The Rhinoceros is normally fuelled by plants, leaves and other vegetation, but one rhino this summer will be powered by a very different power source: five Raspberry Pi's.
Developed by the University of Southampton’s Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) department, Erica is a cyber-rhino which will be on display at various locations around the town to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Marwell Zoo in Winchester. The Raspberry Pi's will enable the fibreglass construction to interact with the public by using cameras, LEDs, phones and artificial intelligence algorithms.
Many of the components used to build Erica were sourced from Rapid.
Each of the credit-card sized computers controls aspects of Erica's senses such as her eyes, ears, her 'brain' and the networking system which enables her to respond to remote interactions, such as tweets. The Pi's are linked to inputs and outputs such as sensors, cameras and LEDs. For example, there are cameras behind Erica's eyes to detect motion and read QR codes, RGB LEDs in its horn and a display on its stomach. A microphone inside Erica's body will pick up sounds and her ears will move towards people close by.
Erica has been programmed to have short and long term memory. Her mood will change with the cumulative effect of the attention and interaction she receives, and will be indicated by LEDs and sounds from a sound module. People will be able to send tweets to Erica, feed and interact with her through a smartphone app. They will certainly know whenever she is hungry or angry!
“Five Raspberry Pis are doing the control,” said Dr Kirk Martinez of ECS. “We wanted to push Raspberry Pis to the limit.
It is much more interesting than using one big computer. Networked together, two of the Pis, plus a daughter board, control
the movement and the eye LEDs – real rhinos move their eyes quite a
lot,” said Martinez.
“Erica’s team has made it possible for her to learn about her
environment and provided her with both short and long term memory,” said
a spokesman for the University of Southampton. “The short term memory enables her to react instantly
to an action, while the long term memory recalls accumulated actions so
that her mood and behaviour can change throughout the day”.