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Computing world of Raspberry Pi

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Let us say you want to have a very small hand-held computer for limited usage in travel to do some complex engineering calculations for which the laptop is bulky and the calculator is not enough, or maybe you wish to control your home appliances through wireless but cannot afford to put a laptop 24/7 switched-on and connected at your home, or maybe you want to build a super computer/data center at your home but at a fraction of cost of the actual super computer. For all such scenarios here I am, Raspberry Pi for the rescue, available at a price between $25 and $35 (that’s nearly 1600 to 2200 in INR).

I am just the size of a credit-card and on this small card is a full-fledged single-board computer. I was developed in the UK by the Raspberry Pi Foundation with the intention of promoting the teaching of basic computer science in schools. Hence lots of efforts have been put to keep my prices low. The Foundation’s efforts have blossomed very well as my usage has grown beyond the academic circles. I have been put to use in many innovative ways, below is a peek into the possibilities.

The first and foremost is of course to create a computer. Because am so small, the computer can be very compact. One can create a simple covering box with external interfaces to create a computer of the size of a palm or the external interfaces can even be very complex ones to have a large screen and wireless keyboard/mouse interfaces to create more complicated ones. Some even have added touch-screen interfaces to my hardware. I can support all of these interfaces and many more. Just a note, the more complex hardware increases the cost of the overall end device. Nathan Morgan had built one such minicomputer back in 2012.

In a developing nation like India, I am definitely sure that there must be avenues where I can be more helpful to lots of people.

Further, I can be used to build a low-cost surveillance camera. Connect the camera and screen, install the OS along with the packages required for accessing the video output, that’s it and am ready to run as a surveillance camera system. For me it is just the interfaces that matter. Otherwise, I can work with any device that has no issues in communicating with me. Or on a creative note, how about hosting a small web-server using me and there you could host whatever you wish to on the server such as your resume. Of course, I will not be able to take too much load but hey; it is just your resume that speaks for itself about your computing skills hosted on your own low-cost server. Tim Walker made it and I am sure anyone can make it. Not so difficult, aye.

Man, I can tell you that people have used me to control their home lights using an android application. The lights are connected to me with a GPIO interface. A little code is written to accept request from the android application. I signal the light and will make them work as instructed. One can setup a GPIO Server to interface and communicate with other electronic devices shown by “willq44” on instructables. This can create the Internet of Things as they term it. Cameron Wiebe created a photo frame that would download images from his favorite site and cycle through them showing the images on the screen. Jail-break the kindle and convert it to KindleBerry Pi; I will power it, and it will be my interface as Geoffroy Tremblay had done.

Surveillance camera using raspberry pi

Surveillance camera using raspberry pi

Let us look at some other interesting usages. David Hunt, a photographer, created what he calls a Camera Pi – it’s a DSLR Camera with Embedded Computer. With the Raspberry Pi attached to the camera, he can transfer photos directly to the computer over WiFi, do a little-bit of editing for on-the-fly image conversion, remote control the camera using a PC, tablet PC or smartphone and that too from anywhere in the world! A member of Raspberry Pi Foundation forum Omenie has a work-in-progress on a Virtual Analogue Synthesizer on Raspberry Pi. Simon Cox, a professor of Computational Methods at Britain University of Southampton, along with his team of engineers created a Supercomputer by connecting 64 of the likes of me using Lego bricks as place-holders using The Message Passing Interface (MPI) to manage communications among us. A group of Developer Garden and Oracle employees created a Voice-Activated Coffee Machine.
I am also employed for commercial purposes. Surely one can combine the free and open source for commercial purpose. An example is of a company called Blackstripes has employed me to draw large size (wall-hanging) images in black & white, while the original image given to me is in color.

Being so small my power need is not too much. For all the above applications, you can just add a chargeable battery power or just hook-up a solar panel with charger controller or a Solar Charging Regulator which opens-up the opportunity for setting up computers and controllers in areas where there is a lack of power supply.

For the technically oriented ones, let me explain about my configuration in terms as simple as possible. I have a Broadcom BCM2835 system on a chip (you can call it motherboard). My processor (CPU) is ARM1176JZF-S, 700 MHz processor and I also have a VideoCore IV graphics processor (GPU). I have common RAM shared between the CPU and the GPU. I do not have any built-in hard disk or solid-state drive, so I use an external SD card for booting and persistent storage. Of course there is a SD card slot attached to my small body but with 3.3V card power support only.

Further I come in two models, Model A and Model B. While Model A has 256 MB of RAM, Model B has been upgraded to 512 MB. I have USB 2.0 ports, Model A has 1 port and B has 2 ports. I can take video inputs with a camera connected to my CSI input connector. For video outputs one can connect any LCD to my HDMI connector. For audio I have a 3.5 mm jack, which is also known as Phone plug. Yes, that means I can easily connect to any mobile headphone compatible music system. I just need 5V of power that can be supplied via Micro-USB port or GPIO header, meaning one can connect a mobile charger for power. Though as little as weighing, just around 45 grams, I can still connect to the internet. Model A can connect to a network by using an external user-supplied USB Ethernet or Wi-Fi adapter. Model B has the Ethernet port provided by a built-in USB Ethernet adapter. I am compatible with generic USB keyboards and mice without any problem. I have a few bus and pin connectors for those wanting to connect additional devices.

There have been many operating systems tried on my hardware. To name a few there were Debian, Fedora, Gentoo, FreeBSD etc. After cycling through several recommendations, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has created the New-Out-Of-Box-System (NOOBS) installer. So, as of July 2013 it suggests using Debian-derived Raspbian (OS) for installation. The Foundation intends to create an application store website for people to exchange programs which could hopefully help many users. As of now it is rather difficult for me to run Windows OS as this OS is a little bloated for me to handle. Moreover, one can tinker and fine-tune the Linux versions of the OS for their specific needs.

So you see even though am not that powerful, I still can be a key resource for innovative minds. The applications where I can be put to use are still many more. In a developing nation like India, I am definitely sure that there must be avenues where I can be more helpful to lots of people. The Raspberry Jamboree is an event where the Raspberry Pi community meets to get the latest updates and also to share their knowledge and achievements. The 2014 event is coming up at the end of February. Last year it was fantastic and this year it is looking even bigger and better. So, let the creativity within you all bring out some ideas that can benefit people at large and also may be showcased at a Jamboree event.


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