Product review – Pi2Go

Pi2Go is a programmable robot from TTS that has been designed, we are told, to “unleash the power of Raspberry Pi in your classroom”. If you didn’t know already, the Rapsberry Pi is a low cost, credit-card sized PC that enables students to explore computing and learn how to program. It’s also perfect for using with a robot. Pi2Go reminds me of Bee-Bot, but a much more grown up version; it will allow students plenty of opportunities for coding, programming and computational thinking. It’s a robot that’s tailor-made for project work.

There are a couple of Pi2Go robots to choose from depending on your classroom set-up, as you may already have some of the components. The Basic Kit is the ‘lite’ version for those who already have a Raspberry Pi, whereas the Ultimate Kit contains everything you need to get Pi2Go on the move.

What does it look like? Well, quite simply, Pi2Go looks like fun and it is a very interesting bit of kit. It has a transparent protective case so you can see what’s happening inside, two large yellow wheels and headlights for eyes. It’s not bad looking for a robot, in fact, and it appears tough enough to withstand plenty of handling.

Easy starter

The great thing about Pi2Go is that it is pre-assembled, so all you need to do to get started is mount your Raspberry Pi. Students can then design, plan and write their program and try it out wirelessly (robots are no fun if they are tethered down so wireless is a must).

The Pi2Go is compatible with Scratch and Python programming languages. You could perhaps start with Scratch; however, professional software developers use Python and I’d aim for this in KS3 lessons, as it allows users to write code with clear, readable syntax. The best way to program the Pi2Go is by using the Pythonlibrary module included on the SD card. There are functions here that handle everything including turning the motors, setting the colours of the LEDs, reading the infra-red sensors and determining the distance to objects using the ultrasonic sensor. The programmes you devise can be sent to the robot direct using a USB cable, but using a nano-wireless dongle is a better option.

Although Pi2Go is fun, it is no toy. Whilst you might at first think it is a remote controlled novelty, you’ll soon discover that it is full of features. It has a pair of motors driving wheels with rubber tyres and a metal 360 degree bearing caster at the front. With a range of inputs and outputs, this is a truly impressive piece of kit that allows for sophisticated programming. There is an extremely effective switching regulator, which keeps the Pi and wi-fi connection up and running even with low battery levels. A Raspberry Pi Camera can be attached to the robot as well.

Onwards and upwards

Although example programs are provided to get you started and there is an online support site, too, what I’d like to see available are some tutorial videos to help teachers and students get started and progress. It’s also worth mentioning that, from a power point of view, the robot uses six AA batteries (rechargeables are definitely the sensible option) that are tucked away under the seethrough casing. These aren’t hugely accessible and you need a tiny screwdriver to get them out. These are mere niggles, however.

How much? The Basic (497–EL00494) will cost you £99.95 (+VAT) and the Ultimate (497 –EL00518) is £40 short of £200 (+VAT). For the price, functionality and relative ease of programming I’d say that the Pi2Go represents good value and you do get a lot of bot for your money. Getting two wheeled androids doing cool things in your classroom is a great way to engage students in coding and they teach computer science in an incredibly fun way. The Pi2Go could easily be a stepping stone to greater things – for example, why not use one for inspiration to enter the Cambridge Raspberry Jam Pi-Wars?