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Mace & Crown | March 19, 2018

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DIY Computer: An Introduction to the Raspberry Pi

Alex Beschler | Contributing Writer

The Raspberry Pi is a computer the size of a credit card, featuring a wireless card and the ability to connect to devices via Bluetooth. In addition, it has a massive array of physical connections that can be configured for anything from a custom digital camera to powering a full, do-it-yourself (DIY) arcade machine. Perhaps the best part is that the Pi is under $40, which makes it ideal for a multitude of educational purposes and hobbyists.

Originally designed by British charity Raspberry Pi Foundation, the Raspberry Pi is a $25-$35 credit card-sized system on a chip (SoC) intended to assist in teaching basic computer science principles. An SoC is a chip that simply contains all of the necessary and basic “ingredients” for a computer to run. The Pi doesn’t come with anything extra such as a keyboard, cables or even a power supply. Despite its limited nature, the Pi is still important because of the sheer tasks it can accomplish for its price. Because of its many input and output ports, it is now considered a staple in the DIY community, which opened a much larger market for the Raspberry Pi Foundation. In fact, having sold more than 10 million devices, it is the best-selling British computer of all time.

There are different versions of Raspberry Pi available for sale. The older models are about $10 cheaper than the newer ones, which cost about $35. The original Raspberry Pi was called “Raspberry Pi 1 Model B” and was released in February 2012 for $35. Among the many features it supported, the three that resonated with hobbyists at the time were the processor, which the same type used in smartphones, two USB ports and an HDMI port. The modern Raspberry Pi, released in February 2016, sports the same pricetag. It includes many added features such as an updated version of the processor, a wireless chip to allow for a wireless connection to the internet and a Bluetooth chip. In addition to the added features, the other parts of the Pi were beefed up.

Despite the Raspberry Pi’s original intent to be used in education, DIY hobbyists found other uses for it. Some major projects that used Raspberry Pi were home theater computers, small servers that automatically backed up files on a computer and wireless printers. One project even involved making a “smart mirror,” a special mirror that has a large computer screen behind it, capable of displaying the time, weather and news directly on the mirror. In addition to the numerous suites of software available for the Pi, Mojang, the company that made the immensely popular brick-based game “Minecraft,” released a special version of the game specifically designed for the Raspberry Pi. In order to further facilitate learning code, the company also allowed the ability to manipulate the code of the game.

Raspberry Pi is now regarded as the de-facto computer for projects requiring non-intensive computing capabilities. Arguably the most popular type of project involving the Pi are game emulators–devices built to run old games. Some projects include a homemade Gameboy, Gameboy NES and PlayStation; all are powered by the Pi. Other projects that hobbyists have made are ones involving home automation. These projects essentially automate tasks inside people’s homes, ranging from automatically opening a garage door when the Pi senses the owner’s smartphone is nearby to lighting a fireplace upon voice command. There are even projects that are similar to JARVIS, Iron Man’s home assistant.

Time will tell if the Raspberry Pi can survive the hobbyist and enthusiast markets. While the Pi is the best-selling British computer, the small number of people interested might not sustain the sales. However, the number of projects, ideas and accomplishments using Raspberry Pi are seemingly endless.