In November 2013, the first commercially available helium-filled hard drive was introduced by HGST, a Western Digital subsidiary. The 6 TB drive was not only unique in being helium-filled, it was for the moment, the highest capacity hard drive available. Fast forward a little over 4 years later and 12 TB helium-filled drives are readily available, 14 TB drives can be found, and 16 TB helium-filled drives are arriving soon.
Backblaze has been purchasing and deploying helium-filled hard drives over the past year and we thought it was time to start looking at their failure rates compared to traditional air-filled drives. This post will provide an overview, then we’ll continue the comparison on a regular basis over the coming months.
The Promise and Challenge of Helium Filled Drives
We all know that helium is lighter than air — that’s why helium-filled balloons float. Inside of an air-filled hard drive there are rapidly spinning disk platters that rotate at a given speed, 7200 rpm for example. The air inside adds an appreciable amount of drag on the platters that in turn requires an appreciable amount of additional energy to spin the platters. Replacing the air inside of a hard drive with helium reduces the amount of drag, thereby reducing the amount of energy needed to spin the platters, typically by 20%.
We also know that after a few days, a helium-filled balloon sinks to the ground. This was one of the key challenges in using helium inside of a hard drive: helium escapes from most containers, even if they are well sealed. It took years for hard drive manufacturers to create containers that could contain helium while still functioning as a hard drive. This container innovation allows helium-filled drives to function at spec over the course of their lifetime.
Checking for Leaks
Three years ago, we identified SMART 22 as the attribute assigned to recording the status of helium inside of a hard drive. We have both HGST and Seagate helium-filled hard drives, but only the HGST drives currently report the SMART 22 attribute. It appears the normalized and raw values for SMART 22 currently report the same value, which starts at 100 and goes down.
To date only one HGST drive has reported a value of less than 100, with multiple readings between 94 and 99. That drive continues to perform fine, with no other errors or any correlating changes in temperature, so we are not sure whether the change in value is trying to tell us something or if it is just a wonky sensor.
Helium versus Air-Filled Hard Drives
There are several different ways to compare these two types of drives. Below we decided to use just our 8, 10, and 12 TB drives in the comparison. We did this since we have helium-filled drives in those sizes. We left out of the comparison all of the drives that are 6 TB and smaller as none of the drive models we use are helium-filled. We are open to trying different comparisons. This just seemed to be the best place to start.
The most obvious observation is that there seems to be little difference in the Annualized Failure Rate (AFR) based on whether they contain helium or air. One conclusion, given this evidence, is that helium doesn’t affect the AFR of hard drives versus air-filled drives. My prediction is that the helium drives will eventually prove to have a lower AFR. Why? Drive Days.
Let’s go back in time to Q1 2017 when the air-filled drives listed in the table above had a similar number of Drive Days to the current number of Drive Days for the helium drives. We find that the failure rate for the air-filled drives at the time (Q1 2017) was 1.61%. In other words, when the drives were in use a similar number of hours, the helium drives had a failure rate of 1.06% while the failure rate of the air-filled drives was 1.61%.
Helium or Air?
My hypothesis is that after normalizing the data so that the helium and air-filled drives have the same (or similar) usage (Drive Days), the helium-filled drives we use will continue to have a lower Annualized Failure Rate versus the air-filled drives we use. I expect this trend to continue for the next year at least. What side do you come down on? Will the Annualized Failure Rate for helium-filled drives be better than air-filled drives or vice-versa? Or do you think the two technologies will be eventually produce the same AFR over time? Pick a side and we’ll document the results over the next year and see where the data takes us.
This column is from The MagPi issue 61. You can download a PDF of the full issue for free, or subscribe to receive the print edition through your letterbox or the digital edition on your tablet. All proceeds from the print and digital editions help the Raspberry Pi Foundation achieve our charitable goals.
The pinned tweet on Dave Akerman’s Twitter account shows a table displaying the various components needed for a high-altitude balloon (HAB) flight. Batteries, leads, a camera and Raspberry Pi, plus an unusually themed payload. The caption reads ‘The Queen, The Duke of York, and my TARDIS”, and sums up Dave’s maker career in a heartbeat.
The Queen, The Duke of York, and my TARDIS 🙂 #UKHAS #RaspberryPi
Though writing software for industrial automation pays the bills, the majority of Dave’s time is spent in the world of high-altitude ballooning and the ever-growing community that encompasses it. And, while he makes some money sending business-themed balloons to near space for the likes of Aardman Animations, Confused.com, and the BBC, Dave is best known in the Raspberry Pi community for his use of the small computer in every payload, and his work as a tutor alongside the Foundation’s staff at Skycademy events.
Dave continues to help others while breaking records and having a good time exploring the atmosphere.
Dave has dedicated many hours and many, many more miles to assist with the Foundation’s Skycademy programme, helping to explore high-altitude ballooning with educators from across the UK. Using a Raspberry Pi and various other pieces of lightweight tech, Dave and Foundation staff member James Robinson explored the incorporation of high-altitude ballooning into education. Through Skycademy, educators were able to learn new skills and take them to the classroom, setting off their own balloons with their students, and recording the results on Raspberry Pis.
Dave’s most recent flight broke a new record. On 13 August 2017, his HAB payload was able to send back the highest images taken by any amateur flight.
But education isn’t the only reason for Dave’s involvement in the HAB community. As with anyone passionate about a specific hobby, Dave strives to break records. The most recent record-breaking flight took place on 13 August 2017, when Dave’s Raspberry Pi Zero HAB sent home the highest images taken by any amateur high-altitude balloon launch: at 43014 metres. No other HAB balloon has provided images from such an altitude, and the lightweight nature of the Pi Zero definitely helped, as Dave went on to mention on Twitter a few days later.
Dave is recognised as being the first person to incorporate a Raspberry Pi into a HAB payload, and continues to break records with the help of the little green board. More recently, he’s been able to lighten the load by using the Raspberry Pi Zero.
When the first Pi made its way to near space, Dave tore the computer apart in order to meet the weight restriction. The Pi in the Sky board was created to add the extra features needed for the flight. Since then, the HAT has experienced a few changes.
The Pi in the Sky board, created specifically for HAB flights.
Dave first fell in love with high-altitude ballooning after coming across the hobby in a video shared on a photographic forum. With a lifelong interest in space thanks to watching the Moon landings as a boy, plus a talent for electronics and photography, it seems a natural progression for him. Throw in his coding skills from learning to program on a Teletype and it’s no wonder he was ready and eager to take to the skies, so to speak, and capture the curvature of the Earth. What was so great about using the Raspberry Pi was the instant gratification he got from receiving images in real time as they were taken during the flight. While other devices could control a camera and store captured images for later retrieval, thanks to the Pi Dave was able to transmit the files back down to Earth and check the progress of his balloon while attempting to break records with a flight.
