Three soldiers from Blandford Camp have successfully designed and built an autonomous robot as part of their Foreman of Signals Course at the Dorset Garrison.
Forces Radio BFBS carried a story last week about Staff Sergeant Jolley, Sergeant Rana, and Sergeant Paddon, also known as the “Project ROVER” team. As part of their Foreman of Signals training, their task was to design an autonomous robot that can move between two specified points, take a temperature reading, and transmit the information to a remote computer. The team comments that, while semi-autonomous robots have been used as far back as 9/11 for tasks like finding people trapped under rubble, nothing like their robot and on a similar scale currently exists within the British Army.
The ROVER buggy
Their build is named ROVER, which stands for Remote Obstacle aVoiding Environment Robot. It’s a buggy that moves on caterpillar tracks, and it’s tethered; we wonder whether that might be because it doesn’t currently have an on-board power supply. A demo shows the robot moving forward, then changing its path when it encounters an obstacle. The team is using RealVNC‘s remote access software to allow ROVER to send data back to another computer.
Applications for ROVER
Dave Ball, Senior Lecturer in charge of the Foreman of Signals course, comments that the project is “a fantastic opportunity for [the team] to, even only halfway through the course, showcase some of the stuff they’ve learnt and produce something that’s really quite exciting.” The Project ROVER team explains that the possibilities for autonomous robots like this one are extensive: they include mine clearance, bomb disposal, and search-and-rescue campaigns. They point out that existing semi-autonomous hardware is not as easy to program as their build. In contrast, they say, “with the invention of the Raspberry Pi, this has allowed three very inexperienced individuals to program a robot very capable of doing these things.”
We make Raspberry Pi computers because we want building things with technology to be as accessible as possible. So it’s great to see a project like this, made by people who aren’t techy and don’t have a lot of computing experience, but who want to solve a problem and see that the Pi is an affordable and powerful tool that can help.
Here we are, hauling ourselves out of the Christmas and New Year holidays and into January proper. It’s dawning on me that I have to go back to work, even though it’s still very cold and gloomy in northern Europe, and even though my duvet is lovely and warm. I found myself envying beings that hibernate, and thinking about beings that hibernate, and searching for things to do with hedgehogs. And, well, the long and the short of it is, today’s blog post is a short meditation on the hedgehog cam.
Someone called Barker has installed a Raspberry Pi–based hedgehog cam in a location with a distant view of a famous Alp, and as well as providing live views by visible and infrared light for the dedicated and the insomniac, they also make a sped-up version of the previous night’s activity available. With hedgehogs usually being in hibernation during January, you mightn’t see them in any current feed — but don’t worry! You’re guaranteed a few hedgehogs on Barker’s website, because they have also thrown in some lovely GIFs of hoggy (and foxy) divas that their camera captured in the past.
Or, if you’re thinking that a robot mascot is more dependable than real animals for the fluffiness you need in order to start your January with something like productivity and with your soul intact, you might like to put your own spin on our robot buggy.
While we’re on the subject of getting to grips with the new year, do take a look at yesterday’s blog post, in which we suggest a New Year’s project that’s different from the usual resolutions. However you tackle 2018, we wish you an excellent year of creative computing.
On 4 and 5 March 2017, more than 1,800 people got together in Cambridge to celebrate five years of Raspberry Pi and Code Club. We had cake, code, robots, explosions, and unicorn face paint. It was all kinds of awesome.
It’s hard to believe that it was only five years ago that we launched the first Raspberry Pi computer. Back then, our ambitions stretched to maybe a few tens of thousands of units, and our hope was simply that we could inspire more young people to study computer science.
Fast forward to 2017 and the Raspberry Pi is the third most successful computing platform of all time, with more than twelve and a half million units used by makers, educators, scientists, and entrepreneurs all over the world (you can read more about this in our Annual Review).
