Raspberry Pi

October 9, 2012 at 1:06 am Leave a comment

One of the talks I attended at Maker Faire was about the Raspberry Pi, a remarkable single board computer (ARM based) smaller than an iPhone that runs Linux, has on-board video (HDMI and Composite out), 10/100 MBPS Ethernet and 2 USB ports. Basically, it’s more powerful than the computers that Brian and I started Imagiware with, back in the mid-90’s. Oh, and it costs $25.

But computing is cheap now, you can get a full-up Pentium running Windows 7 for less than $300 from Asus… should I really be that excited about it? Yes, and so should you. Because this tiny little computer is geared towards all the cool stuff a maker would want to do with a highly mobile, low power consumption computer. What makes it so useful is a bunch of GPIO pins that can be used to run various devices and external projects, which can be  accessed from Python, or even the shell if you’re so inclined.

Lots of neat projects are using the Pi as the backbone for gluing functions together, whether it’s datalogging and controlling a homebrewing process (BrewPi), or teaching kids to program using Scratch. I bought the starter kit from the Maker Shed at the Faire since I wanted to get some of the extras (like a plug-in power supply, rather than running it off a USB port on another computer), and set it up on the TV with a USB hub to connect a mouse and keyboard. The most common Linux distribution for the Pi is Raspian (a Debian derivative), and following the instructions on the web site got me to a lightweight window manager running on the Pi in under an hour.

So far I’ve been playing in Linux itself, since it’s been a while since I’ve used a Debian-based distribution. It’s not so far removed from my experience with Fedora-based distros, so once I got Synaptic (an apt GUI) up and running, updating the OS and loading additional software was a snap.

I think my first project will be to make a display board for the wall by my office at Zomega. Currently a whiteboard occupies the space, but a dynamic display could hold quite a bit more information, and with a few controls on the side, it would be possible for people to scroll through the contents. It also might make a good kiosk computer for our trade shows… something my Mac does now when I’m there. The kit came with some prototyping parts for simple electronic interfaces, so I’ll start delving into that this week.

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Maker Faire 2012 NYC Stepper motors and the Raspberry Pi

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