A fully-integrated app platform for Raspberry Pi
Client: Side project with NORD collective
Technology: Raspberry Pi, Python
Date: Sept 2014 - Ongoing

Tingbot is a creative app platform for the Raspberry Pi.

We are all big fans of the Pi - it’s a tiny, inexpensive computer that can be deployed to do any number of amazing things. The problem faced by most Raspberry Pi owners is the learning curve they face when starting a project. After hooking the Pi up to a computer monitor and a USB keyboard and mouse, the user is then faced with desktop Linux - an unfamiliar environment, with different apps to learn and master.

Tingbot’s approach is different - we treat the Raspberry Pi as a target device for apps written on the user’s computer, allowing the user to remain in a familiar and productive environment and get straight to what matters - writing the code!

Tingbot OS

I am responsible for the software side of Tingbot. Tingbot runs a custom operating system, based on Raspbian. The operating system is responsible for

  • setting up on first boot without user interaction
  • connecting to wifi
  • providing the home screen, a means to navigate between apps and access settings
  • keeping one app running at all times
  • handling button combos to return to the home screen
  • updating itself over the internet

The operating system is available as a prebuilt SD card image and DEB files are available for live system upgrades. The SD card images are built using Travis CI in a QEMU virtual machine.

The tingbot-python libraries

To make app development simple to learn, I developed our own Python libraries covering the basic functionality of Tingbot with simple, consistent APIs. Apps run on a simple runloop, handling events and drawing to the screen when required.

import tingbot
from tingbot import *

def loop():
    screen.text('Hello, world!')


Events are handled using decorated functions that are attached to the main run loop, so a drawing app is as simple as:

import tingbot
from tingbot import *


def on_touch(xy):
    screen.rectangle(xy=xy, size=(6, 6), color='blue')


More information can be found in the docs.

Tide (the Tingbot IDE)

A key part of Tingbot is the development experience - for that, we made our own IDE. It’s covered in more detail here.

Open source

All of our software on the project is open source and available on Github.