One of the many commercial flights Dave has organised featured the classic children’s TV character Morph, a creation of the Aardman Animations studio known for Wallace and Gromit. Morph took to the sky twice in his mission to reach near space, and finally succeeded in 2016.
High-altitude ballooning isn’t the only part of Dave’s life that incorporates a Raspberry Pi. Having “lost count” of how many Pis he has running tasks, Dave has also created radio receivers for APRS (ham radio data), ADS-B (aircraft tracking), and OGN (gliders), along with a time-lapse camera in his garden, and he has a few more Pi for tinkering purposes.
A couple of weekends ago, we celebrated our sixth birthday by coordinating more than 100 simultaneous Raspberry Jam events around the world. The Big Birthday Weekend was a huge success: our fantastic community organised Jams in 40 countries, covering six continents!
We sent the Jams special birthday kits to help them celebrate in style, and a video message featuring a thank you from Philip and Eben:
To celebrate the Raspberry Pi’s sixth birthday, we coordinated Raspberry Jams all over the world to take place over the Raspberry Jam Big Birthday Weekend, 3-4 March 2018. A massive thank you to everyone who ran an event and attended.
The Raspberry Jam photo booth
I put together code for a Pi-powered photo booth which overlaid the Big Birthday Weekend logo onto photos and (optionally) tweeted them. We included an arcade button in the Jam kits so they could build one — and it seemed to be quite popular. Some Jams put great effort into housing their photo booth:
If you want to try out the photo booth software yourself, find the code on GitHub.
The great Raspberry Jam bake-off
Traditionally, in the UK, people have a cake on their birthday. And we had a few! We saw (and tasted) a great selection of Pi-themed cakes and other baked goods throughout the weekend:
Raspberry Jams everywhere
We always say that every Jam is different, but there’s a common and recognisable theme amongst them. It was great to see so many different venues around the world filling up with like-minded Pi enthusiasts, Raspberry Jam–branded banners, and Raspberry Pi balloons!
Thank you so much to all the attendees of the Ikana Jam in Krakow past Saturday! We shared fun experiences, some of them… also painful 😉 A big thank you to @Raspberry_Pi for these global celebrations! And a big thank you to @hubraum for their hospitality! #PiParty #rjam
Being one of the two places in Kenya where the #PiParty took place, it was an amazing time spending the day with this team and getting to learn and have fun. @TaitaTavetaUni and @Raspberry_Pi thank you for your support. @TTUTechlady @mictecttu ch
The Philly & Pi #PiParty event with @Bresslergroup and @TechGirlzorg was awesome! The Scratch and Pi workshop was amazing! It was overall a great day of fun and tech!!! Thank you everyone who came out!
Thanks everyone who came out to the @Raspberry_Pi Big Birthday Jam! Special thanks to @PBFerrell @estefanniegg @pcsforme @pandafulmanda @colnels @bquentin3 couldn’t’ve put on this amazing community event without you guys!
Personally, I managed to get to three Jams over the weekend: two run by the same people who put on the first two Jams to ever take place, and also one brand-new one! The Preston Raspberry Jam team, who usually run their event on a Monday evening, wanted to do something extra special for the birthday, so they came up with the idea of putting on a Raspberry Jam Sandwich — on the Friday and Monday around the weekend! This meant I was able to visit them on Friday, then attend the Manchester Raspberry Jam on Saturday, and finally drop by the new Jam at Worksop College on my way home on Sunday.
Thanks to everyone who came to our Jam and everyone who helped out. @phoenixtogether thanks for amazing cake & hosting. Ademir you’re so cool. It was awesome to meet Craig Morley from @Raspberry_Pi too. #PiParty
It’s @Raspberry_Pi 6th birthday and we’re celebrating by taking part in @amsterjam__! Happy Birthday Raspberry Pi, we’re so happy to be a part of the family! #PiParty
For more Jammy birthday goodness, check out the PiParty hashtag on Twitter!
The Jam makers!
A lot of preparation went into each Jam, and we really appreciate all the hard work the Jam makers put in to making these events happen, on the Big Birthday Weekend and all year round. Thanks also to all the teams that sent us a group photo:
Lots of the Jams that took place were brand-new events, so we hope to see them continue throughout 2018 and beyond, growing the Raspberry Pi community around the world and giving more people, particularly youths, the opportunity to learn digital making skills.
So many wonderful people in the @Raspberry_Pi community. Thanks to everyone at #PottonPiAndPints for a great afternoon and for everything you do to help young people learn digital making. #PiParty
Special thanks to ModMyPi for shipping the special Raspberry Jam kits all over the world!
Don’t forget to check out our Jam page to find an event near you! This is also where you can find free resources to help you get a new Jam started, and download free starter projects made especially for Jam activities. These projects are available in English, Français, Français Canadien, Nederlands, Deutsch, Italiano, and 日本語. If you’d like to help us translate more content into these and other languages, please get in touch!
PS Some of the UK Jams were postponed due to heavy snowfall, so you may find there’s a belated sixth-birthday Jam coming up where you live!
Will bacteria-laden high-altitude balloons help us find life on Mars? Today’s eclipse should bring us closer to an answer.
image c/o NASA / Ames Research Center / Tristan Caro
The Eclipse Ballooning Project
Having learned of the Eclipse Ballooning Project set to take place today across the USA, a team at NASA couldn’t miss the opportunity to harness the high-flying project for their own experiments.
The Eclipse Ballooning Project invited students across the USA to aid in the launch of 50+ high-altitude balloons during today’s eclipse. Each balloon is equipped with its own Raspberry Pi and camera for data collection and live video-streaming.
High-altitude ballooning, or HAB as it’s often referred to, has become a popular activity within the Raspberry Pi community. The lightweight nature of the device allows for high ascent, and its Camera Module enables instant visual content collection.
image c/o Montana State University
The Eclipse Ballooning Project team, headed by Angela Des Jardins of Montana State University, was contacted by Jim Green, Director of Planetary Science at NASA, who hoped to piggyback on the project to run tests on bacteria in the Mars-like conditions the balloons would encounter near space.
Into the stratosphere
At around -35 degrees Fahrenheit, with thinner air and harsher ultraviolet radiation, the conditions in the upper part of the earth’s stratosphere are comparable to those on the surface of Mars. And during the eclipse, the moon will block some UV rays, making the environment in our stratosphere even more similar to the martian one—ideal for NASA’s experiment.
So the students taking part in the Eclipse Ballooning Project could help the scientists out, NASA sent them some small metal tags.
These tags contain samples of a kind of bacterium known as Paenibacillus xerothermodurans. Upon their return to ground, the bacteria will be tested to see whether and how the high-altitude conditions affected them.
Life on Mars
Paenibacillus xerothermodurans is one of the most resilient bacterial species we know. The team at NASA wants to discover how the bacteria react to their flight in order to learn more about whether life on Mars could possibly exist. If the low temperature, UV rays, and air conditions cause the bacteria to mutate or indeed die, we can be pretty sure that the existence of living organisms on the surface of Mars is very unlikely.
