PiKon and other Pi projects from Sheffield University

Sheffield has been a maker city for many years – the thriving steel industry dates back to the 14th century. Today it has the likes of Pimoroni, who recently moved in to a huge new factory, making cases, HATs, media centres and more.


The good ship Pimoroni

The University of Sheffield has been undertaking a number of Raspberry Pi projects in the last couple of years. The computer science department has a research group called Sheffield Pi-Tronics led by Hamish Cunningham. One project of note is their new Pi-powered telescope – PiKon. Not to be confused with PyCon

The £100 3D printed Pi-powered telescope

The University has released incredible images of the moon taken with the Raspberry Pi’s camera module connected to a 3D printed telescope which costs just £100 to make from readily available parts.

The moon

Moon, the

The Pikon astro-cam is a collaborative project by the Department of Physics at the University of Sheffield and Mark Wrigley of Alternative Photonics, a small company based in north Sheffield. The project was set up to deliver a working telescope for the Festival of the Mind event.

They have a working model and they’re aiming to make all the 3D printing resources and instructions available soon. They’re also looking for help producing a simple interface to make it more accessible to all:

So far, we have a working telescope which is operated by entering command lines into the Raspberry Pi. We are looking for enthusiasts and educators to help us take things further. We want to encourage people to create, innovate, educate and share their efforts on an open source basis.


How it works (from pikonic.com):


The PiKon Telescope is based on the Newtonian Reflecting Telescope. This design uses a concave mirror (objective) to form an image which is examined using an eyepiece. The mirror is mounted in a tube and a 45 degree mirror is placed in the optical path to allow the image to be viewed from the side of the tube.

visualtelescope3The PiKon Telescope is based on a very similar design, but the image formed by the Objective is focused onto the photo sensor of a Raspberry Pi Camera. The camera sensor is exposed by simply removing (unscrewing) the lens on the Pi Camera. Because of the small size of the Raspberry Pi Camera board, it is possible to mount the assembly in the optical path. The amount of light lost by doing this is similar to the losses caused by mounting the 45 degree mirror in a conventional Newtonian design.

Former physicist and member of the Institute of Physics, Mark Wrigley, said:

We’ve called this project Disruptive Technology Astronomy because we hope it will be a game changer, just like all Disruptive Technologies.

We hope that one day this will be seen on a par with the famous Dobsonian ‘pavement’ telescopes, which allowed hobbyists to see into the night skies for the first time.

This is all about democratising technology, making it cheap and readily available to the general public.

And the PiKon is just the start. It is our aim to not only use the public’s feedback and participation to improve it, but also to launch new products which will be of value to people.

Also this week the group launched Pi Bank – a set of 20 kits containing Pi rigs that are available for short-term loan. This means local schools and other groups can make use of the kits for projects without having to invest in the technology themselves, with all the essentials, plenty of extra bits to play with – and experts on hand to help out.



See more of the Sheffield Pi-Tronics projects at pi.gate.ac.uk and read more about PiKon at pikonic.com

Any positive comments about Sheffield are completely biased as that’s where I’m from. If you’re interested in the history of Sheffield there’s a great documentary you should watch called The Full Monty.


daniel avatar

Woop Woop Go sheffield

Yeh, I’m from sheffield, Went to uni there (hallam (the old poli)) and never left :D

Wish I’d know about this sooner, I’d have been up at “uni of” banging on the door, demanding to help them ;) lol

Scot avatar

Wow this is cool. The question, “What can you do with a pi?” really should be, “What CAN’T you do with a pi?”

Andrew Wilson avatar

Sheffield, Sheffield, Sheffield! Sheffield, Sheffield, Sheffield! Sheffield, Sheffield, Sheffield! Sheffield, SHEFFIELD!!

Graduate of The Uni, supporter of The Wednesday, worked at the Steel Works, glad to see its the 2nd home of the Raspberry Pi!

My masters uni project was investigating mountain bike suspension systems back in 2007; we hooked up a microprocessor to some accelerometers and a Simulink running on a laptop in a rucksack – not bad but a massive system. I bet there are tons of simple engineering projects you could do a lot simpler with a raspberry / arduino combo; and also much cheaper, and probably something you could do at home. Pi is definitely a vital part of an engineers monitoring toolbox, especially for research students!

Mark Daniels avatar

Wow! This is awesome. The University of Sheffield physics and electrical engineering departments rock! Have just forwarded the link to one of my old tutors from the Dept of Physics who runs a telescope in Norfolkshire!

gordon77 avatar

“a 3D printed telescope which costs just £100 to make from readily available parts.”

Which parts are 3D printed ?

Ken MacIver avatar

Two set of two words for anyone from Sheffield

Fish Cake
Hendersons Relish

Ethnic Food at it’s absolute Best….

gordon77 avatar

Two more words…

Full Monty ;)

HBE avatar

Interesting telescope design. At an even lower price point, you could also mod an existing telescope like the Celestron FirstScope and get similar results, and avoid any 3D printing. I use a Firstscope with a Pi cam for solar photography, at the main focus of that Newtonian scope the sun or the moon will almost fill the sensor, so you get quite a bit of detail.

Matt avatar

“Maker” city? Can we please not reduce down hundreds of years of *engineers* and *engineering* into a dumbed-down, currently trendy hipster phrase, to talk down to people who you don’t think are capable of understanding titles that people have understood FOR YEARS? The words are:

# “Engineer”

# “Engineering”

Maker? Makering? Makegeneering? NO – just… no.

That is all, I thank you :-)

Michaela Gunn avatar

Hello, I was wondering if you could help me out with a current project simliar to this but less complex. I’m a highschool student at Greyhighlands Secondary in Flesherton, ont. I currently for my computer engieneer class want to program a Rpi to take pictures/videos off of my telescope. By plcaing the Rpi to my telescope lens and to be able to take photo’s through that. Do you think you would be able to help me out??

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