Last week, the UK-based nonprofit Raspberry Pi Foundationannounced the latest version of their popular Raspberry Pi computer. Dubbed "Model B+," it's the third model the organization has released to the public since Model A went on sale in 2012.
Raspberry Pi, in case you're not familiar, is a computer about the size of a pack of playing cards and sells for around $35 (or less). Thanks to the Pi's low cost, simplicity, and extensibility, educators and do-it-yourselfers have been buying them up at times faster than the manufacturer can make them.
For educational nonprofits, schools, and libraries, Raspberry Pi is very useful for teaching students about electronics, computing, and many other technical subjects for a price that's far less than a new computer. Libraries have also experimented with replacing terminals with smaller footprint Raspberry Pi computers.
About Raspberry Pi
Simply put, the Raspberry Pi is a computer. The whole thing is less than 3 1/2 inches wide, 2 1/4 inches long, and an inch tall. It includes a CPU, graphics processor, RAM, USB port (multiple ports in later models), audio and video ports, and an Ethernet port (later models only), and runs a Linux-based operating system. For a rundown on what all these components are, check out ourhardware basics article.
It doesn't include a hard drive, but instead includes a slot for an SD or microSD card. Anyone buying a Raspberry Pi for the first time will also need to get extras like a case, power cord, and more.
Programming with Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi was designed to help educators and students understand technology better. Specifically, it's a tool to help students explore how hardware works, try Linux, and learn to program.
Researchers at MIT have developed a program called Scratch, which is a unique way to help students learn to program. Students can create interactive stories, games, and animations to understand the basic concepts of programming before learning actual code.
Beyond Learning to Program
The real beauty of the Raspberry Pi is its extensibility. Along with its standard connectivity, like USB, HDMI, and SD cards, the board also includes a "general-purpose input/output" (GPIO) circuit. Basically, this is a 26-pin (Models A and B) or 40-pin (Model B+) connector that you can use to plug in other electronic equipment. If you want to analyze sensor readings, project to a specific type of display, or use it for something really scientific, the GPIO makes it possible.
For educators, though, there are tutorials and projects that are a bit more practical. Raspberry Pi Beginnerstakes you from opening the box it comes in to configuring it to starting basic projects. Adafruit also offers step-by-step guides for many fun electronics projects that feature the Raspberry Pi, and MagPi is a monthly magazine devoted to the latest projects that the community has developed.
If you're looking for even more inspiration, here's a short list of other things you can build for educators:
- Humidity and temperature sensor (originally developed for brewing beer at home, but the concepts are universal)
- Weather station
- Digital camera
- Web server (LAMP)
- Measure weight
- Landline phone (PBX)
- FM radio
- Creating sounds
Buying a Raspberry Pi
Allied Electronics is the official US distributor of the Raspberry Pi. Currently, they don't offer the Model B+ yet, but you can purchase Model A ($25) or Model B ($35). There are plenty of other third-party retailers that resell the Raspberry Pi, too, of course.
Note that those prices are for the computer only. It doesn't include anything else you'll need, like a case, keyboard, mouse, screen, power supply, etc. If you're starting from scratch, check out the bundles rather than the standalone computer. They tend to include other useful components like an SD card with an operating system pre-installed.
Tutsplus has a helpful guide to buying your first Raspberry Pi, complete with info on every component you'll need.
- Pick the Pi that best fits your needs. Need more RAM or USB ports? Check out the later models, which include 512 MB RAM.
- Look for an SD or microSD card that comes with an operating system preinstalled. You can always flash a card on another computer before transferring it to the Raspberry Pi, but buying a preformatted card may save you an extra step.
- Don't forget the accessories! The stock Raspberry Pi doesn't even include a case, so be sure to pick up all the extra components you'll need. Luckily, like the Pi itself, they're pretty affordable too.
Full specifications on each model:
|Model A||Model B||Model B+|
|Board||Broadcom BCM2835 SoC full HD multimedia applications processor|
|CPU||700-MHz Low Power ARM1176JZ-F Applications Processor|
|GPU||Dual Core VideoCore IV Multimedia Co-Processor|
|Memory||256 MB SDRAM||512 MB SDRAM|
|Ethernet||N/A||10/100 Ethernet RJ45 jack|
|USB||1 USB 2.0 port||2 USB 2.0 ports||4 USB 2.0 ports|
|Video||HDMI (rev 1.3 & 1.4), Composite RCA (PAL and NTSC)||HDMI (rev 1.3 & 1.4), Composite video via 1/8-inch jack|
|Audio||1/8 inch jack, HDMI|
|Storage||SD, MMC, SDIO card slot||microSD|
|Peripherals||26-pin GPIO||40-pin GPIO|
|Dimensions||3.4 inch x 2.1 inch x 0.6 inch||3.4 inch x 2.1 inch x 0.7 inch||3.3 inch x 2.2 inch x 0.7 inch|
|Power ratings||300 mA (1.5 W)||700 mA (3.5 W)||600 mA (3.0 W)|
|Power source||5 V via Micro-USB|
Libraries and Raspberry Pi
We've heard about a few libraries that are incoporating Raspberry Pi into their makerspaces and/or youth and adult programming:
- The Orange County Library System in Orlando, FL has Raspberry Pi classes.
- In our March webinar, two libraries discussed their makerspaces, which included Raspberry Pi.
- Public Libraries Online did a Q&A on Raspberry Pi with a librarian at Somerset County Library System in New Jersey.
What About You?
Have you experimented with a Raspberry Pi at your library? Log in to tell us how you used it in the comments.