What happens to the bacteria on the spacecraft and rovers we send to space? This experiment should provide some answers.
If you’re in the US, you might have a chance to witness the full solar eclipse today. And if you’re planning to watch, please make sure to take all precautionary measures. In a nutshell, don’t look directly at the sun. Not today, not ever.
If you’re in the UK, you can observe a partial eclipse, if the clouds decide to vanish. And again, take note of safety measures so you don’t damage your eyes.
You can also watch a live-stream of the eclipse via the NASA website.
The Bicrophonic Sonic Bike, created by British sound artist Kaffe Matthews, utilises a Raspberry Pi and GPS signals to map location data and plays music and sound in response to the places you take it on your cycling adventures.
Bicrophonics is about the mobility of sound, experienced and shared within a moving space, free of headphones and free of the internet. Music made by the journey you take, played with the space that you move through. The Bicrophonic Research Institute (BRI) http://sonicbikes.net
Cycling and music
I’m sure I wasn’t the only teen to go for bike rides with a group of friends and a radio. Spurred on by our favourite movie, the mid-nineties classic Now and Then, we’d hook up a pair of cheap portable speakers to our handlebars, crank up the volume, and sing our hearts out as we cycled aimlessly down country lanes in the cool light evenings of the British summer.
While Sonic Bikes don’t belt out the same classics that my precariously attached speakers provided, they do give you the same sense of connection to your travelling companions via sound. Linked to GPS locations on the same preset map of zones, each bike can produce the same music, creating a cloud of sound as you cycle.
The Sonic Bike uses five physical components: a Raspberry Pi, power source, USB GPS receiver, rechargeable speakers, and subwoofer. Within the Raspberry Pi, the build utilises mapping software to divide a map into zones and connect each zone with a specific music track.
Custom software enables the Raspberry Pi to locate itself among the zones using the USB GPS receiver. Then it plays back the appropriate track until it registers a new zone.
Bicrophonic Research Institute
The Bicrophonic Research Institute is a collective of artists and coders with the shared goal of creating sound directed by people and places via Sonic Bikes. In their own words:
Bicrophonics is about the mobility of sound, experienced and shared within a moving space, free of headphones and free of the internet. Music made by the journey you take, played with the space that you move through.
Their technology has potential beyond the aims of the BRI. The Sonic Bike software could be useful for navigation, logging data and playing beats to indicate when to alter speed or direction. You could even use it to create a guided cycle tour, including automatically reproduced information about specific places on the route.
For the creators of Sonic Bike, the project is ever-evolving, and “continues to be researched and developed to expand the compositional potentials and unique listening experiences it creates.”
A good example of this evolution is the Sensory Bike. This offshoot of the Sonic Bike idea plays sounds guided by the cyclist’s own movements – it acts like a two-wheeled musical instrument!
a work for Sensory Bikes, the Berlin wall and audience to ride it. ‘ lean to go up, slow to go loud ‘ explores freedom and celebrates escape. Celebrating human energy to find solutions, hot air balloons take off, train lines sing, people cheer and nature continues to grow.
Sensors on the wheels, handlebars, and brakes, together with a Sense HAT at the rear, register the unique way in which the rider navigates their location. The bike produces output based on these variables. Its creators at BRI say:
The Sensory Bike becomes a performative instrument – with riders choosing to go slow, go fast, to hop, zigzag, or circle, creating their own unique sound piece that speeds, reverses, and changes pitch while they dance on their bicycle.
Build your own Sonic Bike
As for many wonderful Raspberry Pi-based builds, the project’s code is available on GitHub, enabling makers to recreate it. All the BRI team ask is that you contact them so they can learn more of your plans and help in any way possible. They even provide code to create your own Sonic Kayak using GPS zones, temperature sensors, and an underwater microphone!
Sonic Kayaks are musical instruments for expanding our senses and scientific instruments for gathering marine micro-climate data. Made by foAm_Kernow with the Bicrophonic Research Institute (BRI), two were first launched at the British Science Festival in Swansea Bay September 6th 2016 and used by the public for 2 days.
This weekend saw my first anniversary at Raspberry Pi, and this blog marks my 100th post written for the company. It would have been easy to let one milestone or the other slide had they not come along hand in hand, begging for some sort of acknowledgement.
The day Liz decided to keep me
So here it is!
Joining the crew
Prior to my position in the Comms team as Social Media Editor, my employment history was largely made up of retail sales roles and, before that, bit parts in theatrical backstage crews. I never thought I would work for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, despite its firm position on my Top Five Awesome Places I’d Love to Work list. How could I work for a tech company when my knowledge of tech stretched as far as dismantling my Game Boy when I was a kid to see how the insides worked, or being the one friend everyone went to when their phone didn’t do what it was meant to do? I never thought about the other side of the Foundation coin, or how I could find my place within the hidden workings that turned the cogs that brought everything together.
12 Likes, 1 Comments – Alex J’rassic (@thealexjrassic) on Instagram: “… when suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a new job with a dream company. #raspberrypi #positive…”
A little luck, a well-written though humorous resumé, and a meeting with Liz and Helen later, I found myself the newest member of the growing team at Pi Towers.
Ticking items off the Bucket List
I thought it would be fun to point out some of the chances I’ve had over the last twelve months and explain how they fit within the world of Raspberry Pi. After all, we’re about more than just a $35 credit card-sized computer. We’re a charitable Foundation made up of some wonderful and exciting projects, people, and goals.
High altitude ballooning (HAB)
Skycademy offers educators in the UK the chance to come to Pi Towers Cambridge to learn how to plan a balloon launch, build a payload with onboard Raspberry Pi and Camera Module, and provide teachers with the skills needed to take their students on an adventure to near space, with photographic evidence to prove it.
332 Likes, 5 Comments – Raspberry Pi (@raspberrypifoundation) on Instagram: “All the screens you need to hunt balloons. . We have our landing point and are now rushing to…”
I was fortunate enough to join Sky Captain James, along with Dan Fisher, Dave Akerman, and Steve Randell on a test launch back in August last year. Testing out new kit that James had still been tinkering with that morning, we headed to a field in Elsworth, near Cambridge, and provided Facebook Live footage of the process from payload build to launch…to the moment when our balloon landed in an RAF shooting range some hours later.
“Can we have our balloon back, please, mister?”
Having enjoyed watching Blue Peter presenters send up a HAB when I was a child, I marked off the event on my bucket list with a bold tick, and I continue to show off the photographs from our Raspberry Pi as it reached near space.
13 Likes, 2 Comments – Alex J’rassic (@thealexjrassic) on Instagram: “Spend the day launching/chasing a high-altitude balloon. Look how high it went!!! #HAB #ballooning…”
You can find more information on Skycademy here, plus more detail about our test launch day in Dan’s blog post here.
