Raspberry Pi: Prototyping Potential

Recently, the Raspberry Pi Foundation started shipping its Raspberry Pi boards. (And I got one!) They’re tiny, low-power computers, originally designed so that schoolkids could afford a personal Linux computer for learning programming. Despite selling at the same price point as an Arduino ($25), they have almost as much processing power as a netbook.

Once you have the main board, most of the other peripherals are cheap and readily available. It uses 5v micro-USB for power (from a spare cell phone charger), and SD cards for storage. They gave it both HDMI and RCA video output, so it could use the old TV in the attic as a display. It has a USB port for keyboards, mice, network adapters, and the like. (The “B” Pi, $10 more than the standard “A”, includes a second USB port and built-in ethernet.)

While it’s easy to gush about the technical stats, and it certainly has a lot of power for the price, that’s not why the Raspberry Pi excites me. There are many cool projects that never happened because the hardware to prototype them was too expensive to bother. $25 is reasonable for a spontaneous experiment, though, and that’s where much innovation happens.

An RP and a USB wireless adapter could easily run a jukebox or a monitoring device like a Twine; an RP and a spare monitor could be an information radiator for live web traffic or continuous integration, or a home arcade.

Like the Arduino, its GPIO pins can connect it to all kinds of electronic sensors, but it’s also powerful enough to host several web services that display their input. It could be the foundation for many home automation devices, and accessible over the internet. Also, it can be programmed in scripting languages like Python (after which it is named), Ruby, or Lua, making it very accessible for exploratory hacking.

The RPF is still catching up to heavy demand, but I’m eager to see what other projects come from such a versatile prototyping platform.