Raspberry Pi Roundup: Watching for the meter-reader, driving Lego cars and sweet art

Another Raspberry Pi must have: dedicated gif camera

Being a person that lives in San Francisco, we’re reliably informed, is one of the best ways to spend lots of money, while simultaneously competing with other persons for very limited living space. The situation is much the same for cars, apparently, because one clever San Franciscan developed a Raspberry Pi-based gadget to help him hold onto parking spaces for as long as possible.

The resident parking spaces near developer John Naulty’s home in the Castro have a two-hour limit, but he realized that those two hours didn’t start until San Francisco’s parking enforcement interceptors – distinctive little vehicles that monitor parked cars – drove past and noted his position.

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So, using a Raspberry Pi as the local brains, a Pi camera as an eyeball, and AWS, EC2 and the TensorFlow open-source machine learning framework to recognize parking interceptors, Naulty developed a system that would alert him when his car’s position had been noted and start the two-hour countdown to the next move.

This being San Francisco, Naulty will doubtless develop this system into a startup that makes populist promises about parking for the people, and ultimately sell it to the city for more efficient enforcement.

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Having a dedicated camera is mostly the preserve of the professional, these days, since everybody’s got a pretty spiffy camera baked into the smartphone that they’re carrying with them at all times. But what are they doing on those smartphones? Mostly looking at .gifs. What can’t most smartphone cameras do? Shoot their own gifs!

Thankfully, Hackaday reports that designer Nick Brewer has created a Raspberry Pi Zero-based standalone camera that can be used to capture gifs directly. Our long national nightmare of not being able to instantaneously gif the world around us is over.

raspberry pi camera Hackaday

It’s pretty neat-looking, with what Brewer aptly describes as a 90s-disposable-camera-esque cover. He’s got instructions here, if you want to make one yourself – you’ll need to do some work with a soldering iron, hot glue and some 3D-printed parts, but the software side looks easy enough.

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Robotics combined with Legos are nothing new these days, a fact which would have astonished and delighted the author’s 10-year-old self to no small degree. Lego’s in-house Mindstorms products are the usual way to animate your creations, but the IEEE’s Spectrum publication has news here of a project that can let you do it for a lot less money.

The idea is to combine MIT’s Scratch programming environment – a graphical front-end designed for use by kids – with the Raspberry Pi and a homemade infrared link to interface with the motile components and actually get stuff to move. For $40, a Raspberry Pi 2 Model B is a heck of a lot cheaper than a $190 Lego-branded Intelligent Brick.

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Technology and art have gone well together ever since someone realized that a burnt stick could be used to draw pictures of buffalo and naked people on the walls of caves. A slightly more sophisticated application of technology, however, can be seen here, thanks to Bruce Shapiro’s Sisyphus, a sand-table installation that procedurally generates some really fascinating patterns:

The guts of it, of course, are a Raspberry Pi, and the system uses a magnet to pull a ball around the table, making trails in the sand. It can even be programmed, and Shapiro said on his Kickstarter page that he thinks of Sisyphus as almost a musical instrument, and that part of the idea is to “inspire a community of composers to ‘write’ for it.”

A Sisyphus table isn’t cheap – $795 for an end table is the least expensive option at the moment – but these are undeniably cool.

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