On 28 February, we announced the latest addition to our family of devices, the Raspberry Pi Zero W, which brings wireless connectivity and Bluetooth to the Pi Zero for an astonishing $10. You seemed to like it: in the four days between the product launch and the first day of the Birthday Party, we sold more than 100,000 units. We absolutely love seeing all the cool things you’re building with them!
Celebrating our community
Low-cost, high-performance computers are a big part of the story, but they’re not the whole story. One of the most remarkable things about Raspberry Pi is the amazing community that has come together around the idea that more people should have the skills and confidence to get creative with technology.
For every person working for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, there are hundreds and thousands of community members outside the organisation who advance that mission every day. They run Raspberry Jams, volunteer at Code Clubs, write educational resources, moderate our forums, and so much more. The Birthday Party is one of the ways that we celebrate what they’ve achieved and say thank you to them for everything they’ve done.
Over the two days of the celebration, there were 57 workshops and talks from community members, including several that were designed and run by young people. I managed to listen to more of the talks this year, and I was really impressed by the breadth of subjects covered and the expertise on display.
Thanks to my panel of @raspberry_pi certified educators – you are all amazing! #piparty https://t.co/0psnTEnfxq
One of the goals for this year’s event was to give everyone the opportunity to get hands-on experience of digital making and, even if you weren’t able to get a place at one of the sold-out workshops, there were heaps of drop-in and ask-the-expert sessions, giving everyone the chance to get involved.
The marketplace was one of this year’s highlights: it featured more than 20 exhibitors including the awesome Pimoroni and Pi Hut, as well as some great maker creations, from the Tech Wishing Well to a game of robot football. It was great to see so many young people inspired by other people’s makes.
Code Club’s celebrations
As I mentioned before, this year’s party was very much a joint celebration, marking five years of both Raspberry Pi and Code Club.
Since its launch in 2012, Code Club has established itself as one of the largest networks of after-school clubs in the world. As well as celebrating the milestone of 5,000 active Code Clubs in the UK, it was a real treat to welcome Code Club’s partners from across the world, including Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, France, New Zealand, South Korea, and Ukraine.
Representatives of Code Club International, up for a birthday party!
Our amazing team
There are so many people to thank for making our fifth Birthday Party such a massive success. The Cambridge Junction was a fantastic venue with a wonderful team (you can support their work here). Our friends at RealVNC provided generous sponsorship and practical demonstrations. ModMyPi packed hundreds of swag bags with swag donated by all of our exhibitors. Fuzzy Duck Brewery did us proud with another batch of their Irrational Ale.
We’re hugely grateful to Sam Aaron and Fran Scott who provided the amazing finales on Saturday and Sunday. No party is quite the same without an algorave and a lot of explosions.
Most of all, I want to say a massive thank you to all of our volunteers and community members: you really did make the Birthday Party possible, and we couldn’t have done it without you.
One of the things we stand for at Raspberry Pi is making computing and digital making accessible to all. There’s a long way to go before we can claim that we’ve achieved that goal, but it was fantastic to see so much genuine diversity on display.
Probably the most important piece of feedback I heard about the weekend was how welcoming it felt for people who were new to the movement. That is entirely down to the generous, open culture that has been created by our community. Thank you all.
In today’s guest blog, Andy Clark, Engineering Manager at RealVNC, introduces VNC Connect: a brand-new, and free, version of VNC that makes it simple to connect securely to your Raspberry Pi from anywhere in the world.
Since September 2016, every version of Raspbian has come with the built-in ability to remotely access and control your Raspberry Pi’s screen from another computer, using a technology called VNC. As the original inventors of this technology, RealVNC were happy to partner with Raspberry Pi to provide the community with the latest and most secure version of VNC for free.
We’re always looking to improve things, and one criticism of VNC technology over the years has been its steep learning curve. In particular, you need a bit of networking knowledge in order to connect to a Pi on the same network, and a heck of a lot to get a connection working across the internet!
