Raspberry Pi: An introduction as a low-cost tiny computer with many wonders

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Raspberry Pi is a low-cost but powerful, lightweight, and tiny credit card-size computer that has many capabilities, particularly as a cheap DIY surveillance system. It mainly runs with the specially developed software called Raspbian. This official free operating system (OS) based on the Debian, which is created by the open source community as part of non-commercial Linux distributions. The software runs with Python programming language, the reason for using the word Pi. Considering its many advantages, some pundits feel the Raspberry Pi as a bargain.

A new version of Raspberry Pi
A new version of Raspberry Pi. Image: pixabay.com

A brief history

This desk computer originally designed by the University of Cambridge in U.K. and made available to the mass market in February 2012. It runs by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a charitable organization incorporated in the U.K. The foundation’s goal was to use this invention to encourage more young people to learn about computer programming and how computers work without making it an expensive hobby.

After five years in production, Raspberry Pi is now in the third generation and has well established itself as a popular DIY tiny desk computer. As reported in March this year, more than 12.5 million units sold to date; thus claimed to be the third best-selling computing platform of all time. The top two spots are the PC and the Mac. The Raspberry Pi 3 is the company’s top-selling model to date, accounting for approximately one-third of the total Pi sales so far.

How it works

Designed as a desk computer, one has to connect Raspberry Pi to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse to function. Using HDMI connection, it can replace monitor by connecting to a large TV screen to provide full HD images and videos.

Raspberry Pi v1 used to control both the speed and direction of a DC motor connected via GPIO pins. Source: learn.adafruit.com

The Raspberry Pi device looks like a motherboard, with the mounted chips and ports exposed. But it has all the necessary components to connect input, output, and storage devices to start computing. The internal storage to house the OS is using removable SD card of micro size, except for the older versions that require the standard size. Equipped with a 1080p-capable GPU, the CPU using a chip with ARM architecture, which is similar to mobile phones and tablets. Thus, the power consumption is very low. It can even run using a power bank.

Unlike other custom computers, Raspberry Pi specially equipped with GPIO and camera port. Using the extended GPIO, various sensors and control devices can connect to the Pi. This function is great and convenient for researchers and enthusiasts with special projects. With the Internet of things on the way, Raspberry Pi plays a significant role in providing the required infrastructure or tools.

Image: element14.com

Sense Hat

Sense HAT add-on for Raspberry Pi

The Sense HAT is an add-on board for Raspberry Pi, made especially for the Astro Pi mission – it launched to the International Space Station in December 2015 – and is now available to buy.

The Sense HAT has an 8×8 RGB LED matrix, a five-button joystick and includes the following sensors:

  • Gyroscope
  • Accelerometer
  • Magnetometer
  • Temperature
  • Barometric pressure
  • Humidity

Available software

The popularity of the Raspberry Pi has attracted millions of software developers globally to innovate a new and improve the existing applications to run on the Raspbian OS. Most of these apps are available for free, thus making the investment on the hardware is tremendously attractive. There are presently many choices of software, both apps and operating systems available freely. The Pi now has become an entertainment media and a gaming player with the OS such as the OpenELEC and RetroPi respectively. Some boot management tools allow up to four operating systems installed in a single Pi. For example, the BerryBoot allows both the OpenELEC and Raspbian OS installed in the same SD card. One can boot either OS without the need to shut down the Pi and replace the SD card. This function adds quite a bit of the Raspberry Pi user experience. Of course, you need a larger capacity SD card (32GB and more) to do that.

A piece of advice

Are you interested with a ‘bite’ on Raspberry Pi? Please ensure the correct

RCA-to-3.5mm connector for TV without HDMI

voltage power supply and high-quality SD card used with the Pi. A quality SD card does improve the processing speed significantly, particularly for Raspberry Pi 3. If you are not sure how to install, the best option is to buy the complete package. Some technology vendors made them available as a kit complete with the necessary accessories. But their price is often considerably higher comparing to do-it-yourself. You don’t have to be an expert in a computer to install a Pi. But a little knowledge on identifying the correct cables and accessories, and how to connect and put them together is adequate.


The author Dr. Ab Nasir Jaafar has been using the Raspberry Pi since 2012 as part of his research work and a hobby.

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