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Hack Horsham Raspberry Jam December 2016

posted 12 Dec 2016, 02:40 by Andy Lakin-Hall

Thanks to the Hack Horsham team for organising the December 2016 Raspberry Jam event yesterday. This was my first Raspberry Jam as an exhibitor, and I was unsure about whether what I had to show would be worth sharing. The reaction from visitors was overwhelmingly positive, and it was certainly worth being there.

I took a basic Raspberry Pi hooked up to a MakeyMakey controlling the RPi version of my MonkeyBonk game.

MakeyMakey plugs into a USB port and pretends to be a keyboard, so can control any software that uses cursor key presses, just like you'd have if you'd made a Scratch game. This brings an extra dimension to any program, as you can make a custom keyboard to control your game; the first steps into physical computing.

This was the most frequent question I received at the event from parents of Primary School children, "We've done Scratch at school, where do we go next?"

One suggestion would be to use Scratch on the RPi to control the GPIO pins. There's all sorts of devices that can plug straight into the GPIO like the Sense Hat or PiBrella, and with RPi Scratch you can easily write the code to control them.

My RPi FUZE has a handy IO port connected to the GPIO, so it's easy to directly connect LEDs and switches directly to the breadboard, and control these from Scratch too. my Monkey Bonk game includes code that makes an LED light up as soon as the monkey stares to rise, and then detect when a switch is pressed to make the monkey go down. Making things happen in the real world can be the start of real control technology. If you can turn an LED on or off then you can control a motor. If you can detect a switch you can detect a sensor. Everything leads to more complex projects in robotics.

Another popular piece of my kit was my Maplin Robot Arm. This now has drivers for Windows10, and it's great fun to build. But more excitingly you can write your own code to control it through a RaspberryPi.

Mine was being controlled through FUZE BASIC. Fuze provide a programming language that sits in between Scratch and more advanced Python, and one of the demo programs they have in BASIC will control the Robot arm. I'm open minded about FUZE BASIC, but have seen it used successfully in Primary schools. It's free to download onto a Raspberry Pi, so you could give it a go. I like my FUZE Raspberry Pi with it's built-in IO port very much.

The robot arm can also be controlled through Scratch. There's a video of someone else showing how to do that, but again it shows how you can step on from simple Scratch onto more complicated things.

An alternative path leading to robotics and control technology might be the Crumble Controller

Crumble is a tiny circuit board that can be programmed to control LEDs and motors, as well as detect all kinds of input devices. You can use it as the core for all kinds of simple control technology projects using basic components that you find in beginners electronics kits.

The best thing about Crumble is the software they supply to program it. The Crumble software uses drag and drop blocks just like Scratch, so it's easy for anyone familiar with Scratch to get into Crumble.

Additionally, it is possible to program a Crumble directly through Scratch

Redfern do a whole load of kit that connects to Crumble, including robot parts, and so do 4Tronix. Plenty of parts that you could use to create a whole load of projects stepping on from Scratch.

Ultimately the next step on might be to try a MicroBit.

These amazing little devices have so much potential. A tiny package - about the same size as a Crumble, with the same inviting croc-clip connecting points, but with so much more built in to the board.

I've seen lots of superb accessories that you can connect to MicroBit, and many more in development. There are so many ways you can program one of these, including drag and drop programming similar to Scratch. But I've not had a chance to play with one of these myself yet, so I can't tell you how easy it is yet. But I'd certainly recommend trying one as a next step on from Scratch.

Thanks again to the Hack Horsham team for organising the event. It was great fun and I'd love to do another.