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    The Winner

    Congratulations to aidamahn, the winner of Ben Heck’s Raspberry Pi-Top Laptop! We asked element14 users to solve a need using Linux or Open Source. Aidamahn hopes to use Linux and Open Source to make fresh produce available to areas known as “food deserts”. He also came up with an idea a “Garden Rhoomba”.



    The Winning Entry

    Vegetable Garden Automation


    One of the biggest issues in poorer neighborhoods, particularly in urban areas, is the lack of available fresh produce.  A lot of times people call these areas "food deserts."  High tech skills are also something of short supply, even in more well-to-do places.  My idea would be to use open source and open hardware to teach both!


    Not only would poorer children be able to eat healthier, they would also learn skills that could influence their entire future.


    What I would like to do is create a series of plans, books, and kits that would teach people how to build devices that would help in automating a home or community vegetable garden.


    I got the idea for this when I became a backer of the Onion Omega2 on Kickstarter which is a tiny $5-9 Linux computer loaded with tons of IO.  Here is a link to that incase anyone is interested:



    Originally I was going to build a device that would monitor the dampness of the soil in my house plant I have at my desk at work.  I would have it collect stats on the soil, frequency of watering, and have it email me when the water was low.  Then I started to think of how I could “harden” this for outdoor use in my garden.  This idea eventually got larger when I thought of how I could use this to teach children (or curious adults) how “internet-of-things” work.


    I also came up with an idea for a “Garden Roomba” which would be a robot on treads with a small tiller on the front that would explore the garden and till up weeds as it found them. (this might also make for a nice “battle bot”)  As I'm typing this I started to think that I could make the robot test the soil and water the plants too ( oh no, scope creep )


    Everything would need to have the ability to charge from solar to keep energy costs low.  Maybe even a generator on a bike?  Exercise is good.

    I’m on the fence on whether or not I would have the code already completed or have people manually type it in so they learn.  I remember as a kid writing programs into my grandmother’s Atari 800 computer from books she had which got me interested in what became a successful programming career. I also was on a robotics team at my high school in the late 90s and am really enjoying getting back into electronics again.


    I am still waiting on my Onion Omega2 I got from Kickstarter so I don’t have anything to show, though I have been playing with Raspberry PIs and Arduinos to get the handle on how all the IO is going to work.


    Here is a photo of sketch I drew and one of the neat soil hygrometers I bought in advance of my Onion2 arriving.  Sorry about the chicken scratch


    garden automation drawing


    Edit:  I would like to add that if I was to win the pi top I would use it to teach my minecraft addicted 6 year old nephew (and anyone within reach) about computer hardware and IO.

    The Highlights

    There were a lot of strong submissions but unfortunately we could only pick one winner.  The following are a few who would have been worthy winners:


    zelja74 :

    The question “how would you use Linux or Open Source to solve a need like STEM or Computer Literacy" is little vague, but I'll try and answer it.

    There are many problems in the world, not just in the STEM area. Many of them can be solved with traditional measures and procedures. Then, we have technology, which includes software, of course. Without software, all technology would be pretty limited, because any change in behavior would be hard to implement.

    Today, it is absolutely normal to have new firmware downloaded onto your phone (or any other smart device), and have more functionality or better performance. Remember old cellphones? They had no such ability, you get what you get (some might argue that was better than modern phones!).


    Now imagine you can modify your software and use it in ways you need it, and not just blindly follow manufacturer's rules. This is where Open Source comes in the picture. With power to see the source code, modify it to suit your need, anything is possible. Of course, you can't just sit down in front of computer and start programming and writing new software for various hardware platforms.


    You have to learn more about it, learn more about development tools, and then start writing some demo code, until you come to the point where you can safely say: it's a start.

    Nowadays, there is more to it: Open Hardware. Open Hardware movement enables for hardware the same open source enables for software: freedom. Freedom to experiment, freedom to modify and freedom to explore. Of course, hardware is hardware, you can't modify it in the sense you can modify the software. But, after watching some Youtube videos, you can see that impossible is possible. That one guy managed to generate TV picture with just little ESP8266 Wi-Fi module, and it was never intended to do that. (I won't include any links, in case this is not allowed, but just search keywords "analog TV" and "ESP8266" and you'll find it). Others converted their Wireless modems and Access Point to robots, just because they could change the firmware.

    How about that? With open technology we can do so much more. And we didn't even mention Arduino and Raspberry Pi (and clones BananaPi, OrangePi, and other platforms).

