At a glance, Elecrow’s CrowPi looks like an elegant executive briefcase. However, opening it up will immediately change that opinion as you’re more likely to perceive it as a hacker’s tool.
The top part of the casing houses a 7 inch HD touchscreen along with a camera while the bottom part holds the CrowPi development board and a plethora of DIY electronics parts. There’s an mini LCD screen, temperature and humidity sensor, RFID module and many, many more packed in this portable kit, each of which have dedicated CrowPi tutorials (21 in total) to get you to understand what they do and how to program codes in Python for them.
I found the tutorials to lack challenge and be kind of a hand-holding experience as all example codes are already worked out for you, ready to launch. There could have been more introductory lessons which give you exercises to complete so as to program specific modules in Python by yourself and solutions to these on the website should you get stuck.
Nevertheless, by progressing across the tutorials and seeing each module in action made me say “wow” or “that’s cool!” out loud more often than I would have expected. I’ve used the ultrasonic sensor to estimate the distance from the CrowPi and my roof, I played around with the light sensor to determine the ambient light (or lack thereof when I block it with my finger) and even coded the LCD screen to print custom messages. The CrowPi is full of such experiments and I can only imagine how younger audiences or beginners to the DIY world will marvel at the possibilities.
While I’m not a fan of the executive style of the exterior, the interior of the CrowPi very well aligns with what I appreciate. I’ve been reviewing DIY and educational kits for some time, testing DIY consoles, a tangible robot that teaches coding and even a DIY phone. The CrowPi fits in the same category of educational kits that encourages users to explore more with the hardware and software once the tutorial is done.
Indeed, once you are done with the tutorials of the CrowPi, the adventure only begins! While Elecrow has laid out the basic code for each module to function, it’s up to the user to build on those. They can link up modules to buzz when the temperature/humidity reaches a certain level or control a robot with the servo and control buttons. The limit is your imagination and the CrowPi gives you the right tool to do so.
If you want to make more out of the Raspberry Pi board mounted on the CrowPi (it supports both model 3 and the latest model 4), you can also turn the kit into a portable emulator device as the kit also comes with 2 SNES-styled controllers, or even use it as a laptop replacement for (very) light computer use. Elecrow also offers tutorials for Minecraft and Scratch as alternative ways to learn to code. With its built-in modules, it allows you to code with a twist. Additionally the kit comes with additional hardware tools which are instrumental to demonstrate the potential of the modules and the tutorials (available in both pdf and video form).
Even if it’s a great educational tool, the CrowPi does come with some caveats. For one, the whole kit is quite heavy despite being portable. On the plus side, you can still power it with a power bank so that you don’t have to carry the charging cable on top of the hefty CrowPi case. A major inconvenience is the inability to adjust the screen tilt and as the lid opens at a 90° to the case and you’ll have to work from this angle only. Adding a hinge to the lid would have facilitated the overall experience.
Additionally, the starting price of $219 for the basic kit (no Raspberry Pi board included) is quite high. You might not end up using all of the modules included and if you have a specific project in mind, you can buy the parts separately and save much more. However, to the CrowPi’s credit, it’s more geared towards showcasing the possibilities and giving beginners a head start with DIY-ing with the Raspberry Pi.
Nevertheless, I believe that the CrowPi can be a great tool for schools or a kit to introduce your kid(s) to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. Even if it’s appropriate for younger audiences, it’s also recommended for older ones as well if they have no prior experience with programming and electronics. Users will have hands-on experience with DIY-ing, with the handy video and written tutorials guiding them along the way and all the tools from a single kit.
|What We Liked . . . Well-equipped kit for educational purposes Fun and hands-on tutorial to get acquainted with the potential of the Raspberry Pi Lots of accessories, in addition to modules, provided to help in learning and creating||What We Didn't Like . . . Tutorials lack challenge Cannot adjust screen tilt Heavy Pricey|
out of 10
CrowPi is an adequate solution for educational purposes geared towards electronics DIY enthusiasts of all ages.