Technology

VS-Pi Technology

A large portion of Village Science’s work is geared towards fostering relationships with developing countries. One of our goals is to provide a framework that allows free educational content to be distributed to anybody that needs it.

We’re delivering on this goal with VS-Pi (pronounced “Vespy“), which is shorthand for Village Science + Raspberry Pi.

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VS-Pi HARDWARE
Village Science utilizes Raspberry Pi for a number of reasons. Simply put, this hardware is:

  • Cost effective: all of the required hardware (see below) costs about $65 total. This low price point is extremely important, as it allows us to deploy VS-Pi in developing countries.
  • Power efficient: even with the WiFi adapter broadcasting a network, total system current sits around 500mA. However, we suggest a 1A power supply if you’re looking to run this off an external source, as Raspberry Pi power usage can spike during boot/shutdown.
  • Open source: Because Raspberry Pi runs on a Linux OS, we can use most of the free and extremely useful code already out there.
  • Extensible: Raspberry Pi already has a large and amazing community tinkering with this hardware. We consider VS-Pi a constant work in progress, and we’re always thinking of new ways to improve our hardware and software to better suit the needs of developing countries.

Required hardware specifications: total cost about $65*

*Cost does not include installation hardware.
**This hardware is only needed during installation.

Do you have experience with Raspberry Pi development? If you’d like to help out or collaborate, let us know on our Contact page!

VS-Pi SOFTWARE
Village Science runs VS-Pi on Raspbian, the most common Linux OS for Raspberry Pi. From this base operating system, we’ve transformed Raspberry Pi into a server that locally broadcasts free educational content. The best part is that, after the initial installation process, there’s no longer a need for an internet connection!

The Raspberry Pi device broadcasts a free and open Wi-Fi signal through an inexpensive Wi-Fi adapter. We do this by configuring network settings and installing the HTTP and reverse proxy server, Nginx (Engine X).

To deliver the educational webpages, we use a WordPress framework (based on MySQL and PHP). This snippet from Nick Wynja’s blog post, “Under the Hood,” explains why we are going this route:

There are other platforms, frameworks or languages that could make building the content management and display easier for us but a massive amount of websites run WordPress. That means a ton of people know how to use it, build template and themes, plugins, distribute content for it and manage it. We can take advantage of that wide community of WordPress hackers to come up with powerful ways to use it – and even beyond that, introduce first-time engineers in developing communities to enter a world of development on a platform that’s well documented, supported and talked about. It’s a catalyst to get them interested in building and gives them new entrepreneurial opportunities.

During early development, when Raspberry Pi initially serviced WordPress webpages, we found that our little server was hitting a bottleneck when requests hit the MySQL database. To speed this path up, we added Predis (Predis = Redis + PHP wrapper). Now, instead of website requests slowly going to the MySQL database, they route to a cached version that’s serviced much faster!

Of course, this is just one small example of an improvement we made to VS-Pi. Village Science is constantly looking for ways to improve VS-Pi. Visit our Get Involved page to see how you can help!

VS-Pi LIVEWARE
It isn’t enough to develop the hardware and software of a new technology; for an education server to be useful in a classroom it must integrate seamlessly with the existing curriculum. For teachers with limited previous exposure to using digital technology in their classrooms, this is not a trivial challenge.

We’re creating participatory workshops with principals and teachers to design technology solutions that will work in their schools and classrooms (iQuEST). We’re also building the capacity of curriculum developers to create digital versions of the educational content and continue the process after our project finishes.

Sound interesting? Want to get involved? Send us a note on our Contact page; we’d love to have you on the team!