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raspberry pi logo1RASPBERRY Pi (RPi): [Seriously, at first I thought this referred to Strawberry Shortcake’s little sister.  If you have kids, you know I’m talking about the saccharin cartoon character loved by pre-teens.] Actually - it’s WORLD’S SMALLEST AND LEAST EXPENSIVE COMPUTER!  Released for production in early 2012, it is a fully programmable PC that runs a free, open-source Linux operating system, plugs into any TV, uses any USB keyboard, can power 3D graphics, and can connect to the Internet.  It is a credit-card size (3.37 in. x 2.21 in.) circuit board with an embedded Broadcomm ARM microchip, and 256 or 512 Mb RAM encased in plastic or aluminum, equipped with two USB ports, a SD card slot (in place of a hard disk drive) and an ethernet connection, powered by a USB charger.  It can also have a removable camera on a one inch board which can take still images up to 5 megapixels and record video at up to 30 frams/sec.  Other add-ons are sure to follow.  (See Arduino, below.)  At about $20 - $35 (depending on RAM), the (original) device (the A+ model) is the worlds smallest and least expensive full computer.  It’s available to “Raspbians” at the online “Pi Store” and other sources, like Allied Electronics (it sold out in one day).  The graphic below, from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, shows the board setup:

Raspberry Pi  labeled board

Conceived Eben Uptonby Eben Upton, a University of Cambridge (U.K.) professor and the Trustee of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, it was intended to be a cost-effective computer for Raspberry pi caseeducational purposes (as of 2016, over 8 million have been shipped), as it could equip an entire classroom at a cost of less thaRaspberry pi connectedn a single PC.  However, it has also become popular among computer enthusiasts, hobbyists and even businesses that require a light computer for a dedicated industrial application.  Or in government surveillance drones, for example.  Popular projects have been a “Pi Wi-Fi Radio,” “Raspberry Rover” remote control toy car with webcam and infrared headlights, and the “PiPhone,” a smartphone that makes calls, sends and receives text and handles data.  Still, Upton hopes that the biggest impact will be for entry-level computers in the developing world. 

A number of operating systems can be installed, particularly on the Model B, available through the NOOBs Installer and OSMC (“Open Source Media Center), successor to where the Raspbmc (“Raspberry Pi Media Center) left offThe O/S is usually downloaded to and installed from the SD card.  More recent additions to the  O/S’s include Ubuntu 15.04 Mate, DietPi, RetroPie, CentOS. Alpine Linux, RiscOS, Snappy Ubuntu Core, RuneOS, Gentoo and FreeBSD.  Pixel, the tiny but useful Linux distribution originally launched in September, 2016 for the ARM-powered Raspberry Pi, is now available in an experimental build for x86 architectures. Also, Volumio to turn it into a music player, Recalbox or Lakka turning it into a retro gaming console, chilipie-kiosk into a full-screen Chrome browser and OctoPi aimed at 3D printers.  Kano OS is aimed at children, Hypriot and resinOS suited to deploying Docker containers, and BerryBoot, a loader allowing installation of multiple RasPi O/Ss on a single SD card and also storing OS files on a separate hard drive.  And, in July, 2015, Microsoft introduced a Windows 10 version for the Raspberry Pi.  It’s a stripped down version, of course, called Windows 10 IoT Core, specifically available for embedded devices.

Where did the name come from?  In the early days of home micros, many of computers were named after fruit (e.g. Apple, Apricot, Tangerine).  The Pi part comes from Python, which was a programming language originally intended to run the computer before Linux was selected.  My guess:  They had probably already set up the foundation and it was too much trouble to change the name. 

And, now that it’s been proven to be successful, there are the inevitable followers, like Beaglebone BlackIntel MinnowBoard Max, Banana Pi, Hummingbird (originally CuBox), and others, like the Chip (only $9, available in 2016), Raspberry Zero ($5), Intel’s Next Unit of Computing (NUC at $409), Mintbox Mini, Zotac’s Zbox Pico ($169) most of which have more RAM and processing power.  In 2016, the Onion Omega2 (successor to the original Onion Omega) came out at $5, one-quarter the size of the Raspberry Pi (the size of a cherry!), competing with the Pi Zero, having a 580 Mhz CPU, 64 Mb of memory and 16Mb of storage.  While the Pi Zero does have a 1Ghz CPU, the Omega2 does have built-in Wi-Fi, while the Pi Zero has an HDMI out port.  Onion does have, however, Onion Cloud that can be used to control the computer via the web browser on any computer.  Generally, some of the competitors have different features and probably less helpful user groups than the original Raspberry Pi.  And they usually cost more for the same power. See e.g. the Intel Galileo, discussed below.

 In 2014, Intel threw its hat in the “maker movement,” introducing the Edison, a $50 single-board computer, slightly larger than a postage Edison from Intelstamp, designed to work as an embedded Linux board (running Yocto Linux v1.6)  for electronic prototypes and products (rather than as a small-board computer running a full-blown Linux distro).  Initially, it has 1Gb RAM and 4Gb eMMC storage, a dual-core Intel Atom Z34XX processor (500MHz) with a single-core processor, Wi-Fi -n, Bluetooth, a single USB port, SD interface and a 70 pin connector.  The Intel Developer Forum has examples of projects, including humanoid and hexapod robots, tracking drones, fall detectors, space photography, sign language translators, etc.

