Archive | News

The Crumble at New Scientist Live

Last week saw us attend what is coined as ‘the world’s greatest science festival’. Over 40000 people attended across the four days, and made, what turned out to be an amazing show.

We had never been to, let alone exhibited at New Scientist Live (NSL) and as such, we were not sure how successful or useful the show would be. We’d ended up being at the show, after it was suggested to us that the Global STEM Award and the Crumble would fit in well. So we thought about it, and gave it a shot.

We ended up having a fantastic time, not just looking around the show, but talking to, and interacting with so many wonderful people! It’s lovely to watch children and adults alike being enticed in by a plethora of exciting Crumble activities.

UKSTEM were on the stand with us, talking about the Global STEM Award, and showing off their latest developments (which will be announced soon). For the vast majority of the show, we were swamped with people!

Mike from UKSTEM talking about the Global STEM Award

For the Crumble parts of the stand, we decided to work on making it look more exciting and fun to use. As we were in the lunar section, we went with a ‘spacey’ theme. We had two main Crumble activities – the first was to pre-program a lunar vehicle to get from one area of ‘the Moon’ – to another.

A Crumble Buildbot on our lunar surface

And the other was to recreate a light signal, which was shown to you on a matrix display. After programming a Crumble, you ‘docked’ it onto the giant matrix display to see if you had gotten the pattern correct!

Our giant Crumble Matrix

All in all, we had a brilliant time over the four days. We had many interesting conversations with people about the Crumble, our mini dataloggers and the Global STEM Award. and I definitely think that we will be exhibiting next year.

National Coding Week – Blog Special

Next week is National Coding Week, and we thought to celebrate this, we would release a series of blogs dedicated to a project theme. This time we have chosen ‘games’. Each day there will be a new blog post detailing how to create a simple game-related project. Then at the end of the week, each one of these projects will connect together to form a game, which we will go into more detail on Friday.

As it stands, here is our current plan of action: Monday – colour picker using a Sparkle; Tuesday – dice using a Matrix display; Wednesday – letter spinner; Thursday – audible countdown; and Friday – Playing the game!

Each individual blog (apart from Friday) aims to provide you with a small project that you can do discretely, and then if you complete each one, you will be able to combine the smaller projects into a form of game.

Like other initiatives, National Coding Week is designed to encourage people of all ages to try something new, around the theme of coding/programming. There is a massive emphasis that not just schools get involved, but individuals and businesses too! You can find out more on their website.

If you have a go at any one of these projects, we’d love to see! Get in contact with us via email, FacebookTwitter or our Forum.

NCW Day 1 – Colour Picker

Welcome to our first blog post, in a series of five, in celebration of National Coding Week. If you haven’t already, take a look here to find out more about what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. The first aspect of our game is going to be a colour picker. The aim of this […]

NCW Day 2 – Dice

Welcome to our second blog post, in a series of five, in celebration of National Coding Week. If you haven’t already, take a look here to find out more about what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. The next aspect of our game involves a random number selection, and in our case, digital dice. […]

NCW Day 3 – Letter Spinner

Welcome to our third blog post, in a series of five, in celebration of National Coding Week. If you haven’t already, take a look here to find out more about what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. The next part of our game is going to be a letter spinner. The aim of this project […]

NCW Day 4 – Countdown Timer

Welcome to our fourth blog post, in a series of five, in celebration of National Coding Week. If you haven’t already, take a look here to find out more about what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. The next part of our game is going to be a countdown timer. The aim of this project […]

Pi Wars: a Story

Back in the summer of 2018, Joseph and I found ourselves at a ‘super secret’ meal after the first evening of Raspberry Fields. Apparently, staying in the same seats for the duration wasn’t allowed, and as such, we chatted to a few different people. Luckily, for our dessert, we ended up sitting opposite Michael Horne and Tim Richardson – famed for creating the infamous Pi Wars robotics competition. I had heard about the event on Twitter, and was especially interested in having a go.

To cut a long story short, I was very keen to take part! Furthermore, Joseph was definitely up for sponsoring the event with some prizes.

The good news came on the 30th of September 2018. Our application had been successful and we were set to compete in Pi Wars 2019! I was to take the reins on our entry, as Joseph is a very busy person, and as I was fairly new to python, it would be a great learning experience.

“I knew it was going to be challenging, but I hoped it would be rewarding as well”

The process of learning how to do any of this was going to be quite extensive. I’m a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator, and I had tinkered with the Pi on the odd occasion, including making a Wiimote controlled vehicle using the CamJam kit but I had never completed anything beyond this. I knew it was going to be challenging, but I hoped that it would be rewarding as well. One of the best ways to learn a programming language is to use it in context; a real application.

When discussing ideas for the robot (before we had applied), Joseph had mentioned that there was a Python library to control the Crumble over USB. This was brilliant. We could use the Pi for all of the processing power (to stick within the rules!) and the Crumble could be used as our Motor Driver board, and power any Sparkles we may want to attach.

