Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Raspberry Pi - Taking Control

One of the things I really love about my job is that I get to visit schools. I get to meet, work with and learn from fellow Computing teachers. And sometimes I learn that, nerdy as I am, I can still be out-nerded by my colleagues!

QR Code from @RaspberryPi
Case in point: today I was interviewing prospective students with a Computing teacher from Hamilton Grammar and we fell to talking about the Raspberry Pi. I have already featured the Raspberry Pi here on a couple of occasions and, although I am skeptical about the size of its impact, I still think it is a fascinating device. But while I am looking forward to playing with one, my colleague is already making plans about exactly how he will use them in school. As we talked about this he said, almost as an aside, how exciting the Gertboard looked. My response was, of couse, "The what board?"

So he talked about the Gertboard is and I was hooked straight away. Essentially, the Gertboard is a General Purpose Input/Output board. If that leaves you none the wiser, it is a board that allows you to plug in sensors and devices to the Raspberry Pi and write software to control them. The Gertboard was introduced on the Raspberry Pi blog in December 2011, and you can read about it there in the Introducing Gertboard post.

I have talked about the Arthur C Clark quote before: "Any technology, when sufficiently developed, is indistinguishable from magic." I've also said that I think it is the job of the computing teacher to show what makes the magic work - to show what's behind the curtain. That is why I like the idea of interfacing and control. It takes stuff out of the virtual world of the computer screen and into the real world. For example, attach a temperature sensor and a motor to the Gertboard and you could write a program to monitor the temperature and turn on the motor to drive a fan when it gets too hot. With interfacing and control applications, the computer can be programmed to react to things happening in the real word and make changes to the environment as a result.

This video, taken from another Raspberry Pi blog post, shows the Gertboard in action:

While interfacing and control has great potential, it tends to be expensive and fiddly to implement in schools. I'm not sure that it is possible to completely eliminate the fiddliness (in fact I think it it is the fiddle factor that makes it fun) but the Raspberry Pi and the Gertboard look like they might make interfacing and control significantly more affordable.

What do you think? And what other Raspberry Pi developments do you think I should know about? Go on, out nerd me!


Mosher said...

Not particularly geeky, but one use I'm hoping to put them to is in demonstrating networking. As things stand, doing this in the classroom is night on impossible with what he have to hand. School networks are tied down incredibly rightly, usually by 3rd party admin.

But purchasing maybe 3-4 RPis, a reasonable network can be set up using simple software under Linux. A network admin server, file server, web server, print server, etc. Throw in an outdated 4-port hub (surprise - I have at least one of these) and you have a working network which can be administered, with all associated monitoring tools.

The one I'm picking up for "trial" (i.e. to play with at home) stands a good chance of ending up as a media server on one of the TVs, courtesy of XBMC and a wi-fi dongle.

David said...

Networking was one of the things we talked about... and more generally the usefulness of having access to machines that are not completely locked down.

As an aside, I'm glad that you too have a stash of "outdated" tech. I suspect it wont be half as useful as your 4-port hub, but I cannot bring myself to get rid of my Sinclair ZX 80.

Mosher said...

We had a ZX-81 in the cupboard at the last school I worked at. Sad to say that I sold our ZX-81 back in the early 80's. We got enough for me to buy a copy of Daley Thompson's Decathlon for the Amstrad CPC464.

That, itself, ended up being junked when I moved house as I couldn't even sell it. At least I got £50 for my Amiga.

Got a pile of networking stuff in the house including an old ADSL router and a handful of PCs and laptops. My other half hates my squirrely ways!

David said...

I have a fair amount of old kit in my office but I am under strict instructions not to bring any of it home!

Sonu Gupta said...

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts.
"distance education programs
m.b.a distance education
distance learning courses in india
correspondence courses in mumbai
distance learning institutes"