Thursday, 8 November 2012

$35 Computer - Raspberry Pi

Don't confuse it with recently released Hindi film Life Of Pi, I am talking about 'Raspberry Pi', a 35 dollar computer. This is credit card size and weight just 45g, it's computer that you can carry in your pocket if you like. It runs on Linux and powered by 1 GHz ARM CPU.

Specification: 1 GHz ARM CPU, 512 MB RAM, 2 USB Port, 1 Ethernet Port, 1 HDMI Port (to connect with LCD/LED TVs), 1 RCA Video port, 1 Audio Port (these two port can be used to connect it with old generation TVs), 1 SD Card Slot and 1 mini USB port for power supply. 

There are two versions of Raspberry Pi type A and type B. It comes with 1 GHz ARM CPU  and 512 MB RAM, ARM is the same CPU that runs on most of the smart phones. The picture and specs above is for Type B Pi that cost 35 USD. Cost of Type A is even lower only 25 USD, it comes with 1 USB, 256 MB RAM and No Ethernet Port. 

Why it is so cheap?
This computer is designed by Raspberry Pi Foundation a UK registered charities. The computer on offer for 35 USD is what you see in above picture. Yes there will be no key board  mouse, monitor, power supply or even a case. But that's ok, you can use your mobile's power supply to power Raspberry Pi (minimum requirement 1A and 5V) and other accessories lying at home (keyboard, mouse etc). You don't need a monitor as you can use your home TV as a monitor. Of-course there is no Hard disk, the machine boots from a SD Card and it treats SD card as hard disk. If required an external USB hard disk or USB Stick can be used for extra memory. You can buy a Pi case, Power Supply, Keyboard, Mouse and USB Wifi for about same cost as Pi, in total for 70-80 USD you can have good working computer. 

Raspberry Pi comes with 26 GPIO (General Purpose Input/ Output) pins, these pins can be used to make many interesting electronic projects. GPIOs pins can be used to connect and control (via program running on Pi) external devices like temperature sensor, motion sensors, robots, motors etc. For more on GPIO see wikipedia ttp:// &

Some of the projects that immediately comes to mind are

a) Personal Whether Station: You can make your own whether station by connecting temperature and/or humidity, wind sensors and record the reading periodically. See it on your computer or publish it on Internet may be your personal site or a blog.
b) Security Solution: If you want to be more adventurous think of using Pi to control the TV and lights of a home over the Internet or put it on auto-mode. This way you can keep the burglars away when you are on holidays by simulating your daily lights and TV routine. 

I think it is a perfect toy for any 10-15 years old, particularly if you want to inspire them towards the fields of electrical/electronics/ computer engineering. Also not a bad options if you want to develop a hobby around electronics. 

MagPi - A free monthly magazine that covers interesting set of topics like Pi based projects, Linux Tips, PythonPit (to lean Python), The Scratch Patch (to learn Scratch, a Lego like programming language developed by MIT for kids), The C Cave (to learn C). The magazine's look and feel is designed for kids.

My Five Favourites Pi Projects.
1) Media Streamer/ Server: Put XBMC on Pi and it becomes your media streamer/server similar to a Apple TV or Android TV. To know more read my blog

2) Drive a Remote car with Pi, so instead of pressing button on remote a program on Pi can control the car. Refer for more details. This is how probably a future driver less car might be built with a computer, GPS and lots of sensors (i.e. proximity, light, rain sensors etc)

3) Internet Radio, see these links for some ideas.

4) Home Automation, how about switching on your Microwave with phone so that when you arrive at home your rice in microwave is ready. Refer pg 8-9 of Issue 8 (Dec 2012) of Mag Pi

5) Advertisement Solution: Turn your TV in Shop/Factory into an advertisement console. It can be used to advertise about your other business or your friends business. Refer this link to know more about this solution.

Is it available in India?
Yes it is, however please be aware there are only two official store for Raspberry Pi, RS Components and Farnell (element 4), click on the link for their Indian web site. See this discussion thread for more details on other options for India.

For more details visit Pi website -

* The ARM CPU that comes with Pi is 700Mhz only, however it is possible to push its speed up to 1GHz using simple configuration option

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