The MagPi: back from Digimakers, saw something LAZEY

On Saturday I travelled over to Bristol with The MagPi stand featuring George the robot arm (all of my robots are called George. I blame this), a mountain of sweets, HDMIPi and a Saleae logic analyser. Yes, that’s quite a varied collection of kit!

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The event was absolutely fantastic, with robots everywhere (as you’d hope). One stand had several other Maplin Robot Arms (so George didn’t feel lonely) and was teaching the basics of robot control. LEGO(R) Mindstorms were in abundance and it was great to see programming at various levels (proof positive that the Mindstorm is a pretty decent bit of kit - I’ve spent a lot of time with Mindstorms v2. Even the basic drag-and-drop programming GUI supports up to 32 threads!) One group of kids had a very well thought out Mars exploration challenge setup (this one, I think), programming their Mindstorms v3 rover to overcome all sorts. I chatted with them about threaded programming (Did I mention? 32 threads! Awesome!) and it was really encouraging that they got what I was on about (even though my explanation wasn’t the best - sorry guys, I was running on coffee and two hours sleep from the previous night!) Raspberry Pi Spy has a great photo of the team in action.

I managed to spend a reasonable bit of time showing people how to use the Saleae logic analyser, and talking about how, before I used one, I’d managed to get myself in a right kerfuffle not knowing what was going on with an excellent 3IR line sensor I’d bought from Ryanteck.

Getting HDMIPi working was great. I’d had a bit of an issue with a dodgy USB connector, but Alex Eames of Raspi.tv had sorted this for me just in time. Thank Alex! You’ll be pleased to know that HDMIPi garnered a lot of interest with many a “hey, that’s neat” comment. Here it is with Sintel running, a great (albeit very sad) video from the Blender people.

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One of the most impressive displays present was the LAZEY Projector, a laser persistence of vision generator by Adam and Joshua, students at Bristol Uni. Roughly speaking you draw an image on a tablet which is sent wirelessly to a Raspberry Pi, which renders the image and sends it to a custom shield that plugs into the Pi, which buffers and then sends commands to a couple of mirrors that reflect the laser light in such a way as to draw the image on screen. Absolutely brilliant. You can see from the photo below that my smartphone’s camera can’t capture the whole image as it is being redrawn many times a second - too fast for us lowly humans to notice, but a camera easily captures it mid-render.

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Here’s a video of what LAZEY can do. Sweet.


Oh, and it also plays tetris.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of the LAZEY unit but over at Raspberry Pi Spy you can see it up close.

Another stand had a Sudoku solving machine / robot running. This was a neat bit of kit as it would draw a 6x6 grid with a black pen on a whiteboard, then place some initial numbers. You played by trying to solve each square and it would light green for a correct answer or red for an incorrect one. Apparently it was all built in under 24 hours as part of a competition they had previously entered: they could take along all of the parts, but nothing could be pre-assembled. Kudos guys, it was really neat.

There was also a fair bit of interest in the competition that we were jointly running with the organisers. If you need details get in touch via their FB page. Bristol Uni are doing the judging. Good luck to all who enter!

So, with workshops, demonstrations and robots giving out sweets who could ask for more. I had a fantastic day. Hope you did too if you went. If not, the next Digimakers is on 29th November at AT-Bristol in Bristol.
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