My first step was to focus on learning Python. I’d become familiar with a couple of written/block-based languages in the past, and I had even gotten halfway through a Python course, but unfortunately it had been a while so I needed to start from scratch. I made it part way through an Udemy course, and then I started and completed the free Python course from Codeacademy. This was a big step for me. I had reached the end of a programming course, and I was feeling much more confident in getting started.

“After swearing I would get started before Christmas… January arrived”

After swearing that I would get started before Christmas, and not do my usual procrastinating, January arrived. It was very busy – we were heading to BETT this year to exhibit. I knew I wasn’t going to get started until February. As a part of a conversation with our Spanish distributor for the Crumble (Complubot), Joseph had been made aware of something very useful – The Pixy Cam.

After getting back from BETT, we looked into the Pixy2. It looked incredibly easy to use, it could detect coloured objects and lines, and it was possible to interface with it via Python – perfect! We purchased the camera, along with a pan and tilt mechanism, and couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

The included software for the camera was simple to use, and offered some great features – especially when it came to tweaking the camera’s settings to recognise colours (signatures) and lines (vectors). One of the steepest learning curves, however, involved interfacing with the camera via Python. It seemed that the device was much more suited to controlling via an Arduino than a Raspberry Pi, and as such, it was hard to find a great deal of information about using it with Python.

As a part of the installation process, four example Python programs were generated. I would rely heavily on these to work out what to do!

I was becoming overwhelmed with the ever-decreasing time left, and this caused me to take some drastic action – a mind map! I planned a very basic chassis to get something moving, and then wrote down what steps needed to be completed before the big day. This is called decomposition – breaking down a problem into smaller, more manageable pieces.

“I was feeling much better about the still mammoth task ahead”

One of my first steps was to control a motor connected to the Crumble, by using Python This would become my ‘Hello World’ style program. After this small, but important step, I was feeling much better about the still mammoth task ahead.

The remote control portion of the project was quickly finished – I had used the ApproxEng library for connecting to, and controlling motors, in the past, so it didn’t take much to adapt the code to work for the Crumble. Theoretically, that was the programming completed for half of the challenges!

The steepest learning curve, and the point at which I repeatedly questioned why I was doing any of this, was programming the autonomous challenges. After tinkering with the example Python programs, I decided to start with the Line following program. This wasn’t too difficult to do – I had experience with various algorithms for line following. Once I had worked out what information I could use from the Pixycam, it all fell into place quite quickly! After this, I set to work on driving towards a colour signature. This was with the autonomous maze in mind as I felt that this would be more challenging than the Nebula. Once I had the working maze code, I could reuse elements of it to help recognise, and correctly approach the four colours in the Nebula task.

I learnt a lot whilst programing these challenges:

  • Things fail – a lot. I spent a lot of time thinking, staring at code trying to make sense of why it wasn’t working.
  • Take breaks. I regularly found myself slumped at my desk, getting increasingly frustrated. I stopped, came back to it the next day and more often than not, immediately solved my issue.
  • Don’t be afraid to redo something. Some of the functions I had written were messy, and didn’t work properly. A whole new line of thinking enabled me to produce better, and more efficient code!
  • Not everything has to be perfect. This is was an amateur robotics competition, of which I am a beginner. It was better to have something clunky but working, than something that doesn’t work at all. The day before the competition, in consultation with Joseph, I decided to put my ‘fancy’ maze following code to bed, and develop a simpler version. Given that the maze was preset, and we had access to the plan, why would I even bother looking for the next alien to the left, if i knew it was a right turn?

We both thoroughly enjoyed our time at Pi Wars. It was a day of both success and failure, but it was a very rewarding task to undertake. I managed to battle my way through to the Grand Final of Pi Noon ( a 1v1 balloon popping battle), coming second after a close final. But more surprisingly, we won the beginner category! Our slow, solid and steady Crumble Robot had powered its way round to victory!

Here are just a few pictures from the day!

This whole experience has proven that one of the best ways to learn programming is to give it a context. Trying to learn something whilst not giving it a real-life context makes it very difficult, and it doesn’t ‘stick’. It is worth mentioning that this is one of the main ideas behind physical computing – blurring the lines between a computer and physical components and pieces. Programming and controlling something that you’ve made yourself gives you a fantastic feeling, and I definitely have a stronger urge to continue, more so than in the past.

The Crumble Heads to Bett

The team here at Redfern Electronics/Mindsets, along with Mike and Beckie from UKSTEM, are going to along to exhibit at Bett – the British Educational Training and Technology show. The show takes place at the ExCel centre in London, and is one of, if not the largest educational technology show(s) in the World.

Why not come and visit us on stand D413 – It’s free!

Boasting over 34,000 attendees from 136 Countries spread across 4 days, Bett is no small feat.

We will be there, showing off the Crumble, amongst other things, to quite literally the World! As well as interactive Crumble demonstrations, Mike and Beckie from UKSTEM will be there showing off their fantastic new initiative, ‘The Global STEM Award‘ as well as another exciting project, Supergrid.

Bett is free to attend and it runs from 23rd – 26th January. Why not pop along and see us on stand D413.

