RoadTest: Raspberry Pi Educators RoadTest
Evaluation Type: Independent Products
Did you receive all parts the manufacturer stated would be included in the package?: True
What other parts do you consider comparable to this product?: Raspberry Pi B Standard Pi Camera Module
What were the biggest problems encountered?: Long minimum focus length (cured by a little hacking)
The kit provided in this test is (in the UK) supplied by CPC and branded U:Create Raspberry Pi B+ Camera Kit.
The Kit contains all you need to get started taking pictures with the Raspberry Pi and Pi Camera Module. The kit has a Model B+ Raspberry Pi, A Raspberry PI NoIR Camera board, an 8GB SD card with NOOBS pre-loaded, a power supply, clear case, Wi-Pi 802.11n WiFi adapter and a 36 page user guide.
The RPi Model B+ is a development on the RPi model B.
The main improvement are the addition of more things. More USB ports (4 instead of 2) and more GPIO pins (40 as opposed to 26). It has also got mounting holes built in to make this easier. The memory is up to 512mb (as opposed the the original 256mb). However less can also be good and the B+ uses less power making it easier to power the RPi from a battery pack or use powered USB devices.
The extra USB ports are especially useful when using a keyboard and mouse connected directly as with the model B this would mean the use of a hub to use any USB accessories (such as a WiFi adapter) now that is no longer required.
The board has also been tidied to mean that all the connectors fir flush with the edges (especially with the change to micro SD) so that it can be fitted into a smaller case or project.
The upgrades all come together to make the RPi an even better platform for all sorts of maker projects.
The Camera included with this kit is the NoIR variant. The NoIR stands for No Infra Red (filter). The NoIr variant of the Camera Board is the same as the standard board except the colour of the board (for easy ID) and the removal of the IR filter. This meas the camera can be used for night time photography with an IR light source. This is particularly good when trying to photograph nocturnal animals where a visible light source would cause a disturbance to them.
This extra capability does have a trade off though. Image quality in normal daylight is reduced as the IR light interferes with the image (this is why normal cameras have an IR filter). So daytime images are less colour true and have a little noise.
However this camera is specifically designed to do this and provide the nighttime photography feature. If you are wanting to only take photographs in visible light then then the standard camera module would be better for you.
In this classroom kit I think that is is well worth the degradation in image quality to add the extra functionality. With the NoIR board there is a larger range of possible projects available to the classroom teacher to work with. In most case the reduction in image quality will not be a major issue as the images produced will not be the major end product (learning how to program and use the kit will be). Where it is an issue an additional purchase of a small number of the standard board s could be made and then used once students have perfected using the kit.
For the experiment I am doing (Timelaspe of crystals forming using visible light) the standard board may have produced slightly better visual results but the NoIR board performed perfectly acceptably and could easily be swapped if I run the experiment again.
The pre-loaded SD card makes it very easy to get the kit up and running. The choice of operating systems gives the it a flexibility to use with different projects. The card is supplied with an SD sized adapter so can be easily used with a standard card reader or Model B. The actual card is in the little slot you can see at the bottom of the adapter.
When you first load the OS you do need to be connected to the internet to complete the install. This can cause issues in schools (the pre-loaded cards we have used in the past have been set up at home to avoid the difficulties of going through school proxy servers and filtering). For home use the choice is a real upside as it does not limit the Pi to a specific flavor of Unix based OS. For school use this could be adding a layer of complication as most school projects are very easy to do using Raspian so don't need the extra flexibility.
Not the most exciting accessory but vital for the use of the kit.
It is possible to use any micro USB charger (or even a USB to micro USB cable plugged into a classroom PC. However for the RPi to perform well it is important to choose a good quality power supply. Two factors are especially important when using the RPi in the classroom, firstly the power rating. If you want to use the 4 USB ports (and/or GPIO pins) you will need a power supply that provides a good 2A to the RPi. This is not always the case with cheap power supplies. The second factor is robustness. I have found that whilst using the RPi in the classroom (and to a lesser degree with home educated children) that the power supply can be broken if poorly constructed. Recently some cheaper power supplies we have been using at school have broken where the earth pin(plastic) enters the body of the power supply.