This is why we developed VNC Connect, a brand-new version of VNC that allows you not only to make direct connections within your own networks, but also to make secure cloud-brokered connections back to your computer from anywhere in the world, with no specialist networking knowledge needed.
I’m delighted to announce that VNC Connect is available for Raspberry Pi, and from today is included in the Raspbian repositories. What’s more, we’ve added some extra features and functionality tailored to the Raspberry Pi community, and it’s all still free for non-commercial and educational use.
‘Back to my Pi’ and direct connections
The main change in VNC Connect is the ability to connect back to your Raspberry Pi from anywhere in the world, from a wide range of devices, without any complex port forwarding or IP addressing configuration. Our cloud service brokers a secure, end-to-end encrypted connection back to your Pi, letting you take control simply and securely from wherever you happen to be.
While this convenience is great for a lot of our standard home users, it’s not enough for the demands of the Raspberry Pi community! The Raspberry Pi is a great educational platform, and gets used in inventive and non-standard ways all the time. So on the Raspberry Pi, you can still make direct TCP connections the way you’ve always done with VNC. This way, you can have complete control over your project and learn all about IP networking if you want, or you can choose the simplicity of a cloud-brokered connection if that’s what you need.
Simpler connection management
Choosing the computer to connect to using VNC has historically been a fiddly process, requiring you to remember IP addresses or hostnames, or use a separate application to keep track of things. With VNC Connect we’ve introduced a new VNC Viewer with a built-in address book and enhanced UI, making it much simpler and quicker to manage your devices and connections. You now have the option of securely saving passwords for frequently used connections, and you can synchronise your entries with other VNC Viewers, making it easier to access your Raspberry Pi from other computers, tablets, or mobile devices.
Direct capture performance improvements
We’ve been working hard to make improvements to the experimental ‘direct capture’ feature of VNC Connect that’s unique to the Raspberry Pi. This feature allows you to see and control applications that render directly to the screen, like Minecraft, omxplayer, or even the terminal. You should find that performance of VNC in direct capture mode has improved, and is much more usable for interactive tasks.
Getting VNC Connect
VNC Connect is available in the Raspbian repositories from today, so running the following commands at a terminal will install it:
We’ve loved working with the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the community over the past few years, and making VNC Connect available for free on the Raspberry Pi is just the next phase of our ongoing relationship.
We’d love to get your feedback on Twitter, in the forums, or in the comments below. We’ll be at the Raspberry Pi Big Birthday Weekend again this year on 4-5 March in Cambridge, so please come and say hi and let us know how you use VNC Connect!
It was just over two years ago when I walked into Pi Towers for the first time. I only had the vaguest idea of what I was going to be doing, but on the first day Eben and I sat down and played with the Raspbian desktop for half an hour, then he asked me “do you think you can make it better?”
Bear in mind that at this point I’d barely ever used Linux or Xwindows, never mind made any changes to them, so when I answered “hmmm – I think so”, it was with rather more confidence than I actually felt. It was obvious that there was a lot that could be done in terms of making it a better experience for the user, and I spent many years working in user interface design in previous jobs. But I had no idea where to start in terms of changing Raspbian. I clearly had a bit of a learning curve in front of me…
Well, that was two years ago, and I’ve learnt an awful lot since then. It’s actually surprisingly easy to hack about with the LXDE desktop once you get your head around what all the bits do, and since then I’ve been slowly chipping away at the bits that I felt would most benefit from tweaking. Stuff has slowly been becoming more and more like my original concept for the desktop; with the latest changes, I think the desktop has reached the point where it’s a complete product in its own right and should have its own name. So today, we’re announcing the release of the PIXEL desktop, which will ship with the Foundation’s Raspbian image from now on.