Dear Raspberry Pi Friends…
My desk is slowly filling with stuff: notes, mementoes, and trinkets that find their way to me from members of the community, both established and new to the life of Pi. There are thank you notes, updates, and more from people I’ve chatted to online as they explore their way around the world of Pi.
By plugging myself into social media on a daily basis, I often find hidden treasures that go unnoticed due to the high volume of tags we receive on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on. Kids jumping off chairs in delight as they complete their first Scratch project, newcomers to the Raspberry Pi shedding a tear as they make an LED blink on their kitchen table, and seasoned makers turning their hobby into something positive to aid others.
It’s wonderful to join in the excitement of people discovering a new skill and exploring the community of Raspberry Pi makers: I’ve been known to shed a tear as a result.
Meeting educators at Bett, chatting to teen makers at makerspaces, and sharing a cupcake or three at the birthday party have been incredible opportunities to get to know you all.
You’re all brilliant.
The Queens of Robots, both shoddy and otherwise
Last year we welcomed the Queen of Shoddy Robots, Simone Giertz to Pi Towers, where we chatted about making, charity, and space while wandering the colleges of Cambridge and hanging out with flat Tim Peake.
Ahhhh!!! I still can’t believe I got to hang out and make stuff at the @Raspberry_Pi towers!! Thank you thank you!!
Meeting such wonderful, exciting, and innovative YouTubers was a fantastic inspiration to work on my own projects and to try to do more to help others discover ways to connect with tech through their own interests.
Those ‘wow’ moments
Every Raspberry Pi project I see on a daily basis is awesome. The moment someone takes an idea and does something with it is, in my book, always worthy of awe and appreciation. Whether it be the aforementioned flashing LED, or sending Raspberry Pis to the International Space Station, if you have turned your idea into reality, I applaud you.
Some of my favourite projects over the last twelve months have not only made me say “Wow!”, they’ve also inspired me to want to do more with myself, my time, and my growing maker skill.
Great to meet @alexjrassic today and nerd out about @Raspberry_Pi and weather balloons and @Space_Station and all things #edtech ⛅🛰🤖
Projects such as Museum in a Box, a wonderful hands-on learning aid that brings the world to the hands of children across the globe, honestly made me tear up as I placed a miniaturised 3D-printed Virginia Woolf onto a wooden box and gasped as she started to speak to me.
Jill Ogle’s Let’s Robot project had me in awe as Twitch-controlled Pi robots tackled mazes, attempted to cut birthday cake, or swung to slap Jill in the face over webcam.
19 Likes, 1 Comments – Alex J’rassic (@thealexjrassic) on Instagram: “Made a Gif Cam using a Raspberry Pi, Pi camera, button and a couple LEDs. . When you press the…”
The next twelve months
Despite Eben jokingly firing me near-weekly across Twitter, or Philip giving me the ‘Dad glare’ when I pull wires and buttons out of a box under my desk to start yet another project, I don’t plan on going anywhere. Over the next twelve months, I hope to continue discovering awesome Pi builds, expanding on my own skills, and curating some wonderful projects for you via the Raspberry Pi blog, the Raspberry Pi Weekly newsletter, my submissions to The MagPi Magazine, and the occasional video interview or two.
It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for joining me on the ride!
London-based Solid State Group decided to combine Slack with a giant LED wall, and created a thing of beauty for their office.
“BUILD THE WALL we cried aloud. Well, in truth, we shouted this over Slack, until the pixel wall became a thing.” Niall Quinn, Solid State Group.
Flexing the brain
Project name RIO: Rendered-Input-Output took its inspiration from Google Creative Lab’s anypixel.js project. An open source software and hardware library, anypixel.js boasts the ability to ‘create big, unusual, interactive displays out of all kinds of things’ such as arcade buttons and balloons.
Every tech company has side projects and Solid State is no different. It keeps devs motivated and flexes the bits of the brain sometimes not quite reached by day-to-day coding. Sometimes these side projects become products, sometimes we crack open a beer and ask “what the hell were we thinking”, but always we learn something – about the process, and perhaps ourselves.
Niall Quinn, Solid State Group
To ‘flex the bits of the brain’, the team created their own in-house resource. Utilising Slack as their interface, they were able to direct images, GIFs and video over the internet to the Pi-powered LED wall.
Bricks and mortar
They developed an API for ‘drawing’ each pixel of the content sent to the wall, and converting them to match the pixels of the display.
After experimenting with the code on a small 6×5 pixel replica, the final LED wall was built using WS2812B RGB strips. With 2040 LEDs in total to control, higher RAM and power requirements called for the team to replace their microcontroller. Enter the Raspberry Pi.
“With more pixels come more problems. LEDs gobble up RAM and draw a lot of power, so we switched from an Arduino to a Raspberry Pi, and got ourselves a pretty hefty power supply.”
Alongside the Slack-to-wall image sharing, Solid State also developed their own mobile app. This app used the HTML5 canvas element to draw data for the wall. The app enabled gaming via a SNES-style controller, a live drawing application, a messaging function and live preview capabilities.
Build your own LED wall
If you’re planning on building your own LED wall, whether for an event, a classroom, an office or a living room, the Solid State team have shared the entire project via their GitHub page. To read a full breakdown of the build, make sure you visit their blog. And if you do build your own, or have done already, make sure to share it in the comments below.
Next week brings another opportunity for educators to visit the Raspberry Pi Foundation at Bett 2017, the huge annual EdTech event in London. We’ll be at ExCeL London from 25-28 January, and we’ll be running more than 50 workshops and talks over the four days. Whether you’re a school teacher or a community educator, there’s something for you: visit our stand (G460) to discover ways to bring the power of digital making to your classroom and beyond.
Our CEO Philip Colligan will be launching an exciting new free initiative to support educators, live in the Bett Show Arena at 13:25 on Wednesday 25 January. Philip will be joined by a panel of educators who are leading the movement for classroom computing and digital making.
One of our younger community members, Yasmin Bey, delivering a workshop session
Raspberry Pi Stand (G460) – Free workshops, talks, demos, and panel discussions
Find us at our STEAM Village stand (G460) to take part in free physical computing and STEAM workshops, as well as talks led by Raspberry Pi Foundation staff, Raspberry Pi Certified Educators, and other expert community members. We have a huge range of workshops running for all levels of ability, which will give you the opportunity to get hands-on with digital making and gain experience of using the Raspberry Pi in a variety of different ways.
There is no booking system for our workshops. You just need to browse our Bett Show 2017 Workshop Timetable and then turn up before the session. If you miss a workshop and need help with something, don’t worry: the team will be hosting special drop-in sessions at the end of each day to answer all your questions.
Workshop participants will get the chance to grab some exclusive goodies, including a special Educator’s Edition of our MagPi magazine. We also have an awesome maker project for you to take away this year: your very own Raspberry Pi badge, featuring a glowing LED! We’ll supply all the materials: you just need to come and take part in some good old-fashioned digital making.
