Posted on

New and Improved Slinky Seismometer

After many months of work, research and discussions, the latest iteration of our Slinky Seismometer Kit is now available. We’ve taken feedback from customers, and worked closely with Paul Denton, who has over 30 years’ experience in geophysics and education, to drastically improve the Slinky Seismometer Kit.

For those of you unfamiliar with the device, here is an excerpt from the description:

“Originally designed in association with the British Geological Survey (and Paul himself), our new and improved Slinky Seismometer Kit provides an elegant and low-cost solution to earthquake detection. The seismometer uses electromagnetic induction to detect ground motion and incorporates eddy current damping for improved sensing. Supplied in kit form, the seismometer is quick and easy to assemble, and you’ll be up and running in no time!”

We’ve taken the time to improve our original slinky kit, and as such there are a host of new and improved features. We’ve changed the outer casing to an engraved, rigid acrylic tube, which provides more stability and protection to the device.

We have an adjustable threaded top, for height adjustment of the magnet inside the coil.

There are now three adjustable threaded knurled feet, which allow you to easily centre the magnet inside of the coil.

Furthermore, we now have a dual coil assembly, with a 14mm magnet balanced between them. The coils have opposing directions, but are wired so that the detected voltage is cumulative. This allows for a greater sensitivity in readings but any interference is cancelled out.

As with our Build your own Seismometer Kit, we now have a small PCB with a 3.5mm jack socket, which allows for easy connections to your chosen seismometer interface.

The kit is available to purchase now, and for a limited time you can get a SeismicPi HAT, worth £48, for free! Just add the ‘Slinky Seismometer Kit‘, or the ‘Build your own Seismometer Kit‘ to your basket and enter the coupon code ‘EDUSEIS1’. Your free SeismicPi HAT will be added.

Posted on

Redfern and the Global STEM Award at New Scientist Live

Next month, Redfern along with the Global STEM Award are heading to New Scientist Live, at the Excel Arena in London.

Global STEM Award, in partnership with Redfern Electronics are bringing a range of exciting projects to the show. Redfern will be showcasing space-themed robotics activities and investigations with the opportunity to test your ‘Crumble’ micro-controller coding skills. The Global STEM Award recognises the completion of STEM projects by 9 – 13 yr olds.  It is the only scheme through which candidates develop an awareness for both their world AND the careers of the people who make these amazing things happen in real life. The Redfern activities are accredited for use towards your Global STEM Award.

Show Launches – Two new Global STEM books and boxes will be unveiled at the show (EXPLORER and CONSERVATION routes). These are ideal for STEM clubs or home educator groups. The boxes contain all you need to run the activities and certificates for Bronze, Silver and Gold awards.

Crumble kits – Redfern Electronics will be offering Crumble kits, at special show prices, containing all the parts necessary for a range of projects. Accredited by the Global STEM Award, each box also contains a voucher to get you started on your awards journey.

Special show offer – Bring your completed Global STEM Award projects with you (photos and/or project sheets). We would love to see them and you can purchase your Bronze/Silver or Gold Awards at the stand for a 25% show discount. All the award information is on the website and you’re welcome to contact us with any questions.

And a bit about us…

Global STEM Award was founded in 2017 by UKSTEM and launched officially in 2018. With key STEM partners of Redfern and the University of Wolverhampton, the award has found plenty of recognition. It was quickly adopted as an entry route into the Big Bang Competition and has been accredited by Children’s University. The Global STEM Award is currently available at 3 levels: Bronze, Silver and Gold, with a Platinum level, for older learners, planned for launch in 2020.

Since Redfern Electronics launched the Crumble controller in 2014, the Crumble has grown from strength to strength, becoming a staple of physical computing in the UK. Redfern is now applying its philosophy of accessible and affordable products into new areas of STEM. Partnering with the Global STEM award fits perfectly with their exciting new direction.

Posted on

Pi Wars: a Story

Back in the summer of 2018, Joseph and I found ourselves at a ‘super secret’ meal after the first evening of Raspberry Fields. Apparently, staying in the same seats for the duration wasn’t allowed, and as such, we chatted to a few different people. Luckily, for our dessert, we ended up sitting opposite Michael Horne and Tim Richardson – famed for creating the infamous Pi Wars robotics competition. I had heard about the event on Twitter, and was especially interested in having a go.