One of the things I said (at least partly in jest) to my colleagues in those first few weeks was that I’d quite like to rename the desktop environment once it was a bit more Pi-specific, and I had the name “pixel” in my mind about two weeks in. It was a nice reminder of my days learning to program in BASIC on the Sinclair ZX81; nowadays, everything from your TV to your phone has pixels on it, but back then it was a uniquely “computer-y” word and concept. I also like crosswords and word games, and once it occurred to me that “pixel” could be made up from the initials of words like Pi and Xwindows, the name stuck in my head and never quite went away. So PIXEL it is, which now officially stands for “Pi Improved Xwindows Environment, Lightweight”.
The latest set of changes are almost entirely to do with the appearance of the desktop; there are some functional changes and a few new applications, about which more below, but this is mostly about making things look nicer.
The first thing you’ll notice on rebooting is that the trail of cryptic boot messages has (mostly) gone, replaced by a splash screen. One feature which has frequently been requested is an obvious version number for our Raspbian image, and this can now be seen at the bottom-right of the splash image. We’ll update this whenever we release a new version of the image, so it should hopefully be slightly easier to know exactly what version you’re running in future.
I should mention that the code for the splash screen has been carefully written and tested, and should not slow down the Pi’s boot process; the time to go from powering on to the desktop appearing is identical, whether the splash is shown or not.
Once the desktop appears, the first thing you’ll notice is the rather stunning background image. We’re very fortunate in that Greg Annandale, one of the Foundation’s developers, is also a very talented (and very well-travelled) photographer, and he has kindly allowed us to use some of his work as desktop pictures for PIXEL. There are 16 images to choose from; you can find them in /usr/share/pixel-wallpaper/, and you can use the Appearance Settings application to choose which one you prefer. Do have a look through them, as Greg’s work is well worth seeing! If you’re curious, the EXIF data in each image will tell you where it was taken.
You’ll also notice that the icons on the taskbar, menu, and file manager have had a makeover. Sam Alder and Alex Carter, the guys responsible for all the cartoons and graphics you see on our website, have been sweating blood over these for the last few months, with Eben providing a watchful eye to make sure every pixel was exactly the right colour! We wanted something that looked businesslike enough to be appropriate for those people who use the Pi desktop for serious work, but with just a touch of playfulness, and Sam and Alex did a great job. (Some of the icons you don’t see immediately are even nicer; it’s almost worth installing some education or engineering applications just so those categories appear in the menu…)
Speaking of icons, the default is now not to show icons in individual application menus. These always made menus look a bit crowded, and didn’t really offer any improvement in usability, not least because it wasn’t always that obvious what the icon was supposed to represent… The menus look cleaner and more readable as a result, since the lack of visual clutter now makes them easier to use.
Finally on the subject of icons, in the past if your Pi was working particularly hard, you might have noticed some yellow and red squares appearing in the top-right corner of the screen, which were indications of overtemperature or undervoltage. These have now been replaced with some new symbols that make it a bit more obvious what’s actually happening; there’s a lightning bolt for undervoltage, and a thermometer for overtemperature.
If you open a window, you’ll see that the window frame design has now changed significantly. The old window design always looked a bit dated compared to what Apple and Microsoft are now shipping, so I was keen to update it. Windows now have a subtle curve on the corners, a cleaner title bar with new close / minimise / maximise icons, and a much thinner frame. One reason the frame was quite thick on the old windows was so that the grab handles for resizing were big enough to find with the mouse. To avoid this problem, the grab handles now extend slightly outside the window; if you hold the mouse pointer just outside the window which has focus, you’ll see the pointer change to show the handle.
Steve Jobs said that one thing he was insistent on about the Macintosh was that its typography was good, and it’s true that using the right fonts makes a big difference. We’ve been using the Roboto font in the desktop for the last couple of years; it’s a nice-looking modern font, and it hasn’t changed for this release. However, we have made it look better in PIXEL by including the Infinality font rendering package. This is a library of tweaks and customisations that optimises how fonts are mapped to pixels on the screen; the effect is quite subtle, but it does give a noticeable improvement in some places.
