What is Raspberry Pi and Should I Try It Out?
Have you seen the name “Raspberry Pi” thrown around and thought to yourself, “What exactly is a Raspberry Pi?” And no, we’re not talking about a delicious dessert here.
Raspberry Pi is a series of compact, single-board computers with a range of different iterations hitting the market fairly regularly. They’re designed to promote easier tech education at home and in the classroom, and Raspberry Pi small-scale systems are available at highly competitive prices.
To keep things accessible, the systems typically cost between $25 or $35, with the $35 models offering a bit more built-in capacity and deeper functionality. Bear in mind that unless you buy a bundle of some kind, Raspberry Pi computers don’t typically ship with accessories or peripheral devices.
Let’s take a look at the history of this device, what you can accomplish with one, and much more in our comprehensive guide.
History of Raspberry Pi
Largely produced by Sony UK at their manufacturing hub in Wales, Raspberry Pi was originally created by the non-profit Raspberry Pi Foundation. This charity is geared toward promoting tech literacy and making computing more accessible to individuals. The Foundation introduced the Raspberry Pi in 2012 and the line continues to see regular additions.
In the years since then Raspberry Pi has grown in popularity and spread all over the world. It’s also kept up with other tech trends and has integrated new features, which the Foundation’s founder, Eben Upton, wrote about in a 2018 blog post:
“Just over 2 years ago, we released Raspberry Pi 3 Model B. This was our first 64-bit product, and our first product to feature integrated wireless connectivity. Since then, we’ve sold over 9 million Raspberry Pi 3 units (we’ve sold 19 million Raspberry Pis in total), which have been put to work in schools, homes, offices, and factories all over the globe.”
That’s a lot of Raspberry Pi units and nearly as many different projects. With that many users across the world, the community has grown in scope and sophistication. These days, you can find thousands of different concepts and scenarios with a thorough web search.
What can you do with a Raspberry Pi?
If you’re not already familiar with the technology, it’s easy to think “What is Raspberry Pi used for?” After all, each Raspberry Pi board is small and starts out with a seemingly small output capacity. How you approach using it is up to you. Create your own physical accessories like a colorful computer case for your board or use it as a platform for even bigger ideas.
Raspberry Pi’s low cost and vast range for customization play a big role in what makes it such an effective teaching tool. You won’t break the bank getting a starter kit and mishaps are easier to recover from.
Raspberry Pi provides a safe and low-risk way to experiment with computer technology, particularly for students and younger users. It’s easy to get started thanks to the variety of project types available, and there’s a dedicated and growing community behind it.
Small-scale projects are generally inexpensive and can involve a bit of research and DIY. If you have a bigger budget, there are tons of accessories like cases, connections, and storage that you can use to give yourself a head start. Once you get some experience, you’ll also learn about the device’s adorably-named operating system, Raspbian.
Take a short course
But before all that, be sure to check out the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s short series of beginner activities and small projects. These short courses will help substantially if you aren’t already familiar with Raspberry Pi. If that sounds like you, consider spending some time with them before you tackle more complex projects. Now we’ll move onto an inventory of Raspberry Pi’s in-house projects, each with detailed support from the Foundation.
Code with Python
Python is a long-standing coding language designed for ease of use, with an aesthetic philosophy that continues drawing in new users. The Python language has gone through a number of iterations, and these days the latest iteration is Python 3.8.2. It’s available to download via Python’s website.
To get started with Python and Raspberry Pi, check out the Foundation’s introductory course, Python: Module 1. You’ll find many helpful