To cut a long story short, I was very keen to take part! Furthermore, Joseph was definitely up for sponsoring the event with some prizes.

The good news came on the 30th of September 2018. Our application had been successful and we were set to compete in Pi Wars 2019! I was to take the reins on our entry, as Joseph is a very busy person, and as I was fairly new to python, it would be a great learning experience.

“I knew it was going to be challenging, but I hoped it would be rewarding as well”

The process of learning how to do any of this was going to be quite extensive. I’m a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator, and I had tinkered with the Pi on the odd occasion, including making a Wiimote controlled vehicle using the CamJam kit but I had never completed anything beyond this. I knew it was going to be challenging, but I hoped that it would be rewarding as well. One of the best ways to learn a programming language is to use it in context; a real application.

When discussing ideas for the robot (before we had applied), Joseph had mentioned that there was a Python library to control the Crumble over USB. This was brilliant. We could use the Pi for all of the processing power (to stick within the rules!) and the Crumble could be used as our Motor Driver board, and power any Sparkles we may want to attach.

My first step was to focus on learning Python. I’d become familiar with a couple of written/block-based languages in the past, and I had even gotten halfway through a Python course, but unfortunately it had been a while so I needed to start from scratch. I made it part way through an Udemy course, and then I started and completed the free Python course from Codeacademy. This was a big step for me. I had reached the end of a programming course, and I was feeling much more confident in getting started.

“After swearing I would get started before Christmas… January arrived”

After swearing that I would get started before Christmas, and not do my usual procrastinating, January arrived. It was very busy – we were heading to BETT this year to exhibit. I knew I wasn’t going to get started until February. As a part of a conversation with our Spanish distributor for the Crumble (Complubot), Joseph had been made aware of something very useful – The Pixy Cam.

After getting back from BETT, we looked into the Pixy2. It looked incredibly easy to use, it could detect coloured objects and lines, and it was possible to interface with it via Python – perfect! We purchased the camera, along with a pan and tilt mechanism, and couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

The included software for the camera was simple to use, and offered some great features – especially when it came to tweaking the camera’s settings to recognise colours (signatures) and lines (vectors). One of the steepest learning curves, however, involved interfacing with the camera via Python. It seemed that the device was much more suited to controlling via an Arduino than a Raspberry Pi, and as such, it was hard to find a great deal of information about using it with Python.

As a part of the installation process, four example Python programs were generated. I would rely heavily on these to work out what to do!

I was becoming overwhelmed with the ever-decreasing time left, and this caused me to take some drastic action – a mind map! I planned a very basic chassis to get something moving, and then wrote down what steps needed to be completed before the big day. This is called decomposition – breaking down a problem into smaller, more manageable pieces.

“I was feeling much better about the still mammoth task ahead”

One of my first steps was to control a motor connected to the Crumble, by using Python This would become my ‘Hello World’ style program. After this small, but important step, I was feeling much better about the still mammoth task ahead.

The remote control portion of the project was quickly finished – I had used the ApproxEng library for connecting to, and controlling motors, in the past, so it didn’t take much to adapt the code to work for the Crumble. Theoretically, that was the programming completed for half of the challenges!

The steepest learning curve, and the point at which I repeatedly questioned why I was doing any of this, was programming the autonomous challenges. After tinkering with the example Python programs, I decided to start with the Line following program. This wasn’t too difficult to do – I had experience with various algorithms for line following. Once I had worked out what information I could use from the Pixycam, it all fell into place quite quickly! After this, I set to work on driving towards a colour signature. This was with the autonomous maze in mind as I felt that this would be more challenging than the Nebula. Once I had the working maze code, I could reuse elements of it to help recognise, and correctly approach the four colours in the Nebula task.

