In the morning 23rd of January I woke up with big, nasty dilemma. I had all the symptoms of coming flu. And last day of the BETT Show was about to start not even in two hours. And by me very first Raspberry Jam obviously as well. Badge has been printed, batteries to my cameras charged and satnav set. Only my health was not ready. I almost gave it up but then in one bright moment I have made a decision. Kicked in two pills of Paracetamol, milk with honey and hit A2 towards Blackwall Tunnel.
The very first thing I have spotted was, obviously, well English style organized queue of waiting visitors at the front of the gates to exhibition. I heard Babylon of languages there. Czech and Netherlands straight at the parking. Russian, German, Japanes and some more unknown to me later in the queue. I guess that English speaking were members of staff only there.
After the time when gates got open the only issue I had was to find the STEAM village in between all the other expositions. And because ExCeL is not a small hall (actually two of them with space of roughly 44,546 m²) I turned back and grabbed a map.
With that it was not that hard to find the right place as there was a banner hanging above the STEAM village and also one red trial balloon nearby.
At the first sight I was bit disappointed with the size of what I saw, but then I very early realised that I was wrong. Soon my bad feeling disappeared as a steam over the teapot. There was lot to see. I am pretty sure this was not ordinary Raspberry Jam organized all around the country by volunteers. Instead of bunch of tables overloaded by homemade creations of hobbyists here I found mainly professional products.
These were the first line of defence I could say. Actually there were three of them there.
After my conversation with Netherland team I found that they definitely belong here. Ultimaker made and delivered 250 pcs. of product made of wood to schools in their country. You can see one of them in the picture above. They are making it as a kit and students are completing them by themselves or with assistance of teachers. Driving software is fully opened and they can use open source modelling application Blender without need of any conversion to any closed format.
With the price tag of £743 this is probably bit expensive piece of education and probably the reason why when I asked the lady in the picture if there is a chance to get it with full customers support in central Europe, she was able to mention only one reseller in somewhere in Poland. I cannot blame them. However in Scandinavia is their product very popular also thanks to the hooked rich curriculum supported by their home page. Unfortunately not in English.
The second company I spotted there was KORA. They are an example of totally different approach. Bit of an outdated old school marketing stressing their British roots a lot. That is not entirely bad idea as far as you have proven history success and this is something I am not able to judge. What really surprised me was that they presented almost none educational aspect of their product. It is good to be proud of the fact that whole machine is made in UK and by UK employees but at the exhibition like BETT I would expect bit more of educational layer. However they product was interesting by modularity and spare parts programme allowing user to replace any part by new one ordered separately and directly from manufacturer.
You can see impressive light wall made of 1000 of micro:bit boards in the pictures above. I did not count them but I believe in what the title is saying. But I have no reason not to.
This is my favourite topic of whole STEAM exhibition. Two replicas of Raspberry Pi kits currently delivered to International Space Station as you can see in the pictures where stars. Almost permanent crowd of people around its desk trying to touch and get some info was very good proof of success of the project. I had really great time to chat with David Honess an employee of Raspberry Pi Foundation and man in direct touch with British astronaut Tim Peake. David also uncovered some future plans for this project. They will run Astro Pi competition in France soon and then hopefully in other EU countries involved in ESA programme as well. This delighted me as my home country of Slovakia could participate as well. David just mentioned that it would be helpful if ESA invovlved institution in Slovakia will show their interest first. So I am planning to bring this idea to their attention. David also expressed his hope that NASA will get involved in the project as well creating healthy competition with ESA. Whole project is set to remain on ISS for next 7 years so far but it does not mean there is a time to waste.
Aside of this undercover info Dave's colleague Helen Drury also presented the Astro Pi starter kit containing all necessary bits to run all programmes and experiments, Tim Peake will do on ISS, down here in your living room. There is the Raspberry Pi2, SenseHAT, official RPi case, power source, manuals, USB keyboard and mouse. This kit will be distributed through CPC online shop.
At the very end of our discussion David showed me how astronauts will make a selfie by Astro Pi just by exposing its humidity sensor to their breath. Crowd around his table got bigger again and I rather moved to the next one.
It is probably not a big surprise that there were a lot of them. This 'simple form of digital life' was almost everywhere around. I guess not in that amount that is normal at ordinary Raspberry Jams but I was still able to recognize two kinds. Wheeled robots and robotic arms. Frist group was in fact entirely configured to follow the line activity. Not very intellectual one but good enough to entertain.
What really catches my attention was a sorting system made by David Pride. It contained of MeArm robotic arm and LEGO. Arm was in fact sorting LEGO bricks by color at the basis of information from CSI camera connected to Raspberry Pi's PiXi board. One reason was the way of how David used camera and the other reason is sitting on my desk at home. My MeArm robot is stuggling of very bad performance of long arm 9g servo motors. So I have instantly asked David for help. To my big surprise he is using the same servos as I do. David recommended to ease the screws a little bit more. I will test it as soon as I will have little bit of time.
Sessions and education
All the things at STEAM village desks were really interesting but even more was happening on the small stage in the nearby corner and central BETT's auditorium. It was impossible for one person to catch it all. Sessions were scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5:30 pm in half hour slots. Topics were very interesting and understandably Raspberry Pi related. Main idea regarding to BETT Show was obviously education. I am very sorry that I have missed almost all of that. Especially Dan Powell's session ‘Start a Code Club in your school’ would be very helpful in Slovakia. James-a Robinson's session about high altitude balloons must have been really inspiring. I hope someone made a video of that and I will be able to watch it later. Unfortunately I got entirely hooked with Raspberry Jam desks and around 1:30pm my Paracetamol pills stopped doing their job and I must have left the show.
But before it has happened I was able to observe the improvised school class in the opposite corner. It has been equipped with Pi-TopCEED desktops. I have published one article earlier about them, but never had a chance to get in touch. Face to face I better understood their function as a base for school experiments. There were also session held in this space gaining lots of attention and anybody was welcome to participate.
Now at home when I am browsing through all the things I grabbed or been given there I understand that one day is absolutely not sufficient time to catch all what has been offered and I wanted to catch. That amount of information, ideas and inspirations was absolutely too much for that one day and one (ill) man. This was my first Raspberry Jam and straight at the beginning one of the most important ones. I feel very sorry to be able to spend only that little time there. Now I fully understand frustration of Slovak teachers not being able to give children this level of education (Currently in unlimited strike against government ignoring their appeals for very extensive period). Slovakia is way behind not only in terms of modern equipment but mainly in overall conception of primary school education and not only in IT. I will not extend this issue here but I promised to myself to import as many good ideas and inspirations as I will be able back to my country. People who were presenting their ideas here at BETT Show were really enthusiastic evangelists of £25 mini computer ideas. Now, I would say, it is whole movement growing at this foundation. They are ready to share they knowledge and experience. Dan Powell (Regional coordinator - Code Club) offered help with start of Code Clubs in Slovakia and chance to have closer look at how it works here in south-east UK where I live. David Honess gave me an advice how to bring Astro Pi project to other countries and Raspberry Pi Foundation CEO Philip Colligan offered a help to organize Raspberry Jam in Slovakia. As soon as I will find some enthusiasts back in Slovakia eager enough to walk up this well prepared road I will do ask them to help.
First Raspberry Jam in Kent will be held 30th of January 2016. It is organized by 14 years old Bethanie with support from local council. I will be there as we are saying in Slovakia 'even if tractors will be falling of the sky'. I will publish an article from this event. And I hope soon I will do the same one back in Slovakia.