Ezblock Pi - programming without programming, this time for Raspberry Pi fans

    The idea of ​​writing code without writing code (yes, writing - the present participle of the present tense from the verb to write, live now with this) has repeatedly occurred to smart people and just lazy people. The dream of a graphical interface, within which you can throw one dice on another, draw mutual connections and select properties of objects from cute drop-down lists, and then by pressing the magic button “Compile” get a working code equivalent to the code of another (not so smart, of course) a programmer who uses the outdated method of manual printing has always smoldered in the head like corporate bosses who want to introduce every yesterday’s student to programming, whose intellect allowed him not to miss the toilet, so startups wishing for an adequate price to bring happiness to the whole world. Today, your attention is invited to:

    Crowdfunding project : Ezblock Pi.
    The essence of the project : a graphical programming environment for the Raspberry Pi in tandem with an expansion board.
    Platform : Kickstarter.
    Project address : kickstarter.com/ezblock .
    Authors : Georganne Chang, Reggie Lau.
    Location : USA, Delaware, Wilmington.



    Attempts to develop serious graphical programming environments have slowly come to naught; even the top bosses realized that the programming process was too complicated to fit into a Procrustean bed of multi-colored cubes. Fortunately, there were still amateur programmers, in the case of the crowdfunding project under consideration, there were Raspberry Pi lovers. In order not to promote bare software, the authors supplement the graphical development environment with an expansion board, which is designed to facilitate the process of connecting to external devices.

    On the project page, in the title video, we are introduced to two robotics programmers, Robert and Emily. Robert, like every self-respecting wearer of a tie and glasses, is coding in Python in the old fashioned way, using a monitor and keyboard. Amy’s caring hands, flying over the edge of the frame, take away the keyboard, monitor and even the mouse, replacing all this with a beautiful white tablet. The tablet, in turn, runs a program called Ezblock Studio, which allows you to write for the now fashionable IoT in the style of Drag-n-Drop-n-be-happy.

    Naturally, while Robert fails the attempt for an attempt (possibly due to the use of the gaming keyboard), Emily’s robot successfully water the plant from a cup, the girl herself receives notifications from the robot directly to the phone and even dictates the response orders using voice control.

    Since the squares still need to be glued together with some kind of logic, closer to the end of the video, support for programming languages ​​is finally announced, these are Python and Swift (the main character of the video, a tablet, has an apple logo). Only now Amy has to hammer on the on-screen keyboard, since no one has returned her normal one. Support for iOS, Android, Linux, Windows and macOS is announced for Ezblock Studio. Everyone is happy. Well, maybe, except for Robert, who disappeared in the middle of the video; may have gone into a binge or quit.

    Well, I think, enough literature. Let’s see without a banter what the developers offer us for $ 35.

    The Ezblock Pi project in a minimal configuration consists of three parts:

    • the Ezblock Pi board itself, used as an expansion board for the Raspberry Pi;
    • a basic set of 15 modules (there is also a set of modules for IoT, sold in a more expensive set for $ 74, about it a little lower);
    • access to Ezblock Studio, which allows you to write software for the Raspberry Pi through Drag-n-Drop manipulations;
    • plastic case for assembling the Raspberry Pi + Ezblock Pi;
    • instruction.

    With the case and instructions, I think everything is clear, let's take a closer look at the first three points.

    The stuffing of the Ezblock Pi board can be judged only by the mention of “supported by STM32 controller” and by a fuzzy photo of the first prototype. Apparently, the STM32 microcontroller in the TQFP32 package is present on the board. The cheapest microcontroller in this package, STM32L010K4T6 (ARM Cortex-M0 +), costs € 0.737 in batches of 100 or more; the most expensive, STM32F334K8T6 (ARM Cortex-M4) - € 2.79 (Mouser prices). A 3.3 V linear regulator in the SOT-223 package is responsible for power, and a ready-made module for Bluetooth, judging by the appearance, it’s something like ESP12E. For contact with the outside world, there are two 20-pin connectors and a breadboard field in the center of the board.

    The composition of the basic set of 15 modules for me, to be honest, remained a mystery, even after looking closely at the illustrations for the project. If the complete set of the set of modules for IoT is honestly photographed and named, then the basic set, which is included in the initial package, is kept secret more than the design of a new car before a major automobile exhibition. The basic set allows you to “create 15 different projects”, but there are 10 cardboard boxes in the illustrations, which seem to contain some kind of electronic components, but the complete set of the basic set is not deciphered anywhere.

    As for Ezblock Studio, I already shared my skepticism at the beginning of the news. In my opinion, a system that will really master all the options voiced (I recall: (block programming + Python + Swift) * (iOS + macOS + Android + Linux + Windows)) may well be developed, but I would put about 5 man-years or one year of work of a team of five people (how much would you give?), even when using some kind of multitool, like Electron. Considering that the developers claimed only $ 10,000 (the project looks very cheerful, so now 400% of this amount has already been collected), it is completely unclear what this team will eat during the entire development period. To the credit of the authors, I must add that the first version of Ezblock Studio is already available on Google Play.

    The text of the presentation contains typos that are familiar to Chinese manufacturers, in this case the vibration motor included in the set of modules for IoT is called “Vabration Module” instead of “Vibration Module”. However, this time the real developers do not even think of hiding; please, here is a group photo of residents of Wilmington, Delaware:



    Do not get me wrong, I’m not drowning at all for the negative attitude towards the developers from China. This, in general, is a fait accompli - at first, Chinese programmers ate a significant chunk of Google Play and Apple App Store, and now they are gaining their place in the sun with crowdfunding platforms. Crowdfunding is just that good, which allows almost any earthling who has the Internet and a bank card to tell the world about his development and sometimes make good money on it. Negativity can only be caused by a too strong shift of emphasis from the technical component of the project towards rainbow marketing, when the [possible] design flaws are hushed up and the emotionally-joyful side is excessively hypertrophied. Here's a look at another illustration from the Ezblock Pi presentation:



    Saved, as the video blogger Evgeny Bazhenov aka BadComedian says, "author editing." Do you have any idea how, being in a sober mind and sound memory, with the help of the Raspberry Pi and the "Vibration Module" construct IT? Or is it still a call to our collective unconscious: “Look how cool, buy faster!”?

    To take or not to take? First of all, let me remind you that 509 people have already chipped in the amount of $ 41,000 (with the requested $ 10,000), and almost 3 weeks before the end of the campaign. People like it. Perhaps if you are a fan of the Raspberry Pi, you also see the positive aspects in the proposed design that outweigh the reluctance to part with the amount from $ 35 to $ 179. Perhaps you, too, like Robert from the ad video, are tired of “writing repeated lines of code.” Or maybe you just think that the guys are moving in the right direction and want to support them with their financial infusion. Just remember that for the equivalent amount of $ 35, the Raspberry Pi itself is sold (I won’t even mention delicately the Raspberry Pi Zero and Raspberry Pi Zero W), which the team of engineers really had to use to create, and on which the ARM Cortex-A53 stands with clock 1,

    I have a small blog from which I took this article. If you have in mind an interesting crowdfunding project from the field of DIY or Open source hardware, share the link, we will discuss it too. Crowdfunding campaigns are fleeting and strongly tied to community support, and perhaps even a small number of orders coming from Habr will help some campaigner to bring the campaign to a victorious end.

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