Global STEM Launch and the Scottish Learning Festival

Last week was a very busy week for us here at Redfern Electronics. We attended two different event, one in York, and the other in Glasgow! This meant one thing – road trip!

Tuesday saw the official launch event of the ‘Global STEM Award‘, by UK STEM, at the highly-acclaimed National STEM Centre in York. We were there to integrate our products into the Global STEM Award, and all in all, it was a brilliant day. The event was well attended, with over 90 students from local schools, and as far afield as China! The Chinese students were on a trip to the UK, partially organised by Mike Cargill (Director, UK STEM), and it made sense to have more of a global audience for the launch of the Global STEM Award.

After Tuesday’s launch, we drove straight up to Glasgow, to set up for the Scottish Learning Festival. We knew it was going to be tight – but we managed to arrive with 30 minutes to set up – and we finished with time to spare! After our very busy day, we decided it was time to unwind…

We were at the Scottish Festival of Learning mainly to exhibit the Crumble. We are finding that whilst the Crumble is well established in England and Wales, it seems that most of Scotland haven’t heard of us! It definitely made sense to exhibit.

We had a great couple of days at the exhibition, and we had a great number of interesting conversations, with some fantastic people. Everyone was pleasantly surprised to find out how easy to use the Crumble is, and how it’s a perfect first step into the world of Physical Computing.

Crumble heads to the Education Show

Last week, a few of us travelled up to the NEC, Birmingham for the Education Show. We were there mainly to exhibit the Crumble as the show tends to be geared towards Primary and Home Educators – and the Crumble is perfect for Primary Computing and Design and Technology. Loads of people had a go with the Crumble and there was a real excitement surrounding the stand.

We were sharing our stand with Mike and Beckie from UK STEM – they were launching their fantastic new initiative called ‘The Global Stem Award’ which you can find out about here.

When the show had quietened down, we even found time to set each other some Crumble challenges!

We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the show and it was great to meet so many new and familiar people, all of whom share our excitement and passion for education. We look forward to the next one.

Kicking Off EU Code Week In Style

On Friday 6th October 2017, Joseph and Dan from Redfern/Mindsets and Mike Cargill from UKSTEM ventured into London, to help UCL kick start European Code Week. 

For those of you that don’t know, the European Code Week (EU Code Week) is a grass-roots initiative set up in 2013 by the Young Advisors for Digital Agenda Europe. The Code Week aims to get as many people as possible, from across Europe and the World, to take part in exciting Computer Science activities. It has been growing in success, with nearly 1 million  participants from across 50 countries taking part in 2016. 

The Code Week kickstart event took place at UCL’s BaseKX, Camden – a modern building, designed to provide a space for business start-ups to establish themselves. We were amongst about 15 different companies, including Lego education, Discovery Espresso and Ohbot. 

The morning started with a few guest speakers, discussing topics ranging from the history of coding, to the development of BaseKX. After a break, the various groups of children found their workshops, and the coding began. We had two different workshops running – one table of 10 children were working on line-drawing buggies, while the other table had a range of activities: our new countdown clock; a probability spinner; a reaction timer; and two matrix Sparkle displays. Each workshop ran for 40 minutes, and there were two more after lunch, so, all together, we got to work with around 60 children from 6 different schools. 

We love doing events like these, as they allow us to see the impact and enjoyment that the Crumble can have/cause. Without this, it’s really hard to judge what’s happening on the ‘front line’, unless we are given explicit feedback. It also gives us a great opportunity to see if our new ideas and projects are worthwhile, and whether they pass judgement from your average primary school child. At each of our workshop sessions there was a real sense of excitement and a buzz in the atmosphere. The children were always focused on their task and they were all desperate to reach the end-goal of their challenge.

When children are new to the Crumble they are great at finding bugs. We were trialling our latest Crumble software update and, sure enough, our first group discovered a bug! This is great because it allows us to fix these issues, before the software becomes public. These events also provide a good platform to test new workshop resources – all of our worksheets were new, along with two new products. As with anything new, there were a couple of teething issues, but this event allowed us to refine our workshop material and make it even better.  

Not only do these events provide us with a platform to let schools know about the Crumble, they provide us with a great opportunity to better ourselves – and for that we are thankful.  

The icing on the cake was being voted the favourite workshop by two separate schools. That’s not bad considering we only worked with six schools and had some high-quality competition!

Read more about Code Week 2017 news and events here.

Race Timer

This is a very brief first blog post!

I was looking back though some old videos and thought this one would make a good excuse to test out Vimeo. It’s a short clip of my prototype of Mindsets’ Rail Race Timer being tested at an event at the Duxford Imperial War Museum. Unlike most other projects where I’ve used LED displays, these aren’t multiplexed. The circuit used three TLC5927: 16 channel constant current LED drivers. The microcontroller controls the three ICs on a single SPI bus meaning each segment is constantly powered if needed. The lack of flicker means there is no strange effects when taking video.

By the way, the Mindsets High Speed Rail Racer is pretty cool. Those cars really move fast!

That’s all for now.

Joseph