Raspberry Pi

There’s been a lot of interest in the Museum community about the possibilities of open-source electronics hardware in the development of interactives and demos to support education and exhibits. The platform that most people are familiar with is Arduino, it’s been extremely successful and widely adopted by the maker community for an amazing range of uses. It’s been used in the Museum community for everything from humidity monitors to interactive artworks that respond to movements by viewers, and I can’t help thinking that we’ve only just scratched the surface of possibilities for this yet.

While Arduino has been really great for a lot of applications, there have been some areas where it simply didn’t have the computing power necessary, particularly where video was involved. There’s a really interesting new open-source computer project about to hit the market that promises to fill that gap with some low-cost and higher-powered hardware that’s ideal for a lot of applications in education, museums and a lot more. I’ll let the Raspberry Pi Foundation describe it:

The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video.

The project is built around an ARM processor similar to those found in a lot of smartphones, e-readers and hand-held gaming devices. It was originally conceived as a way of making computers accessible for education in places where resources are limited. The cost for a basic “A” version is an astounding $25! That’s not a typo – $25 for a credit-card sized, fully functional computer. Needing only the addition of an SD card, a USB keyboard and a TV to create a fully functional computer running open-source Linux. It’s hard to imagine anything more accessible. An extra $10 upgrades to the “B” version, which adds ethernet and two more USB ports, for a fully internet connected experience. An HDMI to DVI cable will allow it to drive most modern LCD monitors, should the situation require it.

For museums and displays, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of all is the video capabilities. This credit-card sized board can run full HD video off of an SD card, driving any HD TV or modern monitor. This capability alone has the potential to slash budget requirements for AV in exhibits dramatically.

I should mention that Raspberry Pi is not the only ARM-based board around, but it may well turn out to be the most economical. The Beagleboard has been around for about three years, but seems to have had trouble getting traction with a cost of between $90 to $125. The Arduino project has recently unveiled the Arduino Due, another ARM-based alternative, although no price has been announced.

While the Raspberry Pi seems a strong contender, no matter who prevails in the ARM(s) race, the ultimate winners are those that can harness the incredible power and possibilities of these tiny computers. The applications for education both within schools and in Museums for exhibits and interpretation are almost limitless. I look forward to trying to find ways to incorporate these amazing devices into my own work and to see what others will come up with. It’s exciting times!

A big thanks is in order to @gordon_bailey, engineering student, Linux aficionado and owner of one of the few triple-boot imacs in existence for drawing this important development to my attention.

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