This power supply is rated at 1.8A, this may be a little under powered for using all 4 USB ports with powered devices. However it did manage all the devices I tried with it and it is unlikely that all 4 ports and GPIO will be needed in the classroom. If your projects are going to be power hungry then this is something that might need an upgrade.
The construction of the plug is fairly strong with a good design to withstand stress around the earth pin. I would prefer a metal earth pin but this appears to be very rare in this type of power supply.
This case is a fairly good basic case for the RPi and has the added advantage of being able to mount the camera board securely to the inside of the case. There is also a slot to allow other mounting of the camera.
The case also has slots to allow GPIO cables to be fitted.
This case was a great item for my planned project as it allowed a stable platform for the RPi and camera in one package. The ability to securely mount the camera really make this a very good package for work with photography. I currently have mine stuck to my bedroom window doing a timelapse of the snow melting (details on the blog coming soon once all the snow has gone). With the camera securely fixed to the case all i had to do was mount the case to the window and plug it in to be able to get started. This was really also only possible with the addition of the Wi-Pi Adapter as there would be no room for monitor mouse and keyboard in the current location.
This small bit of kit really helps to make this a flexible kit. In a lot of the projects where you might want to use the camera the monitor keyboard and mouse prove to be a bit of a space consuming or view obscuring pain. The inclusion of a wifi adapter means that the RPi can be controlled by SSH or VNC meaning all that can be dispensed with.
The adapter is plug and play with configuration easy to do through the GUI or command line.
The Adapter seems to be pretty reliable during the time i have had it on test.
The user guide included in the kit is ideal for the home user as it explains how to set up and get started with the RPi. The guide has enough detail to get a very basic user started and provide some inspiration experiment further with future projects.
The content is well laid out and explained in simple terms meaning it is not to hard to use for someone new to the RPi.
There are sections on basic set up Operating systems, Using the camera and Minecraft Pi (among others). Overall this is a great starter guide,
I think if i was going to be using this with a class i would remove the guide as it would be a distraction for the pupils from the planned lesson. I would consider using parts of it for work with pupils on specific items especially with some of the self motivated students in our Raspberry Pi club.
My overall impression is that this is a really good starter kit for Schools or Home Educators where you already have a keyboard, mouse and monitor.
The Kit is a flexible starting point for projects with the Pi and the inclusion of the Pi NoIR camera board provides a host of nighttime nature photography applications. The case with camera mounting point is a real plus for projects where students are trying to take pictures, especially in timelapse applications, where a steady platform is really important.
The WiPi adapter adds to this flexibility allowing the unit to be placed away from monitor and peripherals to set up photography projects in much more interesting locations. My project aimed to work with Science and the difficulty of adding monitors and keyboards into a science lab when working with solutions would have made this much more difficult. The ability to set up the experiment on one side of the room and control the RPi from the other with the laptops (over VNC / SSH) made this a much less worrying proposition.
I have been working on timelapse photography for the road test (Part 1, Part 2) the idea being that I am putting together projects that I can use in the classroom (I am a part time secondary school teacher) and with home educated children (we home educate our son and I am trying to set up a Computing group for home educators locally).
I have also been taking some timelapse of my garden with the snow melting (which I will add to the blog when it is complete) and I have also been working on a side project - the Visual-Pi-ser.
I am really keen on finding ways to engage children in computing using the Raspberry Pi. We have already used it for networking, physical computing and Sonic Pi. I have not used the camera module much in the classroom and this has given me an opportunity to experiment. I am especially pleased that i have found an experiment that can involve students in cross curricular learning. Once the roadtest is complete i intend to continue investigating ways i can use the camera in the classroom.
A good read for beginners and students. Do you have future plans?