PiBorg at BarCamp Canterbury

We arrived bright and early at Woolfe College at Kent University, and set up our table of robots in the Hack Room for the third annual Barcamp Canterbury. As people started to arrive, it was clear it was going to be a very busy weekend!

The PiBorg table in the hack room. Lots of robots and LedBorgs to try out!

Crammed into the main unconference room for the welcome talk, it was becoming obvious the weekend was going to provide a lot of interesting technology from all sorts of different areas.

Standing room only at the Barcamp 3 welcome talk.

SpyderBorg got attention pretty quickly from attendees, making use of our new board, the PiBorg Nano making it pretty nippy across the floor. PiBorg Nano is a bi-directional motor control board for the Raspberry Pi with plenty of power and will be available in the next few weeks.

SpyderBorg running across the floor at speed.

One of the first talks we attended was Andrew Dean's Water Droplet Photography talk. Expecting something solenoid based, we were surprised to find a much more creative use of water droplets in photography. Using a DSLR, perspex sheet on wooden blocks, a light cube, a pipette and a suitably interesting textured background, Andrew was able to create some very trippy textures using sweets and coffee beans.

Andrew's talk cover slide. Pretty effects

Next up we visited a more social talk from Hannah Greer (one of Barcamp’s organisers) about “The Joy of Geex”. Hannah explained the etymology of the work Geek, how the world has come to love geeks, and love for her own geek Tristan Linnell (another Barcamp organiser). About an hour later Tristan spoke on his own brilliant project The PiPurr, a remote cat interaction server based on a Raspberry Pi, some webcams and a PicoBorg controlling an automated treat feeder. This project is still ongoing but you can keep up with Tris’ progress at Can't Hack, Won't Hack.

The Android interface for PiPurr

One talk which we didn’t attend, but really wish we had done as we heard lots about it, was Ben Charlton’s talk on being a Blood Running volunteer for a charity in Kent called SERV. Blood runners provide a vital service getting blood to A&E departments as soon as it’s needed. Everyone we spoke to who went said it was amazing to hear about what blood running involves, and how the charity saves lives. It was a lovely way to end day one hearing from such a brilliant range of amazing people.

Only too happy to oblige

On the second day, we attended Daniel Knox’s really interesting talk on Pico marine tanks which is essentially about squeezing the ocean into the volume of a shoebox! This is a very small "fish tank" which has completely over engineered Arduino based LED lighting (Over engineering a light was the name of the talk, and as you all know we love LED lighting!), which can simulate effects such as day/night, cloud cover, lightning, and so on. Additional planned features to make it ultra-realistic include a wave maker, communications to alter the environment and possibly even linking up to a live weather feed, so you can have your own little piece of the world in your own home. I've never been so excited about "fish tanks" before!

Also another talk that tweaked our interest was Chris Cooper’s talk on Social Engineering. Chris is a Pentester (read friendly hacker who tests companies security systems by software, hardware and human hacks) and had some brilliant stories from how people behave when faced with USB sticks left unattended (payloading USB drives to gain control of systems), pretending to be system administrators and walking into companies server rooms pretty much unchallenged, and operating phishing scams to test how employees behave when faced with social dilemmas, much like the scammers claiming to be from Microsoft explaining you have a virus and ultimately taking over your computer. Listening to tales like this are really fun and interesting, until you realise this does actually happen for real!

In between the talks on both days we took some time to have a look around the rest of the hack room, here are some quick snaps of the hacktion (terrible pun I know)…

The Kent University's TinkerSoc Arcade machine, powered by a Raspberry Pi.

Some of the retro computers on show.

Lunchtime synth entertainment. Name an awesome sound, you could play it.

Dreamcast Zombie based action in the hackroom.

Ed Barrat’s Mega Drive Midi hack.

The teleprinter being used as a screen for the Raspberry Pi.

The SpyderBorg being driven by one of the attendees.

We’d like to thank the organisers of Barcamp Canterbury (Ed, Mex, Marianne, Tris, Deborah and Hannah) for organising such a brilliant event, and PiBorg will certainly be coming back next year for more!

Finally, have a look at the video we filmed from SpyderBorg as it cruised around the unconference.

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