Business Rocks & Raspberry Jams

I am very much a man of many hats: CEO, designer, maker, researcher, trainer…etc. The last two days, however, have revolved around my role as one of the volunteer co-organisers of the Manchester Raspberry Jams.

If you're not familiar with Raspberry Jams (except of the edible variety), they are community groups set up to help users get the most out of the Raspberry Pi – a low-cost, credit-card sized computer. Although small, it's very versatile and Jam members (who range in age from 7 to 70-odd) can build a seemingly endless variety of projects, e.g. using the Pi as the “brain” of a robot that can drive itself.

Over the last two days at Manchester Central, we've been showcasing the latest inventions by Manchester Jam members at Business Rocks: “The global stage for tech innovation”, with headline speaker Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple Inc.). The event provided ample opportunity to impress and entertain influential people from key industries with Jam members' creations and prove that digital innovation is alive and well in Manchester.

Highlights on show included racing robots and yet another of my hats: the CodeBug RPi3 Pano Hat, which takes 360° panoramic pictures in an instant using 8 Raspberry Pi3, 8 Pi cameras and, of course, our very own CodeBug.

PanoHat at BR

It's always great fun to be part of the Jams and help people bring their ideas to life. At Manchester Jam, we are committed to helping people get involved in digital innovation — whether experienced makers or complete beginners. As President Obama recently said:

In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill — it’s a basic skill, right along with the three ‘Rs’.

As learning to code becomes increasingly important in our increasingly digital world, the Jams can provide both a useful hobby and a fantastic learning environment for both young and old — and they're open to anyone.

If you'd like to get involved, why not sign up for the next Manchester Jam session at “The Shed” at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) on Saturday, 11th June. Or find a Raspberry Jam near you here.

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CodeBug and PiFace get creative to wish Raspberry Pi Happy Birthday

29th February saw a very early start for the launch of the Raspberry Pi 3 at The Shard, London, which also coincided with Raspberry Pi's 4th birthday. Of course, it wouldn't be a birthday party without “happy birthday”…but why keep a PiFace and play the tune yourself? We simply couldn't resist the opportunity to pair PiFace Digital 2 with the Raspberry Pi 3 to demonstrate their capabilities and celebrate in style.

I mean, who wouldn't want a glockenspiel-playing Raspberry Pi to wish them happy birthday?

Not content with one new toy, we also had to do something else to celebrate the launch of the Raspberry Pi 3…especially as we were lucky enough to get hold of a few in advance so that we could show off their new features. I'd been keen to build a camera that took instantaneous 360° pictures for some time, but the technology simply wasn’t available…until now! The new wireless networking capability of the Raspberry Pi 3 allowed us to network a ring of cameras without bulky wires or network switches, while the simple, compact display of CodeBug showed their status.

And of course the natural place to test the new rig was at the launch of the Raspberry Pi 3, 34 floors above London at The Shard. See what the launch was like for yourself. Scroll around the picture from the hat below; can you spot any famous faces?

If the panorama viewer doesn't work in your browser you can view the full panorama image here.

The hat is built from 8 of the new Raspberry Pis, 8 Pi Cameras, and 8 CodeBugs mounted on a custom laser cut rig attached to a yellow hard-hat. Pressing button A on a CodeBug tethered by USB cable triggers the cameras. The 8 CodeBugs surrounding the top of the hat then initiate a colourful countdown inviting all around to strike a pose for the picture. The images are copied over WiFi to a laptop that stitches them together instantly into a panorama. With the 8 cameras evenly placed in a circle to capture a full 360°, nobody can be camera shy!

Making the crazy projects come to life is one of the best bits of my job. Not only do they inspire other people by showing what is possible, they can also lead to (somewhat more sensible) functional products. Another plus, though, is that they do tend to get you noticed, which is rarely a bad thing!

CodeBug PanoHat on BBC News

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