Teachers with Raspberry Pi boards cartoon

The Raspberry Pi – The Digital Swiss Army Knife

Raspberry Pi logoAs mentioned previously, we have been dabbling with Raspberry Pi computers since 2014. To those unfamiliar with these little gems, a Raspberry Pi is a very affordable, single-board computer developed in the UK by the Raspberry Pi Foundation to promote the teaching of basic computer science in schools. Initially we looked at how we could use them to help children in senior classes learn programming and based much of the initial exploration around the excellent book “Adventures in Raspberry Pi” by Carrie Anne Philbin. Next up was the building of our Pi-powered Weather Station which is ongoing and which my colleague has kept you posted on to date with Raspberry Pi Weather Station for Schools and Part 2.

Thanks to the recent tranche of funding we’ve been able to further invest and have added 5 Model 3.0 Pi’s to the arsenal. The Pi Model 3 (Launched February 2016) helps address one key drawback often cited of these budget boards, speed (or the lack of same) when compared with processors fitted in today’s laptops or desktops. This difference can’t be disputed but it’s doing the Pi a disservice judging it by modern computer standards and indeed the latest incarnation boasts a 50 % speed increase on its predecessor (and a 10-fold increase on the original model). To boot you get wireless and Bluetooth out of the box and all for the same bargain price of €40. It’s not that hard to see why these boards have been selling like hotcakes since their original release (10 million sold as of September 2016,) making waves way beyond its original target market. The Pi has in fact become the de-facto platform for makers and DIY computer enthusiasts. A quick browse through the myriad of mods on instructables.com illustrates just how powerful these mini-pcs are. Arguably there are few projects here you’d try in a primary classroom so it begs the question what other uses outside of the ones listed above have we found for our stock of Raspberries? Two ideas for starters…

One very practical (and affordable) purpose we’ve found recently is Digital Signage. Recently, our Home School teacher suggested in the interest of the environment we should be moving away from printing reams of photos for displays and the upshot of same was the installation of a large (27″) digital display at the entrance to the school, powered by a headless Pi 3 hidden in the ceiling. Bespoke options for digital signage are out there like piSignage and Screenly to name but two but these are subscription based so instead we opted to loop continuously a timed Libre Office Present slideshow (Comes pre-installed with the Raspbian OS). To add new content, the slideshow can be accessed over the network and edited locally in PowerPoint on a PC, simple as that, and all for less than €300 (including screen and mount!).

GoPiGo robotSo what’s next for our Raspberry Jack of all trades…a pi-powered robotic car! As recently as last week we took delivery of a GoPiGo 2 from Dexter Industries and can’t wait to get cracking with the new kit. The GoPiGo promises to be the complete robot car and comes with everything you need to get started, including a robot body, motors, controls, and a power battery pack. Once built our Robot car can be controlled via USB (and Wi-Fi) through Scratch (Or Python) and more interestingly the basic kit is modular so additional sensors/add-ons can be integrated and programmed. In our case we’ve plumped for a camera board coupled with a GoPiGo Servo Kit so are robot will see around corners! You’ll find a whole host of other project ideas for inspiration over on the Dexter Industries website but even if you run out of ideas here with a Raspberry Pi acting as the brains of this robot, the possibilities are infinite…

So, our Pi Robotics exploration begins, will keep those interested posted here…Watch this space!

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