inspiring events I have ever attended.”
Carol Macintosh, Picademy delegate

The Pi on the Tyne is all mine

With Picademy Manchester finishing in April, we can announce that our next location will be in Newcastle at Newcastle City Library, where we will be holding events in the spring and early summer.

To find out more and make an application, visit our Picademy Newcastle page.

Our condensed version of the Newcastle skyline

Our condensed version of the Newcastle skyline in all its glory

Code Club Teacher Training

If you want something more compact to fit into your busy schedule, Code Club Teacher Training will also be running in Newcastle alongside Picademy events. The training is only two hours long and provides teachers with practical activities and engaging resources to develop young people’s understanding. The sessions are delivered in school, as INSET or twilight sessions, and are mapped against the new computing curriculum. We offer three modules: Computational Thinking, Programming, and Internet and the Web.

Request a Teacher Training session in your school:

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A Raspberry Pi cosmic ray detector from folk at CERN

A group of people from CERN is using their spare time to build Cosmic Pi, a cosmic ray detector based on a Raspberry Pi. Their goal is to crowdsource the world’s largest cosmic ray telescope by getting the devices into the hands of people and organisations around the globe, collecting data that will help astrophysicists understand more about these rays, several of which have passed through your body in the time it has taken you to read this paragraph. A video the team made last year explains the idea nicely:

Cosmic Pi

Uploaded by Cosmic Pi on 2015-05-07.

You can take a look at details of the team’s current Cosmic Pi prototype hardware and software, all available online. The cosmic-ray-detecting part consists of a scintillator, made of a material that absorbs energy from cosmic rays passing through it and then emits some of that energy in the form of photons; an optic fibre to trap these photons and carry them to the edges of the scintillator material; and a silicon photomultiplier at each end of the fibre to convert this light into an electrical signal that can be analysed by the computer. A blog post from the end of last year has more detail about the prototyping process and the current design.

From a hackathon to another : a year of CosmicPi evolution

On the first week-end of October, we were at CERN´s Ideasquare participating in The Port 2015 hackathon. We gave an overview of the project in our final presentation, available to watch here and below. Our presentation at ThePort15 hackathon.

Because atmospheric conditions influence the flux of cosmic rays at the Earth’s surface, the team decided that it would be worthwhile including temperature, pressure and humidity sensors to monitor the weather. They also added a GPS module to allow devices to log their location (allowing altitude, another factor influencing flux, to be recorded too), and an accelerometer and magnetometer to provide additional information about the device’s orientation and position. Currently, an Arduino Due microcontroller reads the sensor data and passes them to the Raspberry Pi, which pre-processes and stores them; the Cosmic Pi team is prototyping a HAT to combine as many components as possible in a single PCB.

Cosmic Pi HAT prototype and Raspberry Pi, with banana

Cosmic Pi HAT prototype and Raspberry Pi, with banana for scale. Photo by James Devine.

You can sign up to get notified when Cosmic Pi launches, which the team hope will happen with a Kickstarter campaign later in 2016, and they also intend to publish the design under an open source licence. They’re aiming to keep the cost of the whole package under $500, or about £350. While this is likely to be a bit steep for some individuals, we’d love to see organisations and groups like hackspaces using devices like this to contribute to what could be an amazingly valuable citizen science project. Keep an eye on the Cosmic Pi blog for updates!

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Build a smart doorbell with Windows 10

When someone rings my doorbell at home, I walk to the door to find out who’s there. For those of you with larger homes, I know that it can be challenging to get there in time to release the hounds.

Architecture diagram

Architecture diagram

With you in mind, Kishore Gaddam has put together a tutorial showing how you can use Windows 10 and Visual Studio to build a doorbell that takes your visitor’s picture, uploads it to Azure, and sends a notification to your cellphone. Integration with your smart kennel door is left as an exercise for the reader.

Head over to for all the gory details.

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Hacking an 8mm Camera

What if you used a Raspberry Pi and a Camera Module to breathe new life into an old 8mm film camera? That was the question on Claire Wright’s mind when she and her father set to work on modernizing an old motion picture camera that they found at a garage sale five years earlier. Inspired by YouTubers, technology, and the blend of analog and digital, Claire and her father harvested one of the lenses and the classic pistol grip from the original Keystone 8mm. Adding a Raspberry Pi, Camera Module, portable screen, and battery helped them to create the Pi 8 camera. Claire tells the story best:

Hacking an 8mm with a Raspberry Pi

See[W]right films hacks an old 8mm camera using a Raspberry Pi computer. Is it analog? Digital? Something else? Follow me on Instagram @leftnwright Inspired/Influenced by: Laura Kampf LadyAda Casey Neistat Waelder

The resulting footage leaves no doubt that older lenses have a big impact on 8mm style. In particular, check out this footage from the Pi 8 Camera, taken in Bastrop, TX:

#8mm or something else? 😉 #film #shortfilm #tx #bastroptx #flatlanders #maidenvoyage #nofilter #noreally

“#8mm or something else? 😉 #film #shortfilm #tx #bastroptx #flatlanders #maidenvoyage #nofilter #noreally”

Bastrop, incidentally, is where some of the Raspberry Pi team had some amazing BBQ in 2015:

Liz took this picture of Rachel and most of the meat in Texas in Bastrop last year.

Liz took this picture of Rachel and most of the meat in Texas in Bastrop last year.

Back to the cameras. I think Claire’s onto something because she’s not the only one exploring the renaissance of retro motion picture capture. Kodak announced that they’re getting back into 8mm film with a new camera, which they unveiled at CES.

