Swansea Raspberry Jam
Event write up
On Saturday 8th March 2014 I hosted the Swansea Raspberry Jam event at TechHub Swansea (@TechHubSwansea). This is the first event I have organised and the event’s success was beyond my wildest expectations.
The day started with some last minute preparations at home and then a frantic dash to Swansea to set up for the event. Disaster struck at this stage as the nice weather had brought everyone to the Swansea coast rather than away from it given the recent weather leading to a soul destroying queue of traffic.
The knock on effect from the traffic delayed the arrival of several people so the Jam was delayed a little from the advertised time. It started with a quick introduction by myself to explain the motivation behind the event and set the tone of the event.
After my introduction we moved straight on to a talk from David Christian (@davidchristian). David demonstrated how quickly you can perform complex graphical tasks like drawing fractals using the Raspberry Pi’s GPU compared to doing the same operation on the CPU. It took about 2 minutes to generate a 500x500 Mandelbrot image in Python on the Pi’s CPU. This was followed up by a GPU demonstration generating the same fractal in real-time with a zooming effect to show how quick it is to recalculate.
David then introduced some research he is involved in at the University of South Wales creating a low cost 3D medical imaging device using two camera equipped Raspberry Pi computers. The particular application they were looking at was using stereoscopic 3D imaging to calculate the depth of a flesh wound which is otherwise measured by putting putty in it or using a saline solution both of which sound rather unpleasant! The purpose of measuring the wound is to monitor the rate of healing. It was really inspiring to see the Raspberry Pi being used this way in a medical application.
There was then some demonstrations on extracting depth information from stereo images using a “scary baby” test image.
After scary babies and some Q&A we had the first of many of our breaks between talks. These breaks were one of the best aspects of the Jam event as it gave plenty of opportunity for the attendees to talk to each other, make friends and give advice on projects. It also helped keep the whole event fresh and vibrant as you never had to sit down for more than about 30 minutes. The only issue is it was challenging to get everyone quiet and seated again for subsequent talks.
The next talk was given by Gerrit Niezen (@gendor) a researcher at Swansea University and co-founder of Swansea Hackspace. His talk was a very practical talk on wireless communications between the Raspberry Pi and Arduino. The talk started by discussing the various wireless options available before presenting using a RFM12B on the 434MHz band as a good trade off between speed and range. There was a demo of the presented solution set up at the back of the room for people to look at their leisure.
Our highest profile project was presented next, the Aber Sailbot from the Aberystwyth Computer Science department. The Aber Sailbot is an autonomous sailing robotic boat. Their first model performed well enough to come third in the Sailbot 2013 competition and now they are back with a bigger and better boat ready for Sailbot 2014. What I didn’t fully appreciate before the presentation is just how much this team stand out from their competition. Here we have computer scientists building something physical (shocking!) with very little money competing against well funded competitors like navel academies. They are possibly the only ones who have open sourced their code as well. If this is a glimpse of our future robotic sailing overlords I at least want to be able to research their weaknesses on GitHub.
The Aber Sailbot team are always looking for more sponsorship so if like the Raspberry Pi Foundation and ARM you want to even the odds against robots overlords, well funded competition and our nation’s world standings in international robot sailing visit their website at http://abersailbot.co.uk/ to find out how you can support them.
After a sufficient break to admire the sailbot we moved on to Matthew Gall’s (@matthewgall) mystery talk as I hadn’t been given much warning on content. Matthew is a lecturer at the University of South Wales and his talk focused on how the Raspberry Pi has been used in education here in Wales and the value of computing.
Last but not least we had Julian Milligan (@darthmill) giving a talk on temperature monitoring with the Raspberry Pi. When your approach to testing temperature ranges involves cans of beer from the fridge and the warmth of his mouth you know you are dealing with a electronics pro. Julian gave some nice clear explanations of how to use various pieces of hardware with the Pi along with plenty of instructions, code, etc. He also showed how you could set up a database and web server on your Pi to collect and remotely browse the temperature data.
Julian followed the talk up with a quick demo of Raspberry Pi powered Big Trak robot. Like a boy racer this thing had been modified beef up the specification adding speakers, web camera and a cannon equipped with rubber tipped projectiles. Like a boy racer on a tight budget however the engine was slightly lacking in power, this was due to motor driver being a little underpowered but it moved slowly forwards after being commanded by a remote terminal session even if it needed a little kick up the backside to help it along.
A longer break was taken to give everyone a bit more time to socialise. We then tried to slot in an open discussion just before the end. The discussion quickly became a educate dominated and it appears there is a strong desire to work out what we can do to help boost the profile of computing in Wales.
The big surprise of the event was Ben Hyde (@Surfmonkey78) who rocked up with a very interesting project at the show and tell area. Ben is skilled in the arts of the circus and had the idea to simplify learning to juggle by removing gravity from the equation. Ben has learnt to code and build his project using a Makey Makey and Scratch.
Having overrun our scheduled end time massively due to the lively educational debate I closed out the event by thanking the various people who helped make it happen. By this stage it was obvious the event had been a success and it was extremely humbling that everyone appeared to appreciate the effort put into organising the event. Our records show about 43 people were at the Jam event.
I owe much of the success of this event to the support of the community. The speakers were quick to offer their services and many people worked hard to help spread the word about the event. I am especially thankful to TechHub Swansea who so kindly offered us their large 50+ capacity venue very early on in the planning and were always helpful, friendly and supportive. I think it is very important to have a venue that understands and supports your mission.
So now with new friends made and the glowing optimism of a well received event thoughts are now turning to a bigger and better Welsh Jam event in the near future.
If you want to follow or be part the Welsh Raspberry Pi community you can find us on Twitter @PiCymru and the web address for our Google Group is picymru.com, we welcome new members.
If you want to know more about the projects mentioned, here are some links to the materials:
David Christian (@davidchristian) GPU Fractals and 3D medical imaging:
Gerrit Niezen (@gendor) Wireless communication between Raspberry Pi and Arduino:
Matthew Gall (@matthewgall):
Julian Millian (@darthmill) Temperature Monitoring:
YouTube video of the talk (thanks to @dynamite):
Some additional YouTube videos of PiTrak (thanks to @DFragglet):