You can be the proud maker of this badge if you visit our stand
These fantastic free resources will help to get you started with digital making and Raspberry Pi, learn more about our goals as a charity, and give you the confidence to teach others about physical computing.
Our staff members will also be on hand to chat to you about any questions you have about our educational initiatives. Here’s a quick list to get the cogs turning:
Astro Pi: our initiative to enable schools across Europe to send code into space
Code Club: our programme for setting up extra-curricular computing clubs in schools and community spaces
Online training: our new web-based courses for educators on the FutureLearn platform
Picademy: our flagship face-to-face training for educators in the UK and USA
Pioneers: a new initiative that sets digital making challenges for teams of UK teenagers (twelve- to 15-year-olds)
Skycademy: our programme for starting a near-space programme in your school using high-altitude balloons
Talks will be held on the STEAM village stage (pictured) and on our stand throughout Bett
STEAM village sessions
In addition to running workshops and talks on our own stand, we are also holding some sessions on the STEAM village stand next to ours:
13:25 – 13:55
Olympia Brown, Senior Programme Manager, Raspberry Pi Foundation
Pioneers: engaging teenagers in digital making, project-based learning, and STEAM
STEAM Village Stage
12:30 – 13:00
Carrie Anne Philbin, Director of Education, Raspberry Pi Foundation
A digital making curriculum: bridging the STEAM skills gap through creativity and project-based learning
STEAM Village Stage
16:10 – 16:40
Panel chaired by Dr Lucy Rogers, Author, Designer, Maker, and Robot Wars Judge!
These ARE the droids we’re looking for: how the robotics revolution is inspiring a generation of STEAM makers
STEAM Village Stage
11:20 – 11:50
Dave Honess, Astro Pi Programme Manager, Raspberry Pi Foundation
Code in space: engaging students in computer science
STEAM Village Stage
Raspberry Jam and Code Club @ Bett
For the second year running, we are taking over the Technology in HE Summit Space on Saturday 28 January to run two awesome events:
A Raspberry Jam from 10:00 to 12:50. Led by the wonderful Raspberry Pi community, Raspberry Jams are a way to share ideas, collaborate, and learn about digital making and computer science. They take place all over the world, including at the Bett Show! Come along, share your project in our show-and-tell, take part in our workshops, and get help with a project from experts and community members. It’s fun for all the family! Register your interest here.
A Code Club primer session from 13:00 to 15:00. Our regional coordinator for London and the East of England is holding a workshop with a team of young people to show you how to start a Code Club in your school. Come and take part in the live demos and get help with starting your own club.
We’re looking forward to the opportunity to speak to so many different educators from across the world. It’s really important to us to spend time with all of you face-to-face: we want to hear about the great things you’re doing, answer your questions, and learn about the way you work and the challenges you face so we can improve the things we do. We really do value your feedback enormously, so please don’t hesitate for a moment to come over and ask questions, query something, or just say hi! And if you have questions you’d like to ask us ahead of Bett, just leave us a comment below.
Inktober is an ancient and hallowed art tradition, dating all the way back to sometime, when it was started by someone. The idea is simple: draw something in ink every day. Real ink. You know. On paper.
I tried this last year. I quit after four days. Probably because I tried to do it without pencil sketches, and I’m really not very good at drawing things correctly the first time. I’d hoped that forcing myself to do it would spark some improvement, but all it really produced was half a week of frustration and bad artwork.
This year, I was convinced to try again without unnecessarily handicapping myself, so I did that. Three weeks and more than forty ink drawings later, here are some thoughts.
I’ve been fairly lax about learning to use color effectively — I have enough trouble just producing a sketch I like, so I’ve mostly been trying to improve there. Doesn’t feel worth the effort to color a sketch I’m not really happy with, and by the time I’m really happy with it, I’m itching to draw something else. Whoops. Until I get quicker or find some mental workaround, monochrome ink is a good direction to try.
I have an ongoing “daily” pokémon series, so I’ve been continuing that in ink. (Everyone else seems to be using some list of single-word prompts, but I didn’t even know about that until after I’d started, so, whoops.)
I’ve got a few things I want to get better at:
Detailing, whatever that means. Part of the problem is that I’m not sure what it means. My art is fairly simple and cartoony, and I know it’s possible to be more detailed without doing realistic shading, but I don’t have a grasp of how to think about that.
Better edges, which mostly means line weight. I mentally categorize this as a form of scale, which also includes tips like “don’t let parallel lines get too close together” and “don’t draw one or two very small details”.
Better backgrounds and environments. Or, let’s be honest, any backgrounds and environments — I draw an awful lot of single characters floating in an empty white void. My fixed-size canvas presents an obvious and simple challenge: fill the page!
More interesting poses, and relatedly, getting a better hang of anatomy. I started drawing the pokémon series partly for this reason: a great many pokémon have really unusual shapes I’ve tried drawing before. Dealing with weird anatomy and trying to map it to my existing understanding should hopefully flex some visualization muscles.
Lighting, probably? I’m aware that things not facing a light source are in shadow, but my understanding doesn’t extend very far beyond that. How does light affect a large outdoor area? How can you represent the complexity of light and shadow with only a single pen? Art, especially cartoony art, has an entire vocabulary of subtle indicators of shadow and volume that I don’t know much about.
I’ve drawn plenty of pencil sketches on paper, and I’ve done a few watercolors, but I’ve never done this volume of “serious” art on paper before.
All my inks so far are in a 3.5” × 5” sketchbook. I’ll run out of pages in a few days, at which point I’ll finish up the month in a bigger sketchbook. It’s been a mixed blessing: I have less page to fill, but details are smaller and more fiddly, so mistakes are more obvious. I also don’t have much room for error with the composition.
I started out drawing with a small black Faber–Castell “PITT artist pen”. Around day five, I borrowed C3 and C7 (light and dark cool greys) Copic sketch markers from Mel; later I got a C5 as well. A few days ago I bought a Lamy Safari fountain pen with Noodler’s Heart of Darkness ink.
Both the FC pen and the fountain pen are ultimately still pens, but they have some interesting differences in edge cases. Used very lightly at an extreme angle, the FC pen produces very scratchy-looking lines… sometimes. Sometimes it does nothing instead, and you must precariously tilt the pen until you find the magical angle, hoping you don’t suddenly get a solid line where you didn’t want it. The Lamy has been much more consistent: it’s a little more willing to draw thinner lines than it’s intended for, and it hasn’t created any unpleasant surprises. The Lamy feels much smoother overall, like it flows, which is appropriate since that’s how fountain pens work.
