The local Makerspace is discussing the new Raspberry Pi, a $35 PC with a credit card sized form factor.
As an Arduino user, $35 is a nice price point (I can buy an for about that price), but it’s no good if it doesn’t do what I need.
It turns out that the device outputs composite (RCA TV) or HDMI video signals, can send audio to speakers or headphone, and has both a network (RJ45) connection and USB ports. It gets its power from a USB power jack, and it even includes an SD card slot for its ‘hard drive’ – although with a USB hub you can connect all kinds of things to it, like an external drive, keyboard, mouse, and so on.
As for power, it’s comparable to a Pentium 2 at 300mhz, but graphics are at the Xbox 1 graphics level. Finally, it has 512meg RAM memory built in.
Of course, for Windows, this all might sound somewhat anemic, but running a version of Linux from the SD card, the computer is very, very nice. It’s goal is to make programming accessible to school children again by giving them something ‘closer to the metal’ to work with, but frankly, I think the foundation will have a huge hobbyist market clamoring for it as well – I know I want mine ASAP (or sooner).
However, aside from a neat gadget to play with, it has very real possibilities – imagine:
- CNC – the computer has a GPIO (General Purpose Input Output) port, which can bring out various signals. While I haven’t found out too much so far, it seems to be all 3.3v logic levels. If enough pins are available for hardware, I can envision a CNC machine connected to this (or actually, it IS the CNC machine, with the pins simply run out to sensors and the 3 motor drivers of a CNC machine). Currently, the CNC design process is to create a file and send it to the host computer, which chops it up and transmits it to the CNC machine. With this device, chopping and cutting can all be done directly on it. Send it the file via Ethernet, and have it manage the conversion to G-code, AND do the cutting. Connect a monitor, keyboard and mouse, and you don’t need an additional computer to run anything!
- The Audrey Braille device. My main reason currently for watching this. Using an Arduino Mega and motor driver board, I an spending close to $50 to drive two motors, and communicate with a computer via serial USB. Using this device, it IS the computer, AND the motor driver, AND anything else I need! As long as I can connect two motor drivers to the GPIO (about 8 I/O pins) as well as a switch multiplexer (three more pins), I should be able to switch over. Now, instead of connecting to a laptop to run, the device can do it all. And the extra audio capabilities are perfect for the Blind – as Linux boots up, they can get audio diagnostic messages. Plus, with built-in network connectivity, and perky performance under Linux’s Text mode (which is actually better for the Blind), this truly could be all a Blind person needs for Internet and computer connectivity (and Braille display), all in one package.
- Projects galore. The GPIO brings out signals for SPI, I2C, and the UART, which opens up a lot of communication options. I see this device as the ‘glue’ for a whole host of projects, from devices that hook into the Ethernet (cheap media server, anyone?) to the basis for cluster computing (you can connect thirty for the price of a decent computer!), to one-off hobbyist projects.
I’m hoping in the next few months the backlog on ordering will end, and I can get one. Frankly, I’m wondering if I will continue with the Arduino if this gets popular – after all, similar I/O but in a Linux/PC format is a powerful combination for projects – and the price is right, too. In fact, at $25, you can get it w/o Ethernet, so the price gets even better for specific hobbyist projects.
If I had any comments, it would be for two small wishes: Power through Ethernet (which is going to be supported eventually), which means this device wouldn’t need a wall wart; and a built in real time clock (which is too expensive to add to the $35 model). Of course, the software can poll a time service over the network, so for many situations that may not be an issue.
Gripes aside, it’s a fascinating project, and I’m looking forward to playing with one real soon…