Weather Balloons and Sidmouth Science Festival

For the past few weeks we have been visiting Sidmouth Community College to work with a group of students on developing some code for a Raspberry Pi that will be launched underneath a weather balloon at Sidmouth Science Festival on Sunday 15th October.

The students have written the code so that they can take photographs, temperature, altitude and air pressure readings as the balloon goes up and comes down. They have also been working on a presentation that they will give at the Festival and then present their findings to Sidmouth Primary School.

This week we went into the primary school to talk about the project and to see if they could come up with an experiment that we could add to the launch. To demonstrate the properties of a helium balloon we took in Sarah the shark:

she swam over the pupils at the start of the talk (here’s Ian practising):

Also as part of the day at the Norman Lockyer Observatory we will be in the Committee Room with our 3D printer and some Raspberry Pis as we have done in previous years – in fact when we visited Sidmouth Library on Wednesday we say this display (not sure who the chap in the bottom left photos is):

The BellHouse

‘BellHouse is a playful, interactive sound sculpture that translated the non-verbal communication of the delegates presenting at the EUPORIAS General Assembly in October 2016 into the chimes of 35 bells in an opened sided house. Combining craft and technology, the bells are in fact beautiful ceramic pots, made by ceramicist and BellHouse creator Roop Johnstone.

A motion capture system devised by the Met Office Informatics Lab activated striking mechanisms associated with each ceramic bell generating a continuous chiming whilst each speaker at the 250 delegate conference presented their findings.

BellHouse also invited Met Office scientists to interact through their work.  It played video climate data to curious staff and passers by in the main Met Office thoroughfare known as ‘the Street’.  Some of our favourite data translated into sound included Etna’s volcanic plumes, the European drought of 1976, solar winds, 250 years of English and Welsh anomalies in temperature and precipitation and the Fog of Uncertainty.’

We are excited to have been part of this project to have the BellHouse up and running in Exeter Library as part of the Lost Weekend Festival – it also played a part in October’s Raspberry Jam where Roop gave a talk and then showed people how it was all working. We have been working with Roop and Kaleider to make the user interface more user friendly and to also make BellHouse capable of playing prerecorded videos that people bring in rather than solely relying on the live stream.  We will be doing further work on this over the next few months to improve and refine the way in which it works.

In the meantime it is in Exeter Library until the end of the month and it is hoped that people will come in and play with it as well as suggest and develop new ways of interacting with it.

Lost Weekend Hackathon

The weekend of 6th – 8th of October saw a brand new festival in Exeter called the Lost Weekend. It was billed as ‘A 3-day festival for Exeter of music, art, ideas and technology. To showcase what is new and exciting, to imagine the future and to enjoy being creative.’

As part of the festival we ran a Young Person’s Hackathon at Exeter Phoenix on Sunday 8th October. We brought along some Raspberry Pis, Arduinos and assorted electronics as well as a few bags of scrap from Exeter Scrapstore. We also had access to the laser cutter in Exeter Library’s FabLab.

Here are some pictures from the day that show some of the preparation, planning and building:

Zoe and Ian both looking doubtful that anything is going to work!



Building work coming along:

And two finished pieces:


Minecraft at Exeter Phoenix

On Monday 23rd October we will be at Exeter Phoenix running a series of coding with minecraft sessions.


Experience coding Minecraft on a Raspberry Pi computer! In the hour and a half session for 9 – 14 years, you’ll learn how to use the Python language to control and build your Minecraft world.

‘From simple buildings to massive structures, you’ll be creating things with a few simple lines of code that would take days to build normally. Your world will be networked so everyone can participate in the same game and see what other people are doing, you’ll also be able to play Minecraft using a dance mat and control a real robot arm from inside Minecraft.

Session times:

  • Session 1: 9.30am – 11am
  • Session 2: 11.30am – 1pm
  • Session 3: 1.30pm – 3pm
  • Session 4: 3.30pm – 5pm’

Tickets can be booked here

Lost Weekend, Hackathon, Raspberry Jam and Bellhouse

This coming weekend (6th and 8th October) sees the launch of a new festival in Exeter called the Lost Weekend it is ‘A 3-day festival for Exeter of music, art, ideas and technology. To showcase what is new and exciting, to imagine the future and to enjoy being creative.’

We are very excited to be a part of that and have been working with Rupert Johnstone and Kaleider on the Bellhouse Project to help get that set up and ready for its installation in Exeter Library.

As part of Lost Weekend we are including the Raspberry Jam on Saturday morning as well as running a young persons’ Hackathon in Exeter Phoenix on Sunday. We are combining with FabLab Devon to provide participants with access to the Fablab’s equipment. We will have Raspberry Pis and Arduinos as well as lots of bits of pieces (some provided by Exeter Scrapstore) to use.

‘Open to all abilities, this day of making is driven by you. The aim is to produce a piece of art that once started is constantly changing. The most important thing is to meet, inspire and create. Materials will be provided and FabLab Devon will be open for access to a wide range of digital making equipment.

Enthusiasm and imagination are more important than ability and experience. There’ll be introductory sessions to get you started as well as a range of experts on hand to help with the Raspberry Pis, Arduinos, other electronic equipment and art supplies you can use.  You can register as a team or book as an individual and join a team on the day.’

See here for more information and tickets.

Robot Building Days


Over the past couple of weeks we have run two robot building sessions. The first was at the Red Brick Building in Glastonbury:

The Red Brick Building Ltd is an innovative community-owned social enterprise based in the former Morlands Factory situated between Glastonbury and Street in Somerset.

In the last six years we have raised close to £1 million locally and through grants and have transformed two of the three derelict buildings into a vibrant community space for all ages.

The second session was at Exeter Phoenix, the outline for the day long course is for the participants to build from scratch a two wheeled object avoiding robot.

From this:

to this:

We set a number of challenges along the way, the first is to get the robot to go forward in a straight line. We then set the challenge of designing and building (out of card, tape and white tack) a ball pushing device to fit the front of the robot. We are always surprised by the inventiveness and variety of designs that come out of these sessions (some more practical than others).

The challenge is then to push a ball in a (relatively) straight line for a certain distance:

Finally we add an ultrasonic sensor so that the robot can avoid bumping into objects – if time we also add leds and buzzers:

Participants often choose to decorate and embellish their robots:



Some of the feedback we’ve received:

Thank you for organising the robot day yesterday. My son really enjoyed it and said that it was “fun”. It is always difficult to find something that appeals to young teens around this area so I was really happy to discover that this was going on at the Red Brick Building. I really hope that you visit this area again.

A*** and his friend J**** really enjoyed the day – in fact J****’s now planning a career in robotics!

I thought the day was really well organised and it looked like they all had a great time.

Exeter Raspberry Jam 5th August 2017

The August Raspberry Jam took place at Exeter Library as usual and we were unexpectedly busy. We had thought that as it was the summer holidays that we would be fairly quiet but it turned out to be one of the busiest jams for a while. It was good to see some familiar faces as well as a lot of new ones. We had some robots, one using a pi zero and blue dot – here are some pictures: