Published on Nov 14, 2015
Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer manufactured and designed in the United Kingdom by the Raspberry Pi foundation with the intention of teaching basic computer science to school students and every other person interested in computer hardware, programming and DIY-Do-it Yourself projects.
The Raspberry Pi is manufactured in three board configurations through licensed manufacturing deals with Newark element14 (Premier Farnell), RS Components and Egoman. These companies sell the Raspberry Pi online. Egoman produces a version for distribution solely in China and Taiwan, which can be distinguished from other Pis by their red coloring and lack of FCC/CE marks. The hardware is the same across all manufacturers.
The Raspberry Pi has a Broadcom BCM2835 system on a chip (SoC), which includes an ARM1176JZF-S 700 MHz processor, VideoCore IV GPU and was originally shipped with 256 megabytes of RAM, later upgraded (Model B & Model B+) to 512 MB. It does not include a built-in hard disk or solid-state drive, but it uses an SD card for booting and persistent storage, with the Model B+ using a MicroSD. The Foundation provides Debian and Arch Linux ARM distributions for download. Tools are available for Python as the main programming language, with support for BBC BASIC (via the RISC OS image or the Brandy Basic clone for Linux), C, Java and Perl.
As of February 2014, about 2.5 million boards had been sold. The board is available online in India at a price of Rs. 3000.
The Idea to create the Raspberry Pi
The idea behind a tiny and affordable computer for kids came in 2006, when Eben Upton, Rob Mullins, Jack Lang and Alan Mycroft, based at the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory, became concerned about the year-on-year decline in the numbers and skills levels of the A Level students applying to read Computer Science. From a situation in the 1990s where most of the kids applying were coming to interview as experienced hobbyist programmers, the landscape in the 2000s was very different; a typical applicant might only have done a little web design. Something had changed the way kids were interacting with computers. A number of problems were identified: majority of curriculums with lessons on using Word and Excel, or writing webpages; the end of the dot-com boom; and the rise of the home PC and games console to replace the Amigas, BBC Micros, Spectrum ZX and Commodore 64 machines that people of an earlier generation learned to program on.
There isn’t much any small group of people can do to address problems like an inadequate school curriculum or the end of a financial bubble. But those students felt that they could try to do something about the situation where computers had become so expensive and arcane that programming experimentation on them had to be forbidden by parents; and to find a platform that, like those old home computers, could boot into a programming environment. Thus came the idea of creating the device which kids could buy and learn programming or hardware on – The Raspberry Pi.
Initial Design Considerations
From 2006 to 2008 they created many designs and prototypes of what we now know as the Raspberry Pi. One of the earliest prototypes is shown below
These boards use an Atmel ATmega644 microcontroller clocked at 22.1MHz, and a 512K SRAM for data and frame buffer storage. By 2008, processors designed for mobile devices were becoming more affordable, and powerful enough to provide excellent multimedia, a feature which would make the board desirable to kids who wouldn’t initially be interested in a purely programming-oriented device. The project started to look very realisable and feasible. Eben (now a chip architect at Broadcom), Rob, Jack and Alan, teamed up with Pete Lomas, MD of hardware design and manufacture company Norcott Technologies, and David Braben, co-author of the BBC Micro game Elite, to form the Raspberry Pi Foundation to make it a reality. Three years later, the Raspberry Pi Model B entered mass production through licensed manufacture deals with Element 14/Premier Farnell and RS Electronics, and within two years it had sold over two million units!
Raspberry Pi being a very cheap computer has attracted millions of users around the world. Thus it has a large user base. Many enthusiasts have created accessories and peripherals for the Raspberry Pi. This range from USB hubs, motor controllers to temperature sensors. There are some official accessories for the RPi as follows: Camera – On 14 May 2013, the foundation and the distributors RS Components & Premier Farnell/Element 14 launched the Raspberry Pi camera board with a firmware update to support it. The Raspberry Pi camera board contains a 5 MPixel sensor, and connects via a ribbon cable to the CSI connector on the Raspberry Pi. In Raspbian support can be enabled by the installing or upgrading to the latest version of the OS and then running Raspi-config and selecting the camera option. The cost of the camera module is 20 EUR in Europe (9 September 2013). and supports 1080p, 720p, 640x480p video. The footprint dimensions are 25 mm x 20 mm x 9 mm.
Gertboard – A Raspberry Pi Foundation sanctioned device designed for educational purposes, and expands the Raspberry Pi's GPIO pins to allow interface with and control of LEDs, switches, analog signals, sensors and other devices. It also includes an optional Arduino compatible controller to interface with the Pi. The Gertboard can be used to control motors, switches etc. for robotic projects.
USB Hub – Although not an official accessory, it is a highly recommended accessory for the Pi. A powered USB Hub with 7 extra ports is available at almost all online stores. It is compulsory to use a USB Hub to connect external hard disks or other accessories that draw power from the USB ports, as the Pi cannot give power to them.
The NOOBS installer
The Raspberry Pi package only comes with the main board and nothing else. It does not come shipped with an operating system. Operating systems are loaded on a SD card from a computer and then the SD card is inserted in the Pi which becomes the primary boot device. Installing operating system can be easy for some enthusiasts, but for some beginners working with image files of operating systems can be difficult. So the Raspberry Pi foundation made a software called NOOBS – New Out Of Box Software which eases the process of installing an operating system on the Pi. The NOOBS installer can be downloaded from the official website. A user only needs to connect a SD card with the computer and just run the setup file to install NOOBS on the SD card. Next, insert the card on the Raspberry Pi.
On booting the first time, the NOOBS interface is loaded and the user can select from a list of operating systems to install. It is much convenient to install the operating system this way. Also once the operating system is installed on the card with the NOOBS installer, every time the Pi boots, a recovery mode provided by the NOOBS can be accessed by holding the shift key during boot. It also allows editing of the config.txt file for the operating system
Raspberry Pi is an innovative product. The sheer number of users and fan base support the fact that the device can see a great future ahead. The device can surely help anyone who really wants to lean electronics and computers. Increasing the processing power can surely help the product in the future. Also supplying a case and a proper instruction manual will improve the product. Also currently Windows operating systems are not compatible because of the ARM processor. If the processor is improved or any workaround is found to run Windows directly on the Raspberry Pi, then it can be a great step for the Pi. The Raspberry Pi is an amazing piece of hardware because of the combination of the features of a traditional computer and an embedded device.
Supporting computer operating systems like Linux and providing simple input/output lines i.e. the GPIO makes it perfect for controlling almost anything. Programming the GPIO is much easy and intuitive then an traditional FPGA or microprocessor. Finally it can be said that Raspberry Pi can be effectively used if its processing power is kept in mind. It can work as a personal computer but cannot replace it.
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