UPDATE:  In mid-2014, the Pi Model B+ was released, an upgrade to the original, for the same $35 price.  It included the most commonly requested features by the now more than 2 million users.  According to Eben Upton, this will be the final version, as nothing else can be added to this board technology.  Here are the changes:  Increased the number of GPIO (general purpose input-output) pins from 26 to 40, expanding the range of hardware that can directly connect to the Pi  (reportedly even a 3-D printer); Swapped the linear onboard power regulators with switching ones, reducing power consumption by a watt (useful for high altitude cameras and balloons); Increased the number of USB ports from 2 to 4, expanding the Pi’s use and eliminating the necessity for a hub device; Incorporating a low-noise power supply and a dedicated supply rail for audio, with less audio impedance, providing higher quality output and allowing the use of 32 ohm headphones; Finally a cleaner design with ports on only two (not all four) sides to better fit available cases.

UPDATE 2: I guess it wasn’t the final version after all.  On 2/2/15, the Pi 2 ws introduced. It has a quad-core processor, 1Gb of memory and runs some 6 times faster than previous models.  It will keep the $35 price tag and is compatible with both the hardware and software of the older Pi’s.  The 900Mhz Broadcom BCM2836 CPU, based on the ARMv7 architecture, replaces the dual-core 700Mhz Broadcom chip in the B+, which the Pi 2 replaces.  It has the same size, port and pin configuration as the earlier Pi models.

The latest challenger to the Raspberry Pi is the more powerful (and expensive, at $65) MIPS Creator C120, with a dual core processor twice as powerful as the Pi, the same graphics processor as used in the Kindle Fire, support for OpenGL 1.2 for gaming, built in 802.11n Wi-Fi support and on-board storage. Also, the Endless Mini, at $79. The Galileo, which is based on an Intel Quark chip vice the ARM CPUs of the other makers, is another alternative, although while it is priced below Intel’s MinnowBoard at $199, is still higher than the other alternatives, and only half as powerful. Also, in July, 2015 he BBC revealed the final design of the Micro Bit, a pocket-sized computer set to be given to about a milion UK-based children in October, 2015.  It is intended to be an easy way to teach kids programming (via a special website) and be a wearable computer (although the external battery pack might add a little inconvenience).  You can expect these devices to spring up everywhere now, it’s hard to keep up...

In 2016, Citrix got into the game with it’s $89 HDX Ready Pi box (sold by ViewSonic and Micro Center), which combines its XenDesktop virtual desktop technology and XenApp virtual apps, useful for enterprise use.   And Android users are excited about the possibility that Google might be bringing Pi support to Android.  Microsoft has announced it’s 3D printer support for Windows 10 (“Network 3D Printer”) will run on Pi and convert it into a network printer.  Also, the Orange Pi PC 2, Odroid C-2, and Ockel Sirius A/B. Also, the full Win10 single-board machine with higher specs than the Raspberry Pi, but at a much higher cost, the LattePanda.

And in January, 2017, the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 (“CM3”) was introduced, packing the 1.2GHz Broadcomm BCM2837 processor and 1Gb memory used on the Pi 3 into a slimmer and smaler board, about the same size as a DDR2, primarily to be built into electronic appliances.

Enter the Arduino:  As discussed in hackers and modders, while the Raspberry Pi is a small form factor computer that runs a Linux O/S, another device, the Arduino, is an energy sipping board that houses microprocessors designed to manipulate other hardware to control sensors and motors.  There is one product, however, that combines both.  It’s named UDOO and it is an open hardware, low cost computer which can run Linux as well as Android, as well as an Arduino development platform.  It has double the RAM and four faster cores than Raspberry pi, but this comes as the additional cost, topping out at over $100.  See the UDOO definition for more.

SparkFun Electronics is an online retailer that provides a simple way for people to start building their own electronics, i.e. the “maker movement”.  Among other things, they make a series of add-on boards to expand the capabilities of devices (like the Edison, above), by enabling the connection of peripherals (such as keyboards, mice or thumbdrives) and also movement capability when paired with two DC motors, using the Dual H-bridge Block.  You should check out their offerings if you’re interested.

There are also various “stick” computers which can be connected to monitors (usually via HDMI) keyboards and mice (via USB), but don’t have the features (e.g. Wi-Fi) and adaptability of the computers like the Raspberry Pi.  These would include the Asus Chromebit CS10, Lenovo Ideacentre Stick 300, and Intel Compute Stick. 

Also, check out the discussion in Radio Shack, above.  And Maker Faire.  And an excellent all-encompassing manual, “The Complete Raspberry Pi Manual” from BDM, at $19.95.

Also, on the subject of affordable computers, particularly for educational purposes, see One Laptop Per Child.

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