If you’re feeling inspired by Claire and want to build your own Raspberry Pi-based camera, then Instructables has you covered with many Raspberry Pi camera projects for you to try.

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The little computer that could

Liz: Today we’ve got a guest post from the terrifyingly hirsute Pete Stevens. Pete’s from Mythic Beasts, our web hosts; and he’s the reason this website stands up to the absurd amounts of traffic you throw at it. (Yesterday we saw about a quarter of a million sessions – that goes up WAY above a million on some days.) Have at it, Pete!

After our successful test of using the Raspberry Pi 3 for hosting 5% of the traffic on Pi 3 launch day we celebrated by going to the pub. The conversation went something like this:

Eben: Is it possible to host the whole site on Pi 3s?
Pete: How would you do it?
Philip: Wouldn’t it be awesome to do it?
Liz: Dare you to try it!

The first part of the answer is quite easy: not on one Pi 3, it’s not fast enough. A better question is how many Pi 3s are required to host a typical day’s traffic. Extrapolating from some graphs and making up some numbers with the handy pub beermat service, we estimated between 4 and 6 should handle all the PHP code and file delivery. Unfortunately, the database server still looks out of scope: not enough RAM and not enough I/O.

Of course, only an idiot would replace thousands of pounds of highly specified hardware with a handful of £30 computers and expect it to still work.

A few weeks later we have this:

A mini rack of Raspberry Pi 3s

A mini rack of Raspberry Pi 3s

We’ve designed a custom plastic enclosure for holding Pi 3s securely, added power over ethernet HATs so we can power them directly from the switch, and a cheap 100Mbps PoE switch. We’ve put all the storage over the network and put a small storage server in the rack with the Pi 3 rack. We’ve used virtual LANs to have two effective network cards on each Pi 3, on just containing it and the storage server the other with an IPv6 address that talks to the public internet and the load balancers. Ifconfig looks like this:

storage : eth0 : 10.46.189.X
public : eth0.131 : 2a00:1098:0:84:1000:1:0:X

As with all Pi servers, there is no public IPv4 connectivity to each server. To get out to legacy IPv4-only services such as Twitter / Akismet etc. they go through our NAT64 DNS proxy service. Inbound traffic lands on the front end load balancers and is shared between the Raspberry Pi 3s over IPv6.

 iftop, our network monitoring software showing traffic shuttling between the fileserver and the load balancers

 iftop, our network monitoring software showing traffic shuttling between the fileserver and the load balancers

If you do:


you’ll see a header which gives you the final octet of the address of the Pi that served you:

X-Served-By: Raspberry Pi 1e

The first person to tweet all the hex identifiers to Mythic Beasts wins absolutely nothing other than the respect of the Raspberry Pi community.

Is this a commercial hosted Pi service?

It’s not yet a commercially viable service. Scaled up we can fit 96 Pi3s in 4U of rack space including the switches, which is an impressive density. However, the Pis aren’t individually replaceable once in service. That means if a customer botches the SD card the Pi is dead until we can arrange downtime of all 96 Pis in the unit. Kernel upgrades involve a change on the SD card which carries a risk of bricking the Pi if the user gets it wrong. Not having access to the SD card other than via booting the Pi from it means that an enterprising user could compromise the kernel on the SD card and root-kit the machine, before cancelling the service and letting us sell it to another user.

But it’s close. Add in netboot with PXE and most of the above concerns go away, as we can remotely provision, remotely re-provision and remotely recover a broken Pi.

The Pi Rack under construction and testing

The Pi Rack under construction and testing

The Pi rack operational and waiting for your HTTP requests

The Pi rack operational and waiting for your HTTP requests

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Power up your life with issue #44 of The MagPi

Another month – so that means another issue of the official Raspberry Pi magazine! We’ve got a whole host of treats in store for you in our April 2016 edition including your chance to win one of three U:Create Astro Pi kits worth £100/$145.


Click the pic to be whisked into a world of Raspberry Pi ideas and inspiration

The theme for this issue (and wonderfully realised by Raspberry Pi’s resident illustrator-extraordinaire Sam Alder) is ways to improve and automate your life with Raspberry Pi. We’ve put together five fun projects to help you power up your life including an automatic pet feeder, a magic mirror and a temperature-sensing kettle so your tea (Earl Grey) is always served hot.


Other highlights from issue 44:

  • 007 gadgets
    Pi-powered gadgets that are licensed to thrill
  • Bluetooth audio guide
    Turn your Raspberry Pi 3 into a music streamer
  • What is pressure?
    Find out by doing science with the Sense HAT
  • Retro vision with Pi Zero
    Use any old TV with your brand new Pi Zero in easy steps
  • And much, much more!


Free Creative Commons download
As always, you can download your copy of The MagPi completely free. Grab it straight from the front page of The MagPi’s website.

Don’t forget that like sales of the Raspberry Pi itself, all proceeds from the print and digital editions of the magazine go to help the Foundation achieve its charitable goals. Buy the magazine and help democratise computing!

Buy in-store
If you want something more tangible to play with, you’ll be glad to hear you can get the print edition in more stores than ever:

And all good newsagents

Order online
Rather shop online? You can grab every available issue from The Pi Hut and have it delivered practically anywhere in the world.

Subscribe today!
Want to have every issue delivered free to your door the moment it’s available? Subscribe today and save up to 25% on the cover price.

I hope you enjoy the issue – see you next month!


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