What Is Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi is a collection of small single board computers developed in the UK by the Raspberry Pi Foundation in association with Broadcom to promote the tuition of basic computer science in schools and in developing countries. It is also the most successful computer ever to come out of the UK, writes Oliver Taylor.
The name ‘Raspberry Pi’ was selected with ’Raspberry’ being a nod to the tradition of naming early computer companies after fruit (i.e. Apple) and ‘Pi’ as a reference to the Python programming language. According to the Raspberry Pi Foundation, more than five million Raspberry Pis units were sold by February 2015, making it the bestselling computer in Great Britain, with subsequent soaring popularity resulting in sales demand reaching 11 million units as of November 2016, 12.5 million units by March 2017, almost 15 million as of July 2017, and 19 million units as of March 2018. Designed by Cambridge engineers and computer scientists, Raspberry Pi has sold more than 40 million units ten years after the first unit was shipped in 2012 and has created a market worth in excess of $1 billion, plus more in peripherals.
With the largest unit the size of a deck of cards and the smallest unit being about the size of a stick of gum, the original model became far more popular than originally anticipated, outselling its target market for a variety of applications from use by computer hobbyists, robotics, manufacturing, electric vehicle charging, healthcare transportation, and even vertical hydroponic farms, to home and industrial automation, due to its low cost, modularity, open design and adoption of HDMI and USB standards. It is today used in tens of thousands of commercial applications in a variety of industries worldwide, with such uses representing 40% of annual sales. Raspberry Pi has essentially created an entirely new class of computing device, fundamentally transforming the way engineers design control systems industry and has become a standard component of intelligent interfacing.
Most Raspberry Pis are manufactured in a Sony factory in Pencoed, Wales, with others being made in China and Japan. Several generations of Raspberry Pi units have been released, with all models featuring a Broadcom system on a chip (SoC) with integrated ARM-compatible central processing unit (CPU) and an on-chip graphics processing unit (GPU). With processor speeds ranging from 700Mhz up to 1.5 Ghz for the Pi 4, the boards have one to four USB ports, HDMI for video output and support either ethernet or Wi-Fi for newer models.
Before the existence of the Raspberry Pi, no one had produced a low-cost computer that could run an operating system like Linux. Not all Pis are created equal; the Pi Zero is the smallest, with the least computing capacity, while the flagship product is the Raspberry Pi 5. Described as ‘The everything computer. Optimised.’, it is 2-3 times the speed of the previous generation, featuring silicon designed in-house for the best possible performance, a Broadcom BCM2712 quad-core 2.4 Ghz processor, with up to 8GB RAM, bluetooth capability, Gigabit Ethernet, and a VideoCore VII GPU graphics card. If you have more than one Raspberry Pi, you can also combine the power of all of them to create a cluster, which is a group of computers that work together to solve a problem. Clusters can provide high availability and failover, and can be used to spread the workload across many nodes in the cluster where each Raspberry Pi is a separate node.
The very first Raspberry Pi 1 B could replace a computer for use in basic word processing as well as for some light web browsing. Today, a modern Raspberry Pi 4 or 5 is a very capable, low cost desktop computer. Office applications work fluidly, the browsing experience, is better and it is even possible to edit video or run sophisticated 3D and compositing packages on this small device. It can be used as a media player, with content played from local drives, accessed from a home network, or streamed over the internet using a wide variety of add ons such as YouTube.
General Purpose Input Output (GPIO) pins are another feature that enable a plethora of functions and this also makes the Raspberry Pi very popular. They can send and receive electrical signals which can be controlled from the Raspberry Pi operating system. This means you can control many things that use electricity to run, such as buttons, LED light, motors, switches, radio signals, audio signals, LCD displays and much more. This takes the Raspberry Pi from the computing world, to the physical world and the possibilities are endless.
You could add joysticks and buttons to make your own mini arcade system, as a network-wide ad blocking and DNS server, or you could even use it to assist in mining cryptocurrency. Pi-Hole is one of the easiest Raspberry Pi projects to run, which can be implemented in less than half an hour and will filter all ads out of your internet activity. PiVPN enables you to build your own VPN or Wireguard server that allows you to securely connect into your home network remotely. You can access your local servers, files and even use for home internet connection from a hotel room in Casablanca, Morocco, should you choose! Once the server has been setup, it generates QR codes for your clients so that you can easily connect them to the VPN.
The Raspberry Pi can assist as a surveillance tool and can be used for streaming video from a camera allowing you to monitor activity in your garden, outside your front door, and included software can even trigger recording and alerts when motion is detected.
The Pi Box, is a Raspberry Pi-powered storage server and enables you to have the convenience of cloud storage without having to trust anyone with you data. This allows you to share individual files or whole folders with any device on your home or business network, is compatible with iOS, Android and Windows, and can replace similar tools like Dropbox or Google Drive, enabling complete control with lightning fast speeds. The Pi Box is also expandable up to 32 Terabytes of SSD storage, with full-disk encryption.
Raspberry Pi-powered Home Assistant is an open-source home automation server that can fully automate you home, automatically detecting and working with IoT devices such as smart switches, light bulbs, thermostats, watering systems, office lighting systems, video surveillance systems- if it can connect to your network, it can be controlled and automated by Home Assistant, which integrates with over a thousand different devices and services. Home Assistant can turn on the light when the sun sets, or when coming home, alert you when you leave the garage door open, optimise solar panel production, and provide energy monitoring. Because of the relatively low cost of the Raspberry Pi, this has become a very popular and economical alternative to the more expensive commercial solutions on the market.
The Raspberry Pi Product Information Portal (PIP) is a web based resource providing industrial users of Raspberry Pi with access to a wide range of technical documentation, white papers, and compliance information. The Raspberry Pi OS (formerly Raspbian) is a Unix-like operating system designed specifically for the Raspberry Pi, and is by far the most used operating system, accounting for 68.4% of all OS downloads in the month preceding 24 February 2022. Other operating systems include Alpine Linux, Haiku, QNX, Ubuntu and Tizen.
A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH
Given its size and price point, it is an extraordinary little device. This nifty small single board computer which can be tucked into your back pocket, enables you to programme and build new devices, automate your home, run your own cloud server, begin to automate 3D printing processes, monitor your garden crops and home security, build robots, and even begin learning how to code. How’s that for a computing device that sounds like it’s nothing more than a tasty desert served with custard and washed down with a nice cold glass of milk?! EG