Markers are interesting. The last “serious” art I did on paper was watercolor, which is pretty fun — I can water a color down however much I want, and if I’m lucky and fast, I can push color around on the paper a bit before it dries. Markers, ah, not so much. Copics are supposed to be blendable, but I’ve yet to figure out how to make that happen. It might be that my sketchbook’s paper is too thin, but the ink seems to dry within seconds, too fast for me to switch markers and do much of anything. For the same reason, I have to color an area by… “flood-filling”? I can’t let the edge of the colored area dry, or when I go back to extend that edge, I’ll be putting down a second layer of ink and create an obvious dark band. I’ve learned to keep the edge wet as much as possible.
On the plus side, going over dry ink in the same color will darken it, and I’ve squeezed several different shades of gray out of just the light marker. The brush tip can be angled in several different ways to make different shapes; I’ve managed a grassy background and a fur texture just by holding the marker differently. Marker ink does bleed very slightly, but it tends to stop at pen ink, a feature I’ve wanted in digital art for at least a century. I can also kinda make strokes that fade out by moving the marker quickly and lifting it off the paper as I go; surely there are more clever things to be done here, but I’ve yet to figure them out.
The drawing of bergmite above was done as the light marker started to run dry, which is not a problem I was expecting. The marker still worked, but not very well. The strokes on the cave wall in the background aren’t a deliberate effect; those are the strokes the marker was making, and I tried to use them as best I could. I didn’t have the medium marker yet, and the dark marker is very dark — almost black. I’d already started laying down marker, so I couldn’t very well finish the picture with just the pen, and I had to improvise.
I have to be pretty careful about what I draw, which creates a bit of a conflict. If I make smooth, confident strokes, I’m likely to fuck them up, and I can’t undo and try again. If I make a lot of short strokes, I get those tell-tale amateurish scratchy lines. If I trace my sketch very carefully and my hand isn’t perfectly steady, the resulting line will be visibly shaky.
I probably exacerbated the shaky lines with my choice of relatively small paper; there’s no buffer between those tiny wobbles and the smallest level of detail in the drawing itself. I can’t always even see where my tiny sketch is going, because my big fat fingers are in the way.
I’ve also had the problem that my sketch is such a mess that I can’t tell where a line is supposed to be going… until I’ve drawn it and it’s obviously wrong. Again, small paper exacerbates this by compressing sketches.
Since I can’t fix mistakes, I’ve had to be a little creative about papering over them.
I did one ink with very stark contrast: shadows were completely filled with ink, highlights were bare paper. No shading, hatching, or other middle ground. I’d been meaning to try the approach anyway, but I finally did it after making three or four glaring mistakes. In the final work, they’re all hidden in shadow, so you can’t really tell anything ever went wrong.
I’ve managed to disguise several mistakes of the “curved this line too early” variety just by adding some more parallel strokes and pretending I intended to hatch it all along.
One of the things I’ve been trying to figure out is varying line weight, and one way to vary it is to make edges thicker when in shadows. A clever hack has emerged here.
You see, it’s much easier for me to draw an upwards arc than a downwards arc. (I think this is fairly universal?) I can of course just rotate the paper, but if I’m drawing a cylinder, it’s pretty obvious when the top was drawn with a slight bias in one direction and the bottom was drawn with a slight bias in the other direction.
My lifehack is to draw the top and bottom with the paper oriented the same way, then gradually thicken the bottom, “carving” it into the right shape as I go. I can make a lot of small adjustments and still end up with a single smooth line that looks more or less deliberate.
As a last resort… leave it and hope no one notices. That’s what I did for the floatzel above, who has a big fat extra stroke across their lower stomach. It’s in one of the least interesting parts of the picture, though, so it doesn’t really stand out, even though it’s on one of the lightest surfaces.
Ink drawings feel like they’ve consumed my entire month. Sketching and then lining means drawing everything twice. Using physical ink means I have to nail the sketch — but I’m used to digital, where I can sketch sloppily and then fixing up lines as I go. I also can’t rearrange the sketch, move it around on the paper if I started in the wrong place, or even erase precisely, so I’ve had to be much more careful and thoughtful even with pencil. That’s a good thing — I don’t put nearly enough conscious thought into what I’m drawing — but it definitely takes longer. In a few thorny cases I’ve even resorted to doing a very loose digital sketch, then drawing the pencil sketch based off of that.
All told, each one takes maybe two hours, and I’ve been doing two at a time… but wait, that’s still only four hours, right? How are they taking most of a day?
I suspect a bunch of factors are costing me more time than expected. If I can’t think of a scene idea, I’ll dawdle on Twitter for a while. Two “serious” attempts in a medium I’m not used to can be a little draining and require a refractory period. Fragments of time between or around two larger tasks are, of course, lost forever. And I guess there’s that whole thing where I spent half the month waking up in the middle of the night for no reason and then being exhausted by late evening.
Occasionally I’ve experimented with some approach that turns out to be incredibly tedious and time-consuming, like the early Gardevoir above. You would not believe how long that damn grass took. Or maybe you would, if you’d ever tried similar. Even the much lazier tree-covered mountain in the background seemed to take a while. And this is on a fairly small canvas!
I’m feeling a bit exhausted with ink work at this point, which is not the best place to be after buying a bunch of ink supplies. I definitely want to do more of it in the future, but maybe not daily. I also miss being able to undo. Sweet, sweet undo.
I’m not a particularly patient person, so I like to jump from the sketch into the inking as soon as possible. Sometimes this means I overlook some details. Here’s that whole “not consciously thinking enough” thing again. Consider, in the above image,
The two buildings at the top right are next to each other, yet the angles of their roofs suggest they’re facing in slightly different directions, which doesn’t make a lot of sense for artificial structures.
The path leading from the dock doesn’t quite make sense, and the general scale of the start of the dock versus the shrubs and trees is nonsense. The trees themselves are pretty cool, but it looks like I plopped them down individually without really having a full coherent plan going in. Which is exactly what happened.
Imagining spaces in enough detail to draw them is tough, and not something I’ve really had to do much before. It’s ultimately the same problem I have with game level design, though, so hopefully a breakthrough in one will help me with the other.
Phantump’s left eye has a clear white edge showing the depth of the hole in the trunk, but the right eye’s edge was mostly lost to some errant strokes and subsequent attempts to fix them. Also, even the left margin is nowhere near as thick as the trunk’s bottom edge.
The crosshatched top of phantump’s head blends into the noisy grassy background. The fix for this is to leave a thin white edge around the top of the head. I think I intended to do this, then completely forgot about it as I was drawing the grass. I suppose I’m not used to reasoning about negative space; I can’t mark or indicate it in any way, nor erase the ink if I later realize I laid down too much.
The pupils don’t quite match, but I’d already carved them down a good bit. Negative space problem again. Highlights on dark areas have been a recurring problem all month, especially with markers.
I have no idea how people make beautifully precise inkwork. At the same time, I’ve long had the suspicion that I worry too much about precision and should be a lot looser. I’m missing something here, and I don’t know what it is.
This is a wigglytuff. Wigglytuffs are tall blobs with ears.
I had such a hard time sketching this. (Probably why I rushed the background.)
