But the Raspberry Pi is more than that. It is the gateway to the Internet of things, and the tool to teach the next generation how to create it.
In 2006, some great minds at the University of Cambridge's computer lab started to notice a difference in the applicants for the schools Computer Science program. The hackers, hobbyists and electronics aficionados that made up the bulk of the students applying in the 1990s had been replaced by folks with little to no experience in the darker arts and if anything, had mostly web-programming experience. While there's nothing wrong with web-programming, the world needs nerds, too. They got together and did what they could do to tackle the problem, and the Raspberry Pi was born. Fast forward to the 2010s, and the idea has blossomed into the Raspberry Pi Foundation and a low-cost, highly-capable single board computer — the Raspberry Pi — is available to help teach computer science and electronics to both this generation of makers as well as the next.
It's working. Inexpensive hardware combined with a pool of competent engineers and programmers willing to get dirty and share both the how and the why have made the Raspberry Pi a tool that's unparalleled for students and hobbyists alike. It takes more than just making the hardware available, and the support and interest of academia, businesses, and the community make the Pi a gateway to the next step in the computing revolution. And everyone involved wants you to be a part of it.
The Raspberry Pi is a small (it's the size of a credit card) single board computer that you can connect to just about any TV or monitor, add a keyboard, and have a complete and functional desktop computer. And it only costs about $35 to get started.
It has an ARM11 700MHz CPU and on-board graphics chip (the Broadcomm BCM2835) and 512MB of RAM at it's heart, as well as it's own LAN controller and all the inputs and outputs that your bigger, more expensive desktop computer has. It's no powerhouse, but it's comparable to any desktop you might have had in the mid-2000s from a company with cow patterns on the box.
With open hardware, there are plenty of Linux options for the software — including an Android port. With a little setup, you can have a working system with a full GUI that can browse the web, help do your homework, or get down and dirty with hacking, prototyping, and programming. I wrote this blog post on a Raspberry Pi. It really is a real computer.
The best part is that none of this is hard. Follow a few easy steps and you're set up and ready to go. None of the down and dirty is required to enjoy the Raspberry Pi if you don't want to go down or get dirty.
We are going to get down and dirty in the Connectedly forums with the Pi — this is what I was born to do — but we're also going to cover all the basics to get you started. If you've an interest in the Raspberry Pi, you're going to love it.
For some of us, building a tiny computer is not enough. Thankfully, The Pi comes complete with inputs and outputs that are readily accessible to make it connect — and interact — with the outside world. On the board you'll find JTAG headers, Ziff sockets for video input and output devices, and a powerful GPIO (General Purpose Input Oput) header. Using things like sensors, or motors or optocouplers, we can connect devices to the Pi and control them.
Welcome to the Internet of things.
Before I came to Mobile Nations, I spent most days sitting in an office/lab doing R&D work with automation equipment, machine vision systems, and robotics. I consider myself a pretty good judge of what's good and what's not-so-good when it comes to electronic peripherals. My purchasing agent might have disagreed, but I know what works best and why it works best. This is why I think everyone interested in tinkering needs a Raspberry Pi.
There are plenty of other options to use on your workbench, and many do some things better than the Pi — curse the 3.3v inputs, give me 5v DC! But none have the level of support that the Pi does. This goes for the board itself, as well as the hundreds of "accessories" that were built to connect to the Pi, and driver support, sample code, and the general knowledge that comes with something like a camera board or motion sensor for the Pi makes things easy to do and learn. I can pour through man pages, schematics and documentation because I spent years being taught how to do it and what to look for. But I think that's a sure-fire way to turn off an enthusiastic developer who needs a little guidance. You'll not find better support for any other project board.
If you're an accomplished technician or electronics buff, you'll love the availability of "stuff" designed to use the Pi in your projects. If you're just getting started, you'll love the fact that there are plenty of people to tell you where to begin, and where to go next.
That's where we step in. And things are going to be fun. Looks for all manner of Raspberry Pi how-tos and tutorials for both the novice and expert in the Connectedly forums from staff and members just like you.
Let's do some great stuff — or blow shit up while we try.