I learnt a lot whilst programing these challenges:

  • Things fail – a lot. I spent a lot of time thinking, staring at code trying to make sense of why it wasn’t working.
  • Take breaks. I regularly found myself slumped at my desk, getting increasingly frustrated. I stopped, came back to it the next day and more often than not, immediately solved my issue.
  • Don’t be afraid to redo something. Some of the functions I had written were messy, and didn’t work properly. A whole new line of thinking enabled me to produce better, and more efficient code!
  • Not everything has to be perfect. This is was an amateur robotics competition, of which I am a beginner. It was better to have something clunky but working, than something that doesn’t work at all. The day before the competition, in consultation with Joseph, I decided to put my ‘fancy’ maze following code to bed, and develop a simpler version. Given that the maze was preset, and we had access to the plan, why would I even bother looking for the next alien to the left, if i knew it was a right turn?

We both thoroughly enjoyed our time at Pi Wars. It was a day of both success and failure, but it was a very rewarding task to undertake. I managed to battle my way through to the Grand Final of Pi Noon ( a 1v1 balloon popping battle), coming second after a close final. But more surprisingly, we won the beginner category! Our slow, solid and steady Crumble Robot had powered its way round to victory!

Here are just a few pictures from the day!

This whole experience has proven that one of the best ways to learn programming is to give it a context. Trying to learn something whilst not giving it a real-life context makes it very difficult, and it doesn’t ‘stick’. It is worth mentioning that this is one of the main ideas behind physical computing – blurring the lines between a computer and physical components and pieces. Programming and controlling something that you’ve made yourself gives you a fantastic feeling, and I definitely have a stronger urge to continue, more so than in the past.

Posted on

What do LEGO® Bricks, Mars and Football have in Common? Seismology!

On 5th May 2018, the InSight Mission to Mars was launched

The InSight Mission will put seismometers onto the surface of Mars to feel for ‘Marsquakes’  – geological activity like our Earthquakes. It has been 40 years since seismometers were last placed on the planet, using the Viking landers. However, it is the first time a seismometer will be placed directly onto Mars’ surface.

InSight successfully landed on Martian soil on Monday 26th November 2018 at 19:33 UTC.

Once the lander has got to work, scientists hope to receive the first  of its data in early 2019.

Along with the seismometer, the InSight has on board a host of other tools and sensors including: environmental sensors like wind and pressure, to help eliminate false positives with the seismometer; very precise radio transmitters, to help map the wobbles in how Mars rotates, allowing us to figure out whether Mars’ core is solid or liquid; and finally, a five meter long heat probe, which will bore itself into the surface of Mars, allowing scientists to monitor how heat travels through the planet.  All in all, we will hopefully be able to finally work out the makeup of Mars, and whether or not it shares similarities with our own planet and moon. This will then allow us to have a greater understanding of how our Solar System was born.

Alongside this amazing InSight mission, the British Geological Survey (BGS) have created a set of teaching resources and classroom activities (Project MarsQuake) which, when they become available, will utilise and share the latest images and data coming back from InSight.

Seismology with LEGO® Bricks?

As a part of this set of projects and resources, Paul Denton (BGS), worked with us here at Mindsets, to create our very own easy to use and accessible seismology tools. You may have already spotted them on our website, but we want to formally introduce the ‘Build your own Seismometer Kit’  along with the SeismicPi HAT.

The Build your own Seismometer Kit provides you with all of the parts needed to create your own seismometer – out of official LEGO® bricks! 

To understand the data coming from the seismometer kit, you need a device to ‘read’ it (a digitiser). The SeismicPi HAT digitiser was developed as a part of the MarsQuake project, alongside a BGS-led summer school project at the University of Cambridge. This unique device can be used with up to four seismometers, and can be connected to a PC via USB. It can also function as a HAT for a Raspberry Pi.

The Football Connection

During Leicester City Football Club’s (LCFC) infamous 2015-16 Premiership-winning season, they were obviously doing very well. During the second half of that season (2016), students from Leicester University, in partnership with the BGS, started a very unusual outreach project. Hazel Community Primary School, conveniently located less than 500m away from the King Power Stadium (home of LCFC), became the project’s new home, along with a seismometer.

Every time a goal was scored by LCFC, the crowd went wild; more so towards the end of their amazing season. These celebrations caused vibrations within the ground and, you guessed it, could be picked up by the seismometer inside Hazel Community Primary School. The ‘FootyQuakes’ soon became ‘VardyQuakes’, after LCFC’s star striker, Jamie Vardy.

