The Rasberry Pi has been around for a while now and is certainly very popular. Here we take a closer look at it, what it can do and how it can be used in particular scenarios…
In essence, it’s purpose is to owning a tiny and affordable computer that you can use to learn programming through fun, practical projects and from the original model it has grown into a series of credit card-sized single-board computers developed in the United Kingdom by the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
The original Raspberry Pi and Raspberry Pi 2 are manufactured in several board configurations through licensed manufacturing agreements with several distributors. The hardware is the same across all manufacturers, whilst the firmware is closed-source.
Several generations of Raspberry Pi’s have been released. The first generation (Pi 1) was released in February 2012 in basic model A and a higher specification model B. A+ and B+ models were released a year later. Raspberry Pi 2 model B was released in February 2015 and Raspberry Pi 3 model B in February 2016. A cut down compute model was released in April 2014 and a Pi Zero with smaller footprint and limited capabilities released in November 2015.
All models feature a Broadcom system on a chip (SOC), which includes an ARM compatible CPU and an on chip graphics processing unit GPU .
Processor speed ranges from 700 MHz to 1.2 GHz for the Pi 3 and on board memory range from 256 MB to 1 GB RAM. Secure Digital SD cards are used to store the operating system and program memory in either the SDHC or MicroSDHC sizes. Most boards have between one and four USB slots, HDMI and composite video output, and a 3.5 mm phono jack for audio. Lower level output is provided by a number of GPIO pins which support common protocols like I2C. Some models have an RJ45 Ethernet port and the Pi 3 has on board WiFi 802.11n and Bluetooth
The Raspberry Pi Foundation provides Debian and Arch Linux ARM distributions for download, and suggests Python as the main programming language.
There is also support for BBC BASIC C, C++, Java, Perl, Ruby, Squeak Smalltalk and others.
In February 2016, the Raspberry Pi Foundation announced that they had sold eight million devices, making it the best-selling UK personal computer, exceeding sales of the Amstrad PCW.
The great thing about the Pi is the never ending number of accessories that can be used with it – for home, business or educational usage – here are a few currently available:
Infrared Camera – A camera module without an infrared filter, called the Pi NoIR.
HAT (Hardware Attached on Top) expansion boards – Together with the model B, the interface for HAT boards was devised by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Each HAT board carries a small EEPROM containing the relevant details of the board so that the Raspberry Pi’s OS is informed of the HAT, and the technical details of it, relevant to the OS using the HAT. Mechanical details of a HAT board, that use the four mounting holes in their rectangular formation.
Camera – The camera board is shipped with a flexible flat cable that plugs into the CSI connector located between the Ethernet and HDMI ports. In Raspbian, one enables the system to use the camera board by the installing or upgrading to the latest version of the operating system (OS) and then running Raspi-config and selecting the camera option. It can produce 1080p, 720p and 640x480p video. The dimensions are 25 mm x 20 mm x 9 mm.
Gertboard – A Raspberry Pi Foundation sanctioned device, designed for educational purposes, that expands the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins to allow interface withand control of LEDs, switches, analog signals, sensors and other devices. It also includes an optional Arduino compatible controller to interface with the Pi.
Using Pis in Education
Pis are great for use in schools for many reasons, primarily as they are cheap to purchase and easy to set up but also they can be used separately from the school network so there are no issues associated with damaging or corrupting the existing network infrastructure should anything go awry – students can learn to create programs and projects in an environment that allows for the freedom of failure – which can really accelerate the learning process.
Fixing a broken Pi can be as easy as inserting a fresh SD card, should the existing Operating System become unusable.
PiNet is a free centralised user accounts and file storage system for the Raspberry Pi in classrooms. With it, all Raspberry Pis load from a central server, so any student can sit down at any Raspberry Pi in the classroom and log in. It was designed to be incredibly easy for teachers to set up and use. More details can be found on the PiNet website. It is completely free and is used by hundreds of schools and organisations in 30 countries around the world. Features include network booting (from a central server so no need for each Pi to have its own Operating System locally on SD card), network user accounts & shared folders & backups.
There are also literally hundreds of teaching resources available on the official Raspberry Pi website here.
One of these is the Picademy. This is the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s FREE teacher training initiative. It’s goal is to give educators the experience and tools they need to teach computing with confidence.
Finally, here are just some of the projects that have been undertaken using the Raspberry Pi, to give you an idea of what it is capable of:
Case – the Pi doesn’t come with a case so you will need one – there are many available to purchase, but you can alternatively make your own, for example, out of cardboard – there are plenty of templates to download from the internet.
Personal web server – One of the more basic things that those with a little programming experience can do with Raspberry Pi is set up a personal Web server. The microcomputer won’t be able to handle any major traffic, but it will do nicely for hosting a resume or personal landing page or even a little Dropbox clone.
Solar-powered Raspberry Pi – run your Raspberry Pi off of sunlight with a solar panel, a car power socket, a USB car power adapter and a battery.
Pi in the Sky – Balloon enthusiast Dave Ackerman sent his Raspberry Pi into space using a weather balloon. Boldly going where Pi had gone before, it travelled 30km, survived temperatures of -50C and 1 per cent atmosphere with the help of specialised heat sinks and a GPS transmitter.
If you would like any further information about Raspberry Pis, or would like to discuss any of the products or services we provide, then please feel free to contact us either via the telephone on 020 8325 5000 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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