    With Arduino thousands of young tinkerers managed to accomplish so much in so little time. It is so small, yet so powerful, you can manage to do you couldn't do just 10 years ago (with much more money).

    Raspberry Pi computers in itself is something that stared it's own revolution. So powerful computer that fits inside cigarette box just ask to be used in ways creators never intended. And with Open Source operating system it's just so easy to do anything you set your mind to.

    So, synergy of open source, open hardware any youth will change things. And probably very soon.

    Let's see some concrete examples.

    Now, the question was "how you would use Linux or Open Source to solve a problem in the world?", but why not the Moon? Students in my former school made cockroach y-looking moon rover, using only 3D printed parts and some milk jug plastic to make wheels. I'm so proud that there are so many smart kids, and they are going to same school I went to! I was impressed with whole thing, and even that (probably not intended) cockroach motif is cool.


    Lega One Rover


    The name of the project is "Lega One Rover", you check it out for yourself.

    This is not the only projects my school managed to accomplish. There also few models of solar cars. These are nothing new, they've been made for decades now. But, it is still an accomplishment for high schoolers. This one ("SOELA" – Solar Electric Automobile) was made with support from private company, so the commercial value can be predicted.




    So there you go: with some know-how, cheap open hardware and open source you can make electric car to help boost local economy. If only there's one guy, visionary.. oh wait, there is: google Mate Rimac, concept_one, greyp. He surely started doing some projects like this, and now produces fastest electric cars and bikes in the world. But, electric cars won't help the world by itself, so let's move on.


    DIY Hydroponics

    Not everything needs to be high-tech: hydroponics are also interesting. This stuff can be used almost immediately to produce food with limited amount of resources. Like in the desert areas and Moon (yes, Moon again). It's not expensive to make, and one little Arduino can control all functions of it, and it can be simple as it is here: one light, one pump.


    PoV face

    This one is for fun only: persistence of vision (PoV) hologram. You can produce images (in this case almost 3D) with some RGB LED's and suitable electronics. This one is pretty attractive, I must admit, because all I saw before were some fan based PoV clocks and similar.

    And finally, there is no single implementation of open source that is especially unique, but it is evident that this has potential, and multiple path to same conclusion can only bring out the best. So what if there's already multiple solar cars? Make new one, cheaper, faster, prettier.


    mollysim : I feel like programing skills today's are what fishermen skills were 300 years ago. As a developer/programmer you will just never miss a occasion to work, learn or teach to other people. But the aren't the reasons why I got into programing at first.


    I started programming each day 2 years ago. Somehow all have learned since have been provided to be for free and open source projects (Coursera, Free Code Camp, Khan Academy, Manjaro, Archlinux, Kali Linux...).

    I am not from a rich family and I can tell you that having my own laptop is without a doubt the biggest gift I have never been given and the best of all gifts I had too. So when it suddenly died about about 3,5 years ago I went to an install party hoping to bring it back to life again. And that's how I discovered the open source word.


    The guys that I meet helped me install ubuntu on it then some months later I installed Manjaro on it and about the 3 months later Archlinux. I got into programing just by being in an open source community, by trying to understand how this great things works. The curiosity lead me into Javascript then into Python and Java. Installing a linux distro on my computer is one of the greatest thing I have ever done in my life. That started my programing education for sure. And I hope a living with programming skills.


    If I had this computer I would do everything I do on my laptop and I would also bring it to install parties. I came to an install party hopping to solve a problem and I discovered a big family. I stayed for that kind of ideas that you have behind each Open Source Project and I think that been able to show and put to people hands something like this laptop shows how open source can do great things that can be accessible to everybody.


    (I am french so forgive my english and feel free to correct it . And I would like to say that if my english isn't the best today, all open source projects I have contributed to made it be 20 times better that It used to be 2 years ago)

    Keep hacking guys and thank very much for your contributions. I wish all those great guys could see this message and realise how great they have been to guys like me.


    the48sicks :

    Search And Rescue


    The Raspberry Pi and Arduino boards make for an excellent platform to develop just about anything you want



    I have been working on a search and rescue robot with sonar (MaxSonar) and thermal imaging (Lepton FLiR)  using OpenCV and Python with the main Raspberry pi controlling both arduino's via serial interface. He packs a massive 2x 10AA Batter packs (hot swappable) with 2x 9v pannier mounted batteries for a backup power supply.


    Zed (based on Jonny 5!)  is currently made up of..