Most people have their Pi set up to automatically log in when the desktop starts, as this is the default setting for a new install. For those who prefer to log in manually each time, the login screen has been redesigned to visually match the rest of the desktop; you now see the login box (known as the “greeter”) over your chosen desktop design, with a seamless transition from greeter to desktop.
Wireless power switching
One request we have had in the past is to be able to shut off WiFi and/or Bluetooth completely, particularly on Pi 3. There are now options in the WiFi and Bluetooth menus to turn off the relevant devices. These work on the Pi 3’s onboard wireless hardware; they should also work on most external WiFi and Bluetooth dongles.
You can also now disconnect from an associated wireless access point by clicking on its entry in the WiFi menu.
There are a couple of new applications now included in the image.
RealVNC have ported their VNC server and viewer applications to Pi, and they are now integrated with the system. To enable the server, select the option on the Interfaces tab in Raspberry Pi Configuration; you’ll see the VNC menu appear on the taskbar, and you can then log in to your Pi and control it remotely from a VNC viewer.
The RealVNC viewer is also included – you can find it from the Internet section of the Applications menu – and it allows you to control other RealVNC clients, including other Pis. Have a look here on RealVNC’s site for more information.
Please note that if you already use xrdp to remotely access your Pi, this conflicts with the RealVNC server, so you shouldn’t install both at once. If you’re updating an existing image, don’t run the sudo apt-get install realvnc-vnc-server line in the instructions below. If you want to use xrdp on a clean image, first uninstall the RealVNC server with sudo apt-get purge realvnc-vnc-server before installing xrdp. (If the above paragraph means nothing to you, then you probably aren’t using xrdp, so you don’t have to worry about any of it!)
Also included is the new SenseHAT emulator, which was described in a blog post a couple of weeks ago; have a look here for all the details.
There are updates for a number of the built-in applications; these are mostly tweaks and bug fixes, but there have been improvements made to Scratch and Node-RED.
One more thing…
We’ve been shipping the Epiphany web browser for the last couple of years, but it’s now starting to show its age. So for this release (and with many thanks to Gustav Hansen from the forums for his invaluable help with this), we’re including an initial release of Chromium for the Pi. This uses the Pi’s hardware to accelerate playback of streaming video content.
We’ve preinstalled a couple of extensions; the uBlock Origin adblocker should hopefully keep intrusive adverts from slowing down your browsing experience, and the h264ify extension forces YouTube to serve videos in a format which can be accelerated by the Pi’s hardware.
Chromium is a much more demanding piece of software than Epiphany, but it runs well on Pi 2 and Pi 3; it can struggle slightly on the Pi 1 and Pi Zero, but it’s still usable. (Epiphany is still installed in case you find it useful; launch it from the command line by typing “epiphany-browser”.)
How do I get it?
The Raspbian + PIXEL image is available from the Downloads page on our website now.
To update an existing Jessie image, type the following at the command line:
With the VNC for Raspberry Pi alpha, you can play Minecraft, access the Pi’s text console and switch between workspaces – all over a VNC connection. We’ve also added hardware acceleration, making connections faster and smoother. To try it out, visit RealVNC’s GitHub: https://github.com/RealVNC/raspi-preview.
Previously, it hasn’t been possible to view software that uses a directly rendered overlay – such as Minecraft, the camera module preview and OMXPlayer – over a VNC connection. It’s a feature that lots of people have long wished for, not least because it means that schools and other organisations can use existing equipment, such as laptops, as displays for their Raspberry Pis, so it’s fantastic to see a VNC server that supports it.
Our Head of Curriculum Development, Marc Scott, has spent some time taking a look, and he was impressed:
@RealVNC THIS IS AMAZING!pic.twitter.com/WReVGiRaUl
We’ve been looking forward to this since RealVNC tantalised us with a cracking demo at our fourth birthday party in March, and we’re delighted to see it out there. In releasing a public alpha, RealVNC are hoping for your feedback to help them make it as good as possible, so download it, give it a go and tell them what you think!
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