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.
As part of the Festival of Light this year at Mount Stuart, a photographic competition is being run alongside it. This blog post features my entries. For a bit more information on how the photographs are done and how you can build your own light painter, see the previous blog post. Details on the competition can be found here.
Task 1 – Nature and Light
Note – All the images below are the original images as captured by the camera. The only exception to this is some may have had minor colour/contrast adjustments.
Light painting is using a long exposure photograph (usually 5 seconds+) with the camera on a tripod where you use a bright light to “draw” in the image.
There are a number of ways you can do this, by far the simplest way is find a pitch black area and draw with a phone torch.
The above image was done in a pitch black forest around 11pm at night.
You can also get super accurate with hand held light painting using phones, in the photograph above, Polly, Dean and Daniel were even able to sign their own names. On top of this, Dean made use of a technique where if an object is lit up light enough, it will also appear. He simply pointed the light at himself.
The background does not need to be completely black. As long as the objects in the background, don’t move then should be fine.
Handheld light painting
It is actually super easy to get started with simply light painting.
Light painting is an awesome activity to try out with big groups of kids, as all they need is some form of light source.
While this could be a torch on a phone, for young kids or those without a phone with a torch, a simple answer would get them creating a “throwie”! A throwie requires a coin cell battery, an LED and some tape to tape it together. By mixing and matching LEDs, you can create some very cool images.
On top of your light source, you also need a camera and a tripod. It is important to check that your camera supports manually editing the shutter speed and aperture. It is recommended to manually set all the camera light settings (shutter speed, aperture, ISO) as the camera will most likely think the image will be too dark and compensate, causing issues. You must use a tripod!
Digital light painting
As a maker/inventor, I decided to take light painting one step further by of course, adding a microcontroller!
My first prototype back in 2014 made use of x24 breadboardable Neopixel LEDs and an Arduino Uno.
And resulted in some pretty cool pictures. But, I needed to go bigger!
Introducing the Arduino light painter version 1
Using a 1m Adafruit Neopixel strip with 60 pixels, a piece of scrap wood and an Arduino Mega, the first proper light painter of mine was born.
There is full documentation on its Github repo on making your own that you can find here.
Arduino Micropainter version 1
Between version 1 and 2 of the main light painter, I also threw together a “Micropainter”. Featuring x5 full RGB Neopixel LEDs, it is driven by ATTiny85 chip and is powered by x2 AA batteries. It is soldered onto a custom designed and milled singled sided PCB.
Arduino light painter version 2!
This year, for the Festival of Light, I thought I would go even bigger! What could possibly go wrong, right?
Building upon version 1, I switched out the 1m strip of 60 LEDs, for a 1m strip of 144 LEDs! This dramatically increases the resolution available, but also dramatically increased the storage space required. With version 1, I had used the program space on the Arduino Mega to store the program, but unfortunately there is nowhere near enough space for the bigger images required, so I also added a MicroSD card slot. This allowed me to store multiple images so I also went ahead and built a menu system, allowing me to select the different images. The menu system simply used the LEDs on the stick as numbers, so image number 8 would be when LED 8 was on in the menu.
Another major adjustment I made over version 1, was adding 3 inputs. x2 buttons for the menu system (next item and select) plus a small potentiometer, allowing me to adjust the brightness of the pixels.
Bar these changes, most of the rest of the system stayed the same.
The light painter uses a Python script to convert the images to an easy to read format for the Arduino, then an Arduino program reads the image file line by line, outputting these onto the light painter. All you have to then do is move the light painter across the frame slowly and smoothly to display the image. In the case of some of the photographs below, the opposite was intentionally done to create the wave effect.
The results though were pretty amazing from this years Festival of Light at National Trust Mount Stuart.
The plan is to hopefully have a building guide up for the new light painter this side of the new year.
Mozfest is the annual Mozilla Festival, run at Ravensbourne College in London. This year the event is running on the weekend of 7th-8th November 2015.
Attended by over 1700+ people every year from over 50 countries, it is no small event. What makes it pretty cool though is it is a weekend run by the community for the community. It is all about the open web and technology and has sessions ranging from Journalism to Science to Learning! The sessions overview can be found here with the full list of over 300 individual sessions here.
But, this year there is one big difference… There is going to be a massive new YouthZone! Now when I say massive, I mean an entire floor of the college dedicated to stuff for young people (and people still young at heart) with over 30 different sessions.!
As part of this, the Raspberry Pi Community has come together with the Raspberry Pi Foundation to deliver a whole stack of awesome Raspberry Pi workshops, aimed at young people.
In total, we will be running 17 workshops over the weekend, all aimed at complete beginners with titles including (to name a few)…
Astro Pi – Your Code in Space (by Carrie-Anne from the Raspberry Pi Foundation)
Musical fruit with the Explorer HAT (by Jim Darby)
All our workshops will be aimed at complete beginners, so even if you nothing about Raspberry Pi or programming, no matter!
On top of the above workshops in the main Raspberry Pi zone, we will also have 2 other satellite mini Raspberry Pi programming zones with one in the music zone with a key focus on making music with code (especially using Sonic Pi) and the other focusing on the Raspberry Pi Foundation Dots Boards.
This all sounds awesome, I want to come!
Awesome! We would love to see you down at Mozfest. Tickets are only £3 for young people! For adults tickets are only £45… Tickets are full weekend passes and include lunch both days so is amazing value.
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.