It turns out that if you draw a wigglytuff even slightly off, the result is a tall blob with ears rather than a wigglytuff. That makes no sense, especially given that wigglytuffs are balloons. Surely, the shape shouldn’t be such a strong part of the wigglytuff identity, and yet it is.
Maybe half of the pokémon I’ve drawn have had some anatomical surprise, even ones I thought I was familiar with. Aerodactyl and huntail have a really pronounced lower jaw. Palpitoad has no arms at all. Pelipper is 70% mouth. Zangoose seems like a straightforward mammal at first glance, but the legs and body and head are all kind of a single blob. Numerous pokémon have no distinct neck, or no distinct shoulders, or a very round abdomen with legs kind of arbitrarily attached somewhere.
I don’t know what precisely I’ve gotten out of this experience. I can’t measure artistic progress from one day to the next. I do feel like I’ve gleaned some things, but they seem to be very abstract things. I’m out of the total beginner weeds and solidly into the intermediate hell of just picking up hundreds of little things no one really talks about. All I can do is cross my fingers and push forwards.
The crowd favorite so far is this mega rayquaza, which is kinda funny to me because I don’t feel like I did anything special here. I just copied a bunch of fiddly details. It looks cool, but it felt more like rote work than a struggle to do a new thing.
My own favorite is this much simpler qwilfish. It’s the culmination of several attempts to draw water that I liked, and it came out the best by far. The highlight is also definitely the best I’ve drawn this month. Interesting how that works out.
Over the next three days, we have 30 educators arriving at Pi Towers to learn how to build, launch, and track a High Altitude Balloon (HAB). For the uninitiated, Skycademy 2016 is our second CPD event which provides experience of launching balloons to educators, showing them how this can be used for an inspiring, project-based learning experience.
This is my first year preparing for Skycademy, and it has been a steep but worthwhile learning curve. Launching a HAB combines aspects of maths, physics, computing, design and technology, and geography, and the sheer scope of the project means that it’s rare for school-age children to get these types of experiences. It’s great news, then, that Raspberry Pi have the in-house skills, ambition, and commitment to run such things, and train others to run them too.
Skycademy runs over three days: on the first day, delegates form teams and take part in several workshops aimed at planning and building their flight. Day Two sees them launch, track, and recover their payload. Day Three has them regroup to reflect and plan for the year ahead. The support doesn’t end there: our Skycademy graduates go on to take part in a year-long project that will see them launch flights at their own schools and organisations, helped by their own students.
Tracking tomorrow’s launch
If you’re interested in watching the launch tomorrow, you can follow our progress by searching for #skycademy on Twitter. You can also use the links below to track the progress of different teams. Today, you will begin to see their payloads appearing on the map, and tomorrow you’ll be able to follow the chase.
Our current launch plan is to set the balloons free slightly to the west of Cambridge around 10am, but we’ll be posting updates to Twitter.
If you aren’t lucky enough to be taking part in Skycademy today, don’t worry: we’ll be making lots of resources available in the near future for anyone to access and run their own flights. Alternatively, you can also visit Dave Akerman’s website for lots of HAB information and guides to get you started.
Welcome to Dan Fisher’s ‘Fun with HABs’
I recently found out what lay in store for our latest crop of educators when I took part in a test launch two weeks ago…
We made our way to the launch site at Elsworth, Cambridgeshire, feeling nervous and excited. We arrived at 09.30, as experts Dave Akerman and Steve Randall were already starting to assemble their kit. The hope was that we might actually be able to break the world record for the highest amateur unmanned balloon flight. Dave and Steve are continually leapfrogging each other for this title.
The payload Dave is making in the picture weighs about 250g and consists of a Raspberry Pi A+ connected to Pi-In-The-Sky (PITS) and LoRa boards. The lighter the payload, the higher the potential altitude. The boards broadcast packets of data back to earth, which can be decoded by our tracking equipment.
Surprisingly, the payload’s chassis assembly is hardly high-tech: a polystyrene capsule gaffer-taped to some nylon cord and balsa wood, to which the balloon and parachute are attached. For this launch, Dave and Steve used hydrogen rather than helium, as it enables you to achieve higher altitudes. Having no previous experience working with pure hydrogen, I had visions of some kind of disaster happening.
We weighed the payload to calculate how much hydrogen we would need to fill the balloon and ensure the correct ascent rate. Too much hydrogen means the balloon ascends too quickly and might burst early. Too little hydrogen results in a slow balloon which might not burst at all, and could float away and be lost.
After Dave filled the balloon with hydrogen, we attached the real payload (lots more gaffer tape) and we were ready for a good ol’ launch ‘n’ track. However, as is often the case, it didn’t exactly go to plan…
Home, home on the range
Picture the scene: two Raspberry Pi staffers are driving off-road through a military firing range. Behind the wheel is Dave Akerman, grinning broadly.
“It’s so much more interesting when they don’t just land in a ditch,” he says, speeding the SUV over another pothole.
We’ve tracked our high altitude balloon for two hours to an area of land in Thetford Forest, Norfolk which is used for live ammo practice: not somewhere you’d want to go without permission. Access is looking unlikely until we get a call from the nearby army base’s ops team: we’re in. We make our way past the firing range and into the woods.
After tracking as far as we can by car, we continue on foot until we spot the payload about ten metres up in a fir tree with very few branches. There’s no way of climbing up. Fortunately, Dave has come armed with the longest telescopic pole I’ve ever seen. It even has a hook on the business end for snagging the parachute’s cords. I act as a spotter as Dave manoeuvres the pole into position and tugs the payload free.
Giddy with the unexpected success of our recovery, we head back to the SUV and make for the exit, only to find we’ve been locked in. Scenarios where we’ve unwittingly become contestants in the next Hunger Games cross my mind. Armed only with long plastic poles, I worry we might be early casualties.
After feverish calls to the base again, they agree to come out and free us: a man in a MoD jacket dramatically smashes the lock with a hammer. We race back to Cambridge HQ, payload in hand and with a story to tell.
Get your free poster and mission patch exclusively in the print edition of The MagPi 47!
We’ve been avidly following Tim Peake’s adventures in space in The MagPi for the last six months, especially all the excellent work he’s been doing with the Astro Pis running code from school students across the UK. Tim returned to Earth a couple of weeks ago, so we thought we’d celebrate in The MagPi 47 with a massive feature about his time in space, along with the results of the Astro Pi experiments and the project’s future…
The space celebration doesn’t stop there: print copies of The MagPi 47 come with an exclusive Astro Pi mission patch and a Tim Peake Astro Pi poster!
The results of what Tim, Ed, and Izzy have been up to for the past six months
The issue also has our usual range of excellent tutorials, from programming dinosaurs to creating motion sensor games and optical illusions. We also have the hottest news on high-altitude balloons and how you can get involved in sending a Pi to the edge of space, as well as the details on the next Pi Wars Pi-powered robot competition.