Hazel Road School's LEGO-based seismometer picking up goals.

For the 2016-17 season, the school’s seismometer was replaced with a simple LEGO®-based seismometer, based upon the idea of a ‘Build your own Seismometer Kit’. More recently, following on from the success of the VardyQuake Project, the National Youth Agency in Leicester commissioned us to produce a special version of the seismometer kit, which will be in Blue and White – after LCFC’s home colours.

More than 50 sets worth of Blue and White LEGO® bricks.

If you want to learn more about the MarsQuake project, then head on over to the BGS’s website. Or if you want to find out more about InSight, then take a look at NASA’s website.

LEGO® is a trademark of the LEGO Group of companies which does not sponsor, authorise or endorse this site.
Posted on

Global STEM Launch and the Scottish Learning Festival

Last week was a very busy week for us here at Mindsets. We attended two different events, one in York, and the other in Glasgow! This meant one thing – road trip!

Tuesday saw the official launch event of the ‘Global STEM Award‘ , by UK STEM, at the highly-acclaimed National STEM Centre in York. We were there to integrate our products into the Global STEM Award, and all in all, it was a brilliant day. The event was well attended, with over 90 students from local schools, and as far afield as China! The Chinese students were on a trip to the UK, partially organised by Mike Cargill (Director, UK STEM), and it made sense to have more of a global audience for the launch of the Global STEM Award.

After Tuesday’s launch, we drove straight up to Glasgow, to set up for the Scottish Learning Festival. We knew it was going to be tight – but we managed to arrive with 30 minutes to set up – and we finished with time to spare! After our very busy day, we decided it was time to unwind…

We were at the Scottish Festival of Learning mainly to exhibit the Crumble. We are finding that whilst the Crumble is well established in England and Wales, it seems that most of Scotland haven’t heard of us! It definitely made sense to exhibit.

We had a great couple of days at the exhibition, and we had a great number of interesting conversations, with some fantastic people. Everyone was pleasantly surprised to find out how easy to use the Crumble is, and how it’s a perfect first step into the world of Physical Computing.

Posted on

Mindsets and Machine Realm have launched a Kickstarter

UPDATE: You can find the ISO-CUBE web-shop and tutorials at: https://iso-cube.co.uk

Meet the ISO-CUBE. This 3D drawing tool has been meticulously designed and developed to enable anybody to create astonishing 3D isometric drawings in minutes, and excitingly, you are now able to back it on Kickstarter.

By using the ISO-CUBE and the ‘Drawing-Block’ method, you can build up an isometric shell, which you can then ‘sculpt’ using ‘isometric addition and subtraction’ techniques. This aid makes light work of what can be difficult for the most experienced of designers – making 2D drawings look truly 3-Dimensional.

Neal Turner (Machine Realm and full-time Teacher) and Joseph Birks (MD, Mindsets) have had a longstanding relationship. Neal has a great eye for detail – he’s gone to Joseph a few times in the past with amazing designs and kits. But nothing had piqued Joseph’s interest more than the simplistic beauty of the ISO-CUBE. Being a teacher, Neal originally designed the ISO-CUBE to be more cost-effective and simpler to use than other drawing stencils on the market. Joseph wanted to help Neal get the ISO-CUBE ‘out-there’ – so what better place than Kickstarter.

Although originally designed for assisting the teaching of 3D design and isometric drawing (GCSE and A-Level), the ISO-CUBE is for anyone and everyone. Whether you are creative or not, the ISO-CUBE helps you to unlock your potential.

Neal Turner using the Giant ISO-CUBE

If you want to find out more about this exciting project, then you can read more and pledge to get yours over on Kickstarter.

Posted on

Mindsets head to the Education Show

Last week, a few of us travelled up to the NEC, Birmingham for the Education Show. We were there mainly to exhibit the Crumble Controller as the show tends to be geared towards Primary and Home Educators – and the Crumble is perfect for Primary Computing and Design and Technology. Loads of people had a go with the Crumble and there was a real excitement surrounding the stand.

We were sharing our stand with Mike and Beckie from UK STEM – they were launching their fantastic new initiative called ‘The Global Stem Award’ which you can find out about here.