    Raspberry pi #1  - OpenCV + Python with the Thermal imaging module and the raspberry pi camera


    Raspberry pi #2 - Sphinx speech recognition  (currently under development)


    Arduino #1 - Power control (manages pi #2, GSM module, backup power + Lasers

    Arduino #2 - Motors and servos

    3 buck converters (2x norm + 1 digital)


    SIM 900 GSM Module

    Dual Lasers (Class 1 + Class 4)


    Max Sonar (Long range distance sensor)


    LED's for lighting


    Hope you enjoy the pics..






    Thermal + Cam SxS


    Raspberry Pi Cam + FLiR module side by side using OpenCV



    Fiance hiding in the dark


    My Fiance hiding in the dark, but my robot can see you!



    Whats install for Zed in the future??? Anything is possible!


    wjweini :

    Remember the game TIS-100 ?

    tis100-2015-06-11-07-13-27-35 (1).jpg


    It's a game all about assembly coding!

    I think I can make it real for fun and also teach kids assembly coding.

    So I sketched something like this:






    I made it retro style, and I don't think it has to be a real CRT, but still I think it's cool to drive an old CRT

    I think assembly coding is really hard to begin with, so I always want to design a tool that helps people to understand and learn assembly code easily.

    The real device(I didn't name it yet, let's just call it Assembly Learning Cell, or ALD for short), of course, won't be exact like the game TIS-100, I will design some easy tasks for users to play with using the real assembly instructions.

    The ALC will be running in Linux, use wifi to communicate with other cells.

    That's pretty much it.

    I am a software engineer who is very interested in hardware engineering.

    But I am at really begging of  hardware engineering and don't have those fancy equipment like Ben does.

    I was practically soldering myself to a PCB the other days.


    Well, a little bit off topic.


    So this is the project I want to and going to build using Linux with some Arduino devices, in like, 5 or more years.


    anotherwilliamI've always enjoyed graphical programming languages used in educational products (like you would find in Lego Mindstorms, which was a fabulous system). If I had one critique, it's that they don't help the student move onto the next thing. Once the user has had fun plugging together functions from their limited toolbox, they're kind of done. There's no way to advance in difficulty, maybe by typing in the functions instead of drag & drop - or by pressing a button and seeing what their program looks like decompiled into lua or C.


    A think a great Open Source project would be to take a language (I prefer C, but whatever fits the platform) and write a meta language on top of it. Something more friendly like a scripting language that cooks out to C. Then add a final layer which is entirely graphical. The student starts creating programs with the graphical interface, but as they progress they can at any time 'strip away an abstraction' and start working in a more serious language, until they are finally down to the nuts and bolts of an "actual" language.


    I feel the biggest hurdle with encouraging interest in engineering and technology with linux is that linux is not very accessible. And accessibility is most important with encouraging interest! I think a big help would be making a friendly, comfortable IDE that doesn't require immediate knowledge of makefiles or the terminal or compiler parameters. It's been a long time since any of us first learned to program, I think its too easy to forget that there is days of fiddling and nonsense before you get a program to compile, and frankly there shouldn't be.


    jsevans :


    Privacy, security, and information.


    These are three things that any responsible internet user should be aware of. This includes the privacy of personal information ranging from personal tastes to financial information; security for everything from phone photos to government spying; and the ability to share information that we want with whom we want without restriction. Linux and open source are the prime means by which these things happen; but that's not all. It also requires a grassroots efforts to educate and convince people to use new technologies and not simply follow the path of least resistance.


    For example:


    Privacy: Big data harvests everything about our lives and we should have the ability to opt out. More works needs to go into this but it has to come from the open source community who doesn't have vested interests in getting advertising revenue.


    Security: The DNC leaks to Wikileaks would never have happened if the DNC had a firm policy within their ranks to only allow official internal emails that are encrypted with GnuPG. Any hacks would have resulted in thousands of encrypted emails which could not have been easily leaked. What needs to happen next is that we need to get people to use this technology and to make the technology easier to use.  Projects like enigmail in Thunderbird are great but they are not easy for the un-saavy computer user to use. There is no excuse for shoddy security but it does explain why people on an individual level don't adopt them more readily. Projects like GnuPG need to grow and evolve and from there become a part of our daily internet lives.


    Information: What do you do when the things that you want to know and share are restricted by government regimes and overzealous lawmakers? You find new ways to share information. Projects like Tor get a bad wrap for being the means by which some truly evil people share pictures of abused children; but it's also how people in countries and Iran, Syria, China, and others get information out. Projects like Tor need increased funding, visibility, and volunteers to keep it free and secure from any and all government and corporate meddling. If we're not free to share our ideas then we aren't free.


