By Gary Thomas
Topics CoveredWhat is a Raspberry Pi?History of the Raspberry PiRaspberry Pi HardwareApplications of Raspberry PiSources
What is a Raspberry Pi?
The Raspberry PiTM (RPi) is a small computer around the size of a credit card and was developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation in the UK. The producers hope that youngsters will be able to learn basic programming by using this little PC. It can be plugged into a keyboard and TV, and is available in two models A and B.
The Raspberry PC consists of a Broadcom BCM2835 system on a chip (SoC) having an ARM1176JZF-S 700 MHz processor, VideoCore IV GPU that uses H.264 at 40MBits/s, and 256Mb/512 MB RAM. It employs SD cards for long-term storage and booting purposes. It measures 85.60mm x 56mm x 21mm and weighs 45g. Model A consist of one USB port and 256Mb RAM without Ethernet port, and model B comprises two USB ports and 512Mb RAM with an Ethernet port. The models A and B are priced at US $25 and US $35, respectively.
History of the Raspberry Pi
In 2006, the Raspberry computer was first designed based on the concept of Atmel ATmega644 microcontroller. The computer’s first ARM prototype version was supported on a package having the same size as that of a USB memory stick. One end of the package had a USB port and other end had an HDMI port.
Nearly 50 Alpha boards produced in August 2011 were found to be physically larger to hold the debug headers. Following this, 25 Beta boards were manufactured and tested in December 2011 and 10 boards were put up for auction. A sum of £16,000 was raised from the auction which helped the foundation to manufacture its first batch of 10,000 boards. The boards were manufactured in Taiwan and China. Sale started in February 2012 and the upgradation of the 128 MB RAM in Model A to 256 MB also happened simultaneously. However, incorrect installation of an Ethernet port delayed the shipping of the first batch in March 2012. It was reported that nearly 4000 units were being manufactured everyday as of July 2012. RS Components and Premier Farnell are the two distributors in the UK who are licensed to sell the RPi.
Around 500,000 boards have been sold out as of September 2012. Raspberry Pi Foundation has announced that it would make use of Sony's manufacturing facility that has the capacity to manufacture 30,000 RPi units per month, which will create several new jobs.
Raspberry Pi Hardware
Model A can be connected to a network with the help of a Wi-Fi adapter or a user-supplied USB Ethernet. Model B consists of a built-in USB Ethernet adapter. The mouse and keyboard of a typical computer are compatible with the RPi.
A real-time clock is not provided with the RPi and hence time and date information can be accessed by allowing an operating system to make use of network time server or ask for the information from the user. However, the Raspberry unit can be incorporated with a real-time clock having battery backup through an inter-integrated circuit.
The RPi features hardware accelerated video (H.264) encoding since August 2012. It can support consumer electronics control, and is also available with two codecs Microsoft's VC-1 and MPEG-2, which can be purchased additionally.
Applications of Raspberry Pi
Apart from its common uses in portable PCs, jukebox, radios, and video games, here are some of the more interesting and innovative applications of the Raspberry computer:
- Near-space craft – The RPi community has designed a hydrogen balloon that carries RPi to a height of 40,000 m to record live images using a USB webcam.
- Birdbox- The students and staff members of the Computer Science department of the University of Manchester have created a DIY nesting box using RPi and a Pi-Face for collecting data related to birds’ behavior and recording birds’ images.
- Home-brewed beer – Elco Jacobs has designed a complex program using RPi, temperature sensors, SD card and an Arduino to detect brew temperature by automatically adjusting the refrigerator temperature.
- Baby monitor- RPi-powered baby monitor was designed with a live video and audio stream, which allows the mother to check on her offspring while working at office. This requires the use of Wi-Fi dongle, an ethernet cable, a microphone and the webcam besides RPi.
- Rocket launcher- When fixed at an office, the RPi used in this device can identify errors in software development and alert the employee by firing a foam missile.
- Robot slave- RPis have a wide range of application in robotics. It has been shown that a robotic arm can be controlled by implementing a voice- recognition program using RPi.