You can get your latest spaceworthy issue in-store from WH Smith, Tesco, Sainsburys, and Asda. Our American cousins will be able to buy issues from Barnes & Noble and Micro Center when the issue makes its way over there. It’s also available right now in print on our online store, which delivers internationally. If you prefer digital, it’s ready to download on the Android and iOS apps.
Get a free Pi Zero Want to make sure you never miss an issue? Subscribe today and start with issue 47 to not only get the poster and mission patch, but also a Pi Zero bundle featuring the new, camera-enabled Pi Zero and a cable bundle that includes the camera adapter.
Free Pi Zeros and posters: what’s not to love about a MagPi subscription?
Free Creative Commons download As always, you can download your copy of The MagPi completely free. Grab it straight from the issue page for The MagPi 47.
Don’t forget, though, 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. Help us democratise computing!
This is not the end of Astro Pi. It’s only the beginning.
Liz: As some of you clever people have pointed out, the new Pi Zero with camera connector might have been designed with one person very much in mind. That person’s Dave “high-altitude ballooning” Akerman. We got one to him before they went on shelves so he could schedule a flight for launch day. Here’s Dave to tell you what happened (spoiler: he’s got another record for the highest amateur live-transmitted pictures). Thanks Dave!
As many reading this will know, I flew the new Pi Zero on the day it was announced, in order to test a prototype of our new PITS-Zero tracker board. I’d been pleading with Eben since I first saw a prototype of the original Pi Zero, that its low weight would be ideal for live-imaging HAB applications, if only it had a camera port. The camera is much the entire reason for using a Pi for HAB – if you don’t want pictures then a smaller/lighter/simpler AVR or PIC microcontroller will easily do the job (and with less battery power) – so I felt that the CSI-less Pi Zero was a missed opportunity. Eben agreed, and said he would try to make it happen.
So, when I received a sample Pi Zero with CSI port, I was keen to try it out. However launching an unreleased device, to possibly parachute down in front of a curious Pi fan, might not be the best idea in the world, so I had to wait. Fortunately the wind predictions were good for a balloon launch on the Pi Zero CSI launch day, and the flight went well albeit the burst was rather lower than predicted (balloons vary).
I had hoped to fly the new Sony camera for the Pi, but in testing the camera would become invisible to raspistill after about 2 hours and roughly 2-300 photos. 2 hours isn’t long enough for a regular flight, and mine was expected to take more than 3 hours just to ascend, so this wasn’t good. I searched the Pi forum and found that a couple of people using time-lapse photography had found the same issue, and as it was a new issue with no fix or workaround yet, I had to opt for the Omnivision camera instead. This of course gave me a reason to fly the same tracker again as soon as there was a solution for the Sony firmware issue; once there was I tested it, and planned my next flight.
Waiting For Baudot
"It's currently a problem of access to gigabits through punybaud"
I’ve written previously about LoRa, but the key points about these Long Range Radio Modules when compared to the old (first used from the air in 1922) RTTY system are:
Higher data rates
Longer range with the same rate/power
Can receive as well as transmit
Low host CPU requirements even for receiving
The higher data rates mean that we can send larger images more quickly (throughput is up to 56 times that of 300 baud RTTY), and the receiving capability makes it easy to have the payload respond to messages sent up from the ground. For this flight, those messages are used to request the tracker to re-send any missing packets (ones that the receiving stations didn’t hear), thus reducing the number of annoying missing image sections down to about zero. To give you an idea of the improvement, the following single large picture was sent in about a quarter of the time taken by the inset picture (from my first Pi flight, and at the same pixel scale):
LCARS Chase Car Computer
For this flight, I tried out my new chase-car computer. This has a Pi B V2, Pi touchscreen, LoRa module, GPS receiver and WLAN (to connect to a MiFi in the chase car). The user interface mimics the Star Trek LCARS panels, and was written in Python with PyQt. It receives telemetry both locally (LoRa, or RTTY via a separate PC) and also from the central UKHAS server if connected via GSM.
As per the previous Pi Zero flight, this was under a 1600g balloon filled with hydrogen. Predicted burst altitude was 42km, and I hoped that this time it might achieve that! The payload was the same as last time:
except of course for the new Sony camera (manually focused for infinity, but not beyond) and a new set of batteries.
On the launch day the weather was overcast but forecast to improve a little, so I decided to wait for a gap in the clouds. When that came, the wind did too (that wasn’t forecast!), which made filling the balloon interesting.
No, my head hasn’t turned into a giant clove of garlic.
Fortunately, the wind did drop for launch, and the balloon ascended towards the gap I’d mentioned in the clouds:
The LoRa system worked well (especially once I remembered to enable the “missing packet re-send” software!), with the new camera acquitting itself well. I used ImageMagick onboard to apply some gamma to the images (to replace contrast lost in the atmosphere) and to provide a telemetry overlay, including this one, which I believe is the highest image sent down live from an amateur balloon.
Burst was a few metres later, comfortably beating my previous highest live-image flight.
And this was the last image it sent. I guessed why. Remember the camera stuck to the outside? My guess was that after burst – when the payload suddenly finds itself without support – the line up to the balloon found its way behind the camera which it then removed as the balloon remnants pulled on it. So, I can’t show you any images from the descent, but I can show you this shot of the Severn Estuary (processed to improve contrast) from the ascent:
In the chase car, I stopped at a point with a good view towards the landing area, so I could get the best (lowest) last position I could. With the payload transmitting both LoRa and RTTY, I had my LCARS Pi receiving the former, and a Yaesu 817 with laptop PC receiving the latter. With no images, the LoRa side dropped to sending telemetry only, which was handy as I was able to receive a lot of packets as the balloon descended. Overall LoRa seemed to be much more reliable from the car than RTTY did, despite the much higher data rate, and I now would be quite happy to chase a balloon transmitting high bandwidth LoRa and nothing else.
With the final position logged, I carefully tapped that into the car sat nav and then drove off to get the payload back. 10 minutes later I remembered that I’d coded exactly that function into my LCARS program! 2 screen-taps later, I had on-screen navigation (via Navit); I would also have had voice navigation but I hadn’t connected a speaker yet.
Both Navit and the car sat nav took me to a hill with the payload about 300 metres away. I waited for another HABber to arrive – his first time chasing – and meantime I updated the other enthusiasts online, and took some photographs of the scenery; Shropshire is very pretty.
Once Andy arrived, we walked down to the payload, watched (as often the case) by the local populace:
Ewe looking at me?
As expected, the camera was missing, so if anyone wants a free Sony Pi camera, I can give you a 5-mile radius area to search.
You don’t need CSI to see what went wrong here …
A lot of the balloon was still attached, which helps to explain how the camera was forcibly removed:
So, a nice flight and recovery. The Sony camera worked well; 868 LoRa worked well; the LCARS chase car tracker worked well. Next time, more duct tape!
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