Tag Archives: raspberry pi

Man in the Pi Castle

Pi Day comes but once a year, but what the heck is Pi Day?

March 14th, or 3/14, is the day that all the nerds eat pie (both pizza and dessert), and celebrate our nerd culture. Specifically, we use a tiny inexpensive computer called a Raspberry Pi to build fun, sometimes useful projects. We see everything from weather balloons, to tiny loop pianos, to magic mirrors.

At ReadyTalk, we celebrate this day by giving our engineers two workdays to build these projects followed by the opportunity to demo them to our fellow geeks. Of course, we can spend more time than that on the project, and many of us do. The winning team gets to spend the year lording it over their fellow engineers by displaying this amazing trophy.

Man In The Pi Castle – A Chess Playing Robot

While there was only one named victor (and holder of the trophy), the real winners were everyone who participated. Pi Day celebrates more than just a single winner; it gives everyone a chance to work together and showcase technology in a really fun manner. Those who spectated rather than demoed learn something from the experience as well: a new way to tackle a problem or a new application for a certain aspect of software (and sometimes hardware).

I was part of the team, Man in the Pi Castle, that took the trophy this year with our attempt at building a chess playing robot. This may seem overly ambitious for a two-day project…and it was. The team spent a month of spare time and 200+ hours on three separate 3D printers to get where we did on this project.

While it may not have actually played chess, the robot arm was able to move a piece on the 3D printed board. In addition, it has an AWS hosted UI, and a microservice architecture. You can see a more detailed write-up of the robot and the software in this blog article. The team will be posting additional detailed articles, and you can check out their code on github.

Takeways

ReadyTalk has always taken great pride in its people and culture. The Pi Day celebration was one of the best examples I have seen of that since I joined the team. There were so many amazing projects and almost the entire engineering team participated.

I encourage other companies to consider having a Pi Day celebration. The level of excitement and innovation that it produced at ReadyTalk were unparalleled. Going forward, we plan to have additional days of innovation around other topics, but Pi Day was by far the largest success I have seen from an event like this.

As one of my co-workers once said about a hackathon, “You could cut the synergy in there with a knife.”

ReadyTalk Pi Day 2017

ReadyTalk has been hosting an annual hackathon to celebrate Pi day, 3.14, for the last four years now. Long enough to go through a handful of revisions of the Raspberry Pi, and for me to go from participant, to winner, and now to organizer.

Why March 14?

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Pi is the mathematical constant 3.14, commonly used in calculations for circles. You might remember the formula for the area of a circle πr2 from a geometry class once upon a time. Since Pi is such an important constant in many areas of math and science, nerds around the world (using an American calendar) celebrate March 14, as Pi day. ReadyTalk celebrates in our own special way with a hackathon involving the aptly named Raspberry Pi computer.

Whats a Raspberry Pi?

Since it’s Pi day we thought it only fitting to use one of the best low-cost development boards out there: the Raspberry Pi. While originally designed to help teach computer skills in schools and developing countries, the Raspberry Pi found another following with hobbyists and professionals alike. Since it’s humble beginnings, the $35 computer has been quickly adopted due to its flexibility.

The Raspberry Pi made headlines in February of 2012 when it was first released, which caused the initial spark of a hackathon idea.

The Hackathon

The prompt

The way Pi day works at ReadyTalk is pretty straightforward: any engineer who wants to take part in the hackathon gets a Raspberry Pi with the stipulation that you must demo a project involving the Pi. Other than that, there are no limitations. Everyone is highly encouraged to go wild, and projects certainly don’t need to be work related.

Compared to other ReadyTalk hackathons, the freedom of Pi Day allows engineers to flex their creativity. It is typical to use this as an opportunity to learn more about interfacing with the physical world, moving things, driving displays and taking measurements of the physical world.

This year we had 36 different people sign up: the best turn out in ReadyTalk history! Ideas ranged from weather stations, robots with Watson powered AI to a reincarnation of the mechanical turk.

The schedule

Historically we have given out the Raspberry Pis as late as March, but this year we decided to start a bit earlier. The Raspberry Pis were handed out the first week of February to allow teams a lot of time to work on their projects. Two workshops were held in February covering how to interface with various pieces of hardware and how to solder. Up next is the work day of the hackathon. This Friday, March 10, we will have a full work day dedicated to Pi projects, along with food and drinks. To finishing things up on March 14, half the day is dedicated to finishing projects followed by demos and awards in the afternoon.

The impact

Pi day has become an integral part of ReadyTalk’s culture. ReadyTalkers look forward to it months in advance, planning and brainstorming projects. Successful projects are celebrated and improved years after their creation.  Pi day at ReadyTalk is how we start every year off on the right foot, with innovation and creativity. Follow us on twitter with the hashtag #RTPiDay for updates.