When the show had quietened down, we even found time to set each other some Crumble challenges!

We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the show and it was great to meet so many new and familiar people, all of whom share our excitement and passion for education. We look forward to the next one.

Posted on

Updated: USB Memory Stick Case-off

Now 16GB - only £3.50 ex. VAT

Price correct at 30/7/19

As a part of a new feature, we have decided that every few months we will hold an in-house design competition. To kick things off, we are starting with our Uncased USB Memory Stick. We have set ourselves the task of designing and then making a case for the memory stick. We haven’t given ourselves a particular medium to work with, but I can guarantee that there will be at least a 3D printer and a laser cutter involved!

At the end of the month, when everybody has finished, we will hold an online poll to allow the internet to decide the winner!

Any updates on the task will be posted here, or on social media.

19/1/18 – We have an update. At approximately 13:37 an email was sent by one of the competitors, hinting at the progress they had made. We think he was feeling brave as it was his birthday…

2/3/18- After what seems to have been a very long and busy start to the year, everyone involved in the competition has finally had the time to work on their memory stick masterpieces.

In between staying warm, and all of our usual tasks, we have managed to find time to design and make our entries to the USB Case-off challenge.  It was a tougher process than any of us imagined, and there was definitely a lot of trial and error involved! Measuring accurately was one of the most important aspects of this challenge, with most of us having to work to the nearest 100μm (micrometer or 1/10mm)!

IMG_20180212_104417

Here is Mike’s entry to the competition. He has designed a snail-like 3d printed case. He has also embedded a piece of fibre optic on the memory stick’s LED, so that it glows when in use.

Here is Dan’s entry. He glued together layers of laser-cut plywood, which he then sanded and oiled to create this wooden case.

Glyn also opted for the use of a laser cutter with his entry. He has glued layers of acrylic together , with two memory sticks, to create this practical set of spanners.

Here is Sonia’s entry to the competition. She has designed and laser cut an MDF ice-cream! And like the other laser cut entries, she has utilised layers and glue to create the case.

and the winner is...

It was close, but with 40% of the votes, Dan has been crowned the winner!

If you want to have a go at your own memory stick case, then check these out:

Posted on

Testing a hypothesis with the Mini-dataloggers

If you have already seen our ‘Datalogging: The cooling effect of evaporation‘ post, you may remember that we had stumbled across something interesting, that we wanted to investigate further. The temperature inside the cups increased when we turned the fan on.

We came up with a hypothesis. We believe that the fan caused the air to circulate around the room, mixing the warmer air from the top of the room, with the cooler air, towards the bottom. The cups were placed on a shelf in the lower half of the room, so this may explain what was going on.

To test our theory, we placed two dataloggers in the room. One on the top shelf of the unit, and the other in the middle, where the other investigations took place. We decided to leave the dataloggers recording for a while in the room before turning the fan on.

Our results turned out wonderfully. The temperature inside the room was gradually increasing, and the datalogger on the top shelf increased more than the other one. This is due to the fact that it was placed around 30cm away from a light, which will warm up the air around it.

Not long after the fan was turned on at 12:30, the temperatures began to change. The top shelf datalogger cooled down, and the datalogger on the middle shelf warmed up. The fan both warmed and cooled areas of the room simultaneously!

This result perfectly supported our hypothesis.

Posted on

Christmas has arrived!

Our first proper Christmas since we moved in to our new building with Redfern Electronics (designers of the Crumble Controller). We’ve decided to mark the occasion with a suitably decorated tree!

We connected 20 Sparkles and a Sparkle Baton together using croc-leads. We then wrapped these around the tree, with the Baton on the top. The croc-leads are almost a decoration in themselves!

The Crumble is connected to a Raspberry Pi, which is connected to our network, meaning we can remote-desktop in and change the lights! It’s pretty much an IoT Christmas tree.

We decided to add our big red button near the base of the tree, to allow the user to cycle through the light sequences. The code waits for the button to be pressed (in this case push to break), and then it starts a new sequence of lights until the button is pressed again – then it moves on to the next sequence.

We decided that the tree was a bit bland, especially during the day time, so we added a few more decorations to it.

And there we have it, our IoT Christmas tree, ready to be programmed by anyone in the office.