I missed out on this during the crowdfunding campaign. As the campaign had been successfully funded, you can buy the CrowPi 2 in the Elecrow store, rather than through the campaign pledges. Elecrow was kind enough to send me one so I can share my thoughts with you and perhaps influence your shopping lists. I already covered their CrowBits – STEM-oriented take on modular components and programming toys, now I get to play with an interesting laptop that hides a STEM playground underneath its keyboard.
CrowPi 2 is a STEM come true
CrowPi 2 isn’t just a Raspberry Pi 4 powered laptop. Don’t be fooled by its 90’s laptop footprint. Underneath the keyboard lays clever arrangements of things that STEM educators like the most: Raspberry Pi 4 and a custom PCB with more sensors and modules that you can count. It may not be the most handsome portable device out there, but as far as education is concerned, CrowPi is probably one of the coolest devices to have in your bag.
IT was shipped to me in a massive box, filled to the brim with add-ons, even extra boards & sensors, game controllers for RetroPi installation (included on a microSD card) and extra bits and pieces that will make the interaction with CrowPi 2 even more entertaining.
The laptop shell is designed around the Raspberry Pi 4 included in the kit. The board inside can be accessed at any time and replaced with another one, should you need 8GB RAM. There is a storage tray at the back that doubles as a battery compartment – as the laptop can be powered via a 5V source (battery bank) as well as 12DC via a supplied charger. It’s a shame the port isn’t USB-C PD compatible instead.
To interact with CrowPi 2, there is a 11.6-inch 1080p panel, wireless mouse & keyboard + touchpad combo. These will need a USB dongle to work, which is a shame as having these connect via Bluetooth would be better. The keyboard has a significant give to it, as it covers up the access to the custom PCB with sensors. It makes it feel a bit cheap, but I will forgive it as whats lays underneath it is worth it. Unfortunately, the keyboard has to be charged separately.
To close the list of physical features, I should mention the integrated webcam (2-MP camera), microphone and speakers which you can use in various projects loaded up to CrowPi 2 OS.
I sense a lot of sensors
The most distinct feature of CrowPi 2 is the custom PCB with sensors and modules. In a cleverly designed compartment, you will find the most popular sensors and modules available for Raspberry Pi and other microcontrollers. You are not limited only to the modules included on the board as the custom PCB breaks out a full 40 pin header with Raspberry Pi GPIOs and provides you with STEMA connectors that use I2C protocol to expand your interaction to external modules, sensors and devices.
It’s a true playground to explore! There is even a mini breadboard to interface other electronics with CrowPi 2. Playing around with sensors this way, removes the need for soldering, and reduces possible errors that can short the hardware life early. As the sensors can interact with each other, it opens up countless learning opportunities.
Here is the list of things that you can play with:
To STEM or not to STEM
CrowPi 2 comes with a complete STEM educational package that delivers curriculum through associated programming books and interactive learning tutorials. The software supports multiple users, retaining the progress of individual students. It’s easier to share with others. A lot of thought went into turning a simple Raspberry Pi 4 board into an educational tool available to be shared with others.
Learning activities are split between Python, Scratch and Minecraft. I believe Python and Scratch need no introduction, but Minecraft brings a completely new game to the table. Lessons teach you how to program and mod the game so it supports sensors and responds to changes in the real world. It’s a great introduction for anyone who’d like to give it a shot at game development.
These lessons do vary in difficulty. Beginners will find something to get started (sensor interactions), while more advanced users can jump straight into projects and game development. It’s worth mentioning that this is just a beginning, as the STEM package is just a launcher offered on top of the regular Raspbian OS.
RetroPi & other uses
It’s never all work and no play. If you get tired of reading datasheets and troubleshooting your code, you can pause, take a break and launch the second micro SD card included in the box. RetroPi is included alongside two controllers to transform CrowPi 2 into a portable retro console. RetroPi has a great community and is well supported, so you never be short on games to try.
If retro games aren’t your thing, you can install SteamLink and play more modern games via Steam. Thanks to all bells and whistles of the latest Rasberry Pi 4 you can turn this laptop into a portable gaming station.
CrowPi 2 is still a Raspberry Pi 4 board at heart and as such everything that you could do on that board applies to CrowPi 2 as well. Put a movie on, or binge tutorials from your favourite YouTuber. Open NodeRED and set up your automation server with a dedicated screen and more! Your imagination and skill is your limit.
CrowPi 2 and I
It’s less of an educational toy for me. I use CrowPi 2 to quickly test and troubleshoot projects and ideas. A dedicated Raspberry Pi based machine that I can quickly turn on to try a bit of code without setting up a complex toolchain on my Windows or just see if the piece of code I wrote works with a specific module. With my desk space being limited, having an all in one platform to do this comes in handy.
So far, I have used CrowPi 2 to troubleshoot one of the Raspberry Pi kits I received from Labists. The ultrasonic sensor was playing up, and to test it, I simply hooked it up via integrated breadboard and used the lesson about ultrasonic sensors to confirm that the module is operational.
I also wanted to test a couple of LEDs patterns for my upcoming project as well, and this again was as simple as plugging the wires into the breadboard and modifying the RGB matrix lessons script to my needs instead of running back and forth between my main computer and the LED strip which was already firmly fixed in place.
After all, this is still a Raspberry Pi 4 machine running Raspbian OS and you can use it as such for your everyday tinkering. Having CrowPi 2 at hand is helpful, as I no longer have to go through the process of connecting external devices to test something out.
I’d love to see Elecrow making a CM4 based machine next. As a maker, I would adore a small Linux platform with writing, battery life and portability in mind. Considering their track record so far, I believe they are capable of releasing a product that would meet these needs. I think there is a demand for a machine like that.
CrowPi 2 may look like a laptop that belongs to the ’90s but packs enough features to bring STEM education to kids and adults. It’s nice to know that options like CrowPi 2 are out there to spark interest in electronics, programming and making. I found it to be extremely handy in testing things out without the hassle of wiring the sensors and going through all the usual motions of cluttering my entire desk with bits. CrowPi 2 is available via the Elecrow website and starts at $299. Let me know your thoughts in this Reddit thread.
🆓 – See the transparency note for details.