    The challenge was to you how I would use Linux or Open Source to solve a problem in the world. I gave you three real world problems that can best be solved with Linux and open source software. I hope someone reads this and finds the suggestions to be things that the want to help with.


    linuxgnuru :


    I am an American living in a 3rd world country (Tanzania; East Africa) and am trying to teach Linux to children; first with Tux Typing, and later on the use of a couple of Raspberry Pis I have.  Having these would help me out immensely as the kids would be able to take the computer home and be able to "teach themselves" with experimentation without me having to always hold their hands as it were.  Anyways; here's a picture with me and one of my students

    me teaching

    the48sicks :

    Thanks for all the comments and likes, Zed made the top post!!


    I’ve finished my main rebuild (adding an extra shelf to the chassis) and have started on getting all the modules talking together again – Here is a video of me turning lights on and off, and then sending a text to myself all via GSM commands (native! No library!)




    Side View



    Would you like to see some blog posts about my robot?  I could look into starting one in the element14 community. I have had a lot of interest in how I get 2 Pi’s and 2 UNO’s all talking to each other with central command and GSM communication, computer vision and servo control.




    The Pi-Top, a Raspberry-Pi powered laptop, is getting attention after it recently closed 4.3 million to fund the global edtech push.  In addition to providing the hardware required to house the low cost Raspberry Pi microcomputer, the company behind the Pi-Top produces software designed to make learning to code more simple and fun. While originally targeted to children in the educational market, a significant number of adults have used the hardware for developing their own apps or working on their own electronics projects.


    The Pi-top software stack runs off of pi-topOS, a fork off of the Raspberry Pi's Raspian Linux Distribution, that allows you to standard computing tasks such as browsing the web, checking email, creating and editing text documents, and play games through an easy to use interface. Each of the team's flagship software offerings, the CEEDUniverse learning game and pi-topCODER, teach coding in a gamified environment. The tools are designed to help students achieve higher grades in computing and STEM subjects with as little as "3 to 6 months of play." Their mission is to provide schools throughout the world with the means to effectively teach computer science and STEM-related subjects while enabling teachers and learners to plug into relevant educational resources.



    While acknowledging crossover with the DIY and Maker space, co-founder Jesse Lozano remains focused education; "We are an edTech company at this point and that was largely our intent from the beginning. Although we have a good portion of sales that are retail and consumer facing, being in the DIY and STEM space does mean there is always going to be some crossover." He quick to differentiate what they do with others in the education space by appealing to engineers; "I would say we do operate very differently from what most people expect out of an education company. ...We are an engineer heavy team that creates every aspect of our products except for the Raspberry Pi and we own our supply chain 100%, ...we even designed our own freight boxes to reduce shipping damage to an absolute minimum. Every aspect is engineered to work together to provide a great quality product at industry beating affordability."


    Linux-operated computing devices have long been seen as a way to bring affordable education opportunities around the world.  With its green exterior and Linux operating system it's hard not to be reminded of the laptop used in the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative launched in January 2005 with the goal of transforming education for children in and around the world by distributing low cost educational devices for the developing world, and then create software and content for those devices.  The project received a lot of attention at the time, when the typical laptop cost in excess of $1,000, because it promised to bring to production a low-cost, and low power laptop in what would become the OLPC XO Laptop. The project was subject to a mixture of praise and criticism. It was praised for bringing awareness to many countries of the need to make computer literacy a mainstream part of education and for interfaces that worked without literacy in any language, with English in particular. Backlash over the project included issues with support, ease-of-use, security, content-filtering, and privacy. Officials in some countries were critical about its price point, cultural emphasis, and how it was being prioritized over basic needs lacking in third-world settings.



    {gallery} My Gallery Title

    Raspberry Pi-Top Laptop

    Raspberry Pi-Top Laptop 2

    Raspberry Pi-Top Laptop 3

    Raspberry Pi-Top Laptop 4



    The OLPC program is rooted in the the pedagogy of Seymour Papert, whose approach known as constructionism, called for computers for children at an early age to enable digital literacy. Papert worked alongside Nicholas Papert at the MIT Lab since its inception. Papert likened computers in computer labs to the old practice of keeping books chained to the walls of libraries while Negronte likened sharing computers to sharing pencils. In 2004, sharing computers was typical with laptops and a small desktops costing around $1500. Negronte addressed the issue at the World Economic Forum, calling on the industry to revolutionize education, by enabling a $100 laptop that would enable constructionist learning by putting all the world's knowledge at children's fingertips.  For Negronte, the key to a $100 laptop was revolutionizing display technology. Once convinced of this possibility, he led the creation of the Hundred Dollar Laptop Corp. In the 2006 World Economic Forum, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) released a statement saying they would work with OLPC to provide "technology and resources to targeted schools in the least developed countries."


    In 2006, Eben Upton and his colleges at the University of Cambridge's Computer Laboratory, came up with an idea for a tiny and cheap computer for kids.  The idea was born over concern for the yearly decline in applicants and skill level of students in their computer science program. Between 2006 and 2008 they developed several prototypes of what would become known as the Raspberry Pi.  It wasn't until 2008, when processors designed for mobile devices became cheaper, that their project became realizable.  In early 2012, the Raspberry Pi Foundation succeeded in delivering a truly low-cost, low-powered Linux computing solution at a remarkably low price point between $25-35. The latest version of the Raspberry Pi, the Raspberry Pi 3, was released in 2016 and came bundled with on-board WiFi and Bluetooth while keeping costs around $35.The Pi-Top, borrows heavily from the design of the OLPC XO Laptop, but is powered by a Raspberry Pi that can be upgraded as new versions of the Pi are released. They offer two models, the Pi-topCEEDS is $115+ a Pi and the Pi-Top is $265+Pi.


    According to Lozano, "We want to make hardware as accessible to learn as software is now... A big part of that is giving people an open source platform that can be used anywhere, to learn from and contribute to." All software and extensions for the Pi-Top are open source with the exception of some proprietary firmware from Broadcom on the Pi board itself.  The free software and modular design of the Pi-top permits hardware customization. The Pi Top is also compatible with most microcomputers on the market such as the BeagleBone Black. Far from the forced obsolescence of most laptops, Lozano points out that "(Pi Top) end users can take advantage of the latest technology without having to replace the entire unit. You can create your own circuit boards that add functionality if we haven't created what you are looking for yet."


    Open source software is ideally suited to education market, especially where costs are a factor. Proprietary operating systems can be cost prohibitive due to per-seat or site licenses, There are also license renewals and upgrade costs to consider. Proprietary software can easily cost educational facilities more than the hardware its used to run it on when factoring in license renewals and upgrade costs. There are no licensing fees for Linux regardless of the number of users or number of computers you install it on. Thanks to the support of a robust open source community, there is also a free, extensive catalog of high-quality programs that rival or exceed programs that are commercially available. Because open source software is openly distributed, useful features are added to existing programs by developers and made freely available. Because the internal workings of Linux are open it can be inspected, modified, and experimented on by the end user. The transparency of Linux makes it an ideal platform to learn how computers work.


    GNU, a Unix-Like operating system is a collection of programs: applications, libraries, developer tools, and games typically used on Linux and precisely referred to as GNU/Linux distributions. Its a recursive acronym for "GNU's Not Unix" and rooted in the Free Software Movement, a campaign to win end users the freedom that comes with free software by putting them in control of their own computing. They believe free software is a matter of liberty not price and state that a program should have four essential freedoms: the freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose; freedom to study how the program works and adapt it for your needs(access to source code); freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor; and the freedom to improve the program; release your improvements publicly; so the whole community benefits(access to source code is a precondition).



    Ben Heck's Pi-Top Assembly Demo Episode


    How would you use Linux or Open Source to solve a need like STEM or Computer Literacy?


    The most useful answer wins Ben Heck's Pi-Top Laptop!


    Feel free to talk about how you would use Linux or Open Source to find a low-cost solution to improving STEM-related education or digital literacy in developing countries or under served neighborhoods. You could also talk about how you would use Linux or Open Source to educate users on how computers work. You can post photos or videos of a design, prototype or completed project you made using Linux or Open Source that solves a real-world problem. If you have a good idea, that makes the world a better place and uses Linux or Open Source, let us know. If you don't agree that Linux or Open Source are good options for addressing world needs such as STEM or Computer Literacy feel free to make the opposite argument.



    Step 1:  Log in or register on element14, it's easy and free.

    Step 2: Post in the comments section below and tell us how you would use Linux or Open Source to solve a problem in the world. Videos, pictures and text are all welcomed forms of submission.

    Step 3:  Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!  We will accept entries until 3:00pm CDT December 15th, 2016 and Ben, Karen, or Felix will announce the winner on YouTube after all entries have been carefully considered! If you need something to do between now and then make sure to check out what is happening This week on element14 Community, or watch more Ben at