On Tuesday 15th December 2015, Tim Peake, the first British ESA astronaut, launched on a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome.
To celebrate this, a number of Destination Space public events were being held across the UK with one at W5 in Belfast.
Myself and some of the Northern Ireland Raspberry Jam team went along and with us, brought 10 Raspberry Pis, some Sense HATs and a stack of Raspberry Pi DOTS Boards.
After the major success of the Raspberry Pi Foundation Dots board activity with Minecraft Pi at Liverpool Makefest and Dublin Maker, there was one final event left that I was down to help out at before the start of the new university term, the BBC Make It Digital event at Culturetech!
With us, we had a set of 8 Raspberry Pis (with monitors and all the cables required for them) and a box of 100 Raspberry Pi Foundation Dots boards ready to be filled in with Bare Conductive Electric paint.
The activity we were running involved kids filling in one of the Dots boards with electric paint, then attaching these to a Raspberry Pi and seeing whatever they had drawn appear in 3d in Minecraft.
The Dots boards were developed by Rachel Rayns from the Raspberry Pi Foundation as an activity to engage people of all ages (especially younger children) in technology.
They are an extremely simple circuit board featuring a 40 pin Raspberry Pi header, a single resistor and a series of pads on the front.
These pads are the key to it all, they feature an inner circular pad and an outer ring. Between the 2 pads is a gap which can be bridged by electric paint.
Bridging the pads allows the Raspberry Pi to read it like any input, for example a button. There is 22 dot-to-dot pads, 4 colour selection pads, a pad on a cloud and finally a pad on a parachuting bear.
Although we tell the kids to do the dot-to-dot, in fact all that is actually required is a dot on each pad you want to select.
For the activity, there is 2 options for the software on the Raspberry Pi side.
The Minecraft Pi program written by myself while on my internship with the Raspberry Pi Foundation. It splits the plane up into 10 sections, each of which is added to a 3d version of the plane inside Minecraft if it is dotted. Once the user is happy with their plane, they can attempt to see if the plane will fly. If they have enough dots dotted, the plane will fly across the sky, if not it will plummet to the ground and crash.
If the user selects the bear, a parachuting bear will come down from the clouds and if they select the cloud, grey clouds will be added to the scene and lightning will strike down.
For Liverpool Makefest, Dublin Maker and the BBC Make It Digital event, we used the 2nd option, the Minecraft Pi program.
The event ran from 6pm-10pm on the Friday evening to coincide with Londonderry Culturenight and the many other family friendly events going on in Londonderry that evening.
Within minutes of the doors being opened, we were swamped by people wanting to have a go with our activity, so much so we immediately discovered we had underestimated the number of volunteers we would need to run the activity!
Thankfully, the BBC stepped in and we able to provide 2 awesome guys from their team to help out.
Throughout the 4 hours that evening, we had roughly 800 Dots Boards filled in (and then cleaned)!
Because we weren’t able to keep up with the demand, a hefty chunk of those 800 boards were filled in in pairs or families so the number of people taking part in the activity that evening was 1000+.
We also were visited by some pretty awesome Minecraft in education people who came by to try out the activity including COO of Mojang, Vu Bue, Deirdre Quarnstrom (Director of Minecraft Education from Microsoft) and Santeri Koivisto (CEO of Teachergaming).
A huge thanks to my team of volunteers on the Friday evening.
The event ran from 10am-6pm on the Saturday. It coincided with the Londonderry Maker City event that was happening in next door in the Guildhall.
By the Saturday morning, I had been able to get some additional volunteers over to help out, although even with a team of 9 people (plus Matt from the BBC), we were still overwhelmed later in the day.
Although the event started at 10am, it didn’t get busy till after midday which allowed us to do some much needed Dots board cleaning catch up, table cleaning and GPIO pin fixing.
After midday though, we were basically constantly assisting people with the activity. This continued till around 5:30pm when it started to quiet down again.
On the Saturday we also set up a Raspberry Pi Camera module to do a timelapse of the event. Below is roughly 2 hours of the event in 55 seconds. As can be seen, it was incredibly busy!
From feedback from parents, kids and the BBC, we can say that the activity was a complete success. With over 2000 people of all ages taking part from kids as young as 4, right up to senior citizens of 80+ years.
This is what makes the Dots Board activity so awesome, it really is suitable for people of all ages, thanks to its simplicity.
Big thanks to the BBC Make It Digital team for inviting us along and looking after us while in Londonderry, the Raspberry Pi Foundation for the Dots boards, Farset Labs for use of their equipment and to my volunteers, couldn’t ask for a better team over the 2 days.
For the past few years, the Dalriada robotics team have been heading down to Dublin every July for Dublin Maker (previously Dublin Mini Maker Faire) to let kids play with our robotics gear. This year was slightly different as we had decided to give the Raspberry Pi Foundation Dots board activity a go after the success that had been seen with it at Liverpool Makefest with the new Minecraft code.
As the team of us had to be down for 10am in Dublin, it meant an early start for some of the team who were starting out on the North coast. For them, the trip to Dublin would involve a 320 mile roundtrip in a single day…
Before we even left Northern Ireland though, we hit 2 snags. First was an issue with the Dots Boards needed for the activity. After a misunderstanding with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the planned 200 boards for Dublin Maker didn’t arrive in time. So we were stuck with my own set of 20 demo and test boards…
The second snag was my car decided to have exhaust issues the evening before. The result of this was the entire team heading down on the bus, 4 monitors, 4 lapdocks and all the supporting Pi gear to go with it…
On the way, we were joined by Toireasa and and Tanya, 2 awesome Kainos employees who signed up to give us a hand with the activity.
On arriving (a little late), we discovered this years event was even bigger than last year with already hundreds of people walking around!
We quickly set up our equipment and within 10 mins of arriving, we were already accepting kids to give our activity a go.
Within 30 mins of arriving, we had already hit capacity with people queuing to take part in the activity and many kids having to pair up with siblings.
Throughout the day, a crack team of “board washers” operated on the stall, hastily cleaning the Dots Boards with baby wipes so they could be handed out to the next waiting kid. Libby ended up spending most of the day doing this and as can be seen below, she ended up with some very black hands..
My awesome team of volunteers deserve a massive thanks for taking the trip down to Dublin to be worked off their feet all day. Over the 6 hours we were exhibiting, over 1000 Dots Boards were filled in (and cleaned) with over 1500 people getting involved. We count the activity as a massive success and look forward to using it again in the future.
The team were rewarded at the end of the day with a lot of pizza…