2017 is coming to a close, and it has been a busy year. We developed a new, low-cost hardware platform, returned to Ghana and Togo for advanced workshops with our students, and laid the groundwork for new collaborations in the future. Here are the highlights of what Full Stack Embedded has been up to.
After our beginner project, the Park Distance Control device, was a hit last year, we upped the ante by developing a new, low-cost platform for students to work with. The project can be found on GitHub – for lack of a better named we’ve called it the RpiAutonomousCar. In this post, we’ll call it Alfred.
Weighing in at a phenomenally low-cost of under 50 Euros, Alfred packs a serious punch. It’s powered by a Raspberry Pi Zero W and uses a custom-made board to connect to an LED, three infrared sensors, an ultrasonic rangefinder and two servos, which are mounted to a chassis with two active and one passive wheel for balancing. This leaves the Pi’s USB port and all antennas free to connect with additional devices. The board also exposes the GPIO pins for any extensions students want to build on top.
The full stack for Alfred therefore consists of the hardware itself, custom written drivers for each accessory, and three example applications. Two of these allow Alfred to navigate autonomously; one of them extends the stack further by containing a TCP/IP component, so that the robot can be controlled by another device in the same network.
Workshops in Africa
Like in 2016, this year we visited Lome Business School and the Accra Institute of Technology. It was great to see most of the students we’d worked with the previous year, as well as several new faces. Over two days in each country, the students learned to assemble Alfred, write their own drivers and put those together into example applications. Afterwards, there was a brainstorming session where the students swapped ideas over what they’d like to build next year. We’ll be accepting their proposals in springtime.
Teaching throughout the year
The workshops were a big challenge for us, and for our students as well! In order to get prepared, we published one tutorial a month covering topics ranging from software development to the assembly of example projects. We were grateful that some of the students in Africa contributed tutorials, as well as a few esteemed colleagues in Europe.
Of course the tutorials were helpful for students wanting to get ready for the workshops, but we didn’t leave it at that. Magic happens when students are able to help and learn from each other, as well as have access to teachers. In most parts of Africa, Internet access is extremely limited, and WhatsApp has proven by far the best tool for everyone involved to keep in touch. Currently we have three different WhatsApp groups which allow students to exchange messages in near real time even if they have only intermittent Internet access. It’s also done a lot to foster continuity and foster team spirit!
Several of our students in Africa went the extra mile and made great contributions to Full Stack Embedded by helping their fellow students, posting updates on their projects for inspiration, by helping organise the workshops or even by contributing tutorials of their own. It’s been extremely fulfilling to learn from them and to see them grow as they conquer challenges large and small. This has also expanded our group of potential teachers in Africa, raising the possibility of extending our operations to new groups in new areas.
We also took the chance when we were in Africa to meet with some innovative and inspiring people working to improve living conditions and educate young people in Ghana and Togo.
One exciting visit took us to Kpalimé, to initic’s Raspberry Pi lab at Collège Polyvalent Saint-Esprit. Students at that school use Raspberry Pis as desktop computers. They were excited to see that the same device can power a robotic car too!
Our European team has expanded to include a few more contributing authors and fundraisers, as well as a new board member. Carmen has contributed immensely to our successes this year already and we’re extremely glad to have her on board going forward!
Lastly, but also importantly, we are now a recognised non-profit organisation, which means that we’re finally able to accept donations. Up till now we’ve financed everything ourselves, and while we’re willing to continue making significant contributions as we have up till now, the project is growing rapidly and we need ways to finance extended operations. Many people have asked how to donate in the past – now it’s finally possible, and we even have a crowdfunding campaign active if you want to contribute now.
2017 was a great year, and for 2018 we have even bigger things planned! More information on that will follow soon, but in the meantime… Keep innovating! We’ll see you in 2018!