Geeks meet in Luxembourg for Pi and More 4

Regatta Update

Pi Törn [6] was the subject for the next presentation. This long-term project is being funded by foundations and sponsors with the goal of encouraging interest and competencies in technology in school-aged children and young people. As part of the project, young people from various schools are turning small model boats into autonomous ships that are controlled by a Raspberry Pi. As a finale, a regatta is scheduled for September 2014, when a competition will determine which ship can navigate within a band of water and reach the finish line without colliding with a fellow competitor. Törn, by the way, is a northern German word that describes a trip by sailboat.

The Pi Törn project was presented at a previous Pi and More conference, and this time the audience was brought up to date on the current status of the project. As things stand now, the school groups have started their project work, and the organizers have more clearly defined the regatta rules. For example, students will be permitted to install all kinds of sensors, but no auxiliary servomotors. Also, remote control for the boats will only be allowed in an emergency situation, such as an impending collision.

A few problems have arisen that were not expected beforehand. For example, stones are present in the waters where the regatta is to take place, and some are located such that they will interfere with the running of the regatta. Additionally, the precision of available GPS systems is insufficient for controlling such small ships. One unforeseen problem, however, has been solved. As the project progressed, it became clear that a regatta planned so far in the future was not a useful motivator for students to begin work on their boats. Moreover, the need to solve multiple technical challenges successfully at the same time in a race setting was perceived as a sizable obstacle.

Thus, the organizers have now scheduled a series of simpler races to take place before the actual regatta. In each of these pre-regatta races, the students will be competing for success in only one category of the technology requirements. For example, winning might mean that a student successfully avoided a collision. This incremental approach has significantly increased the fun factor for the students who are competing and, therefore, their motivation.


After the Pi Törn presentation, participants at Pi and More could choose between staying in the lecture hall or taking part in a workshop, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: A room full of Raspberry Pis.

Participants who attended the presentation were treated to detailed and well-organized information for the Raspberry Pi beginner. The presentation took the form of a comprehensive introduction to the Pi that included topics ranging from basic accessories for the various Pi operating systems to settings inside the config.txt file, as well as using the Raspi-config graphical configuration tool.

The workshop scheduled for the same time slot was designed for beginners in the electronics field. The two workshop leaders first presented important basics, such as the requirement that appropriate resistors be put in front of LEDs in a circuit. In the second part of the workshop, the participants got to plug in building blocks on the breadboards by themselves.

The goal of this exercise was to see whether the participants could make a circuit for the "Ladder Game." The circuit consisted of several LEDs and a button connected to the breadboard. For the finished product, the Python code on a Rasp Pi that has also been connected to the breadboard executes the game and its rules (Figure 2). Once the game starts, a player presses the button whenever an LED lights up; if successful, the next higher LED lights up. If the player presses the button at the wrong time, the LED light "falls down the ladder."

Figure 2: Concentrating on trying out the Rasp Pi.

During the construction of the circuits (Figure 3), the workshop leaders walked around the room and provided advice or corrected mistakes. By the time the workshop ended, all the participants had been able to build a functioning ladder game.

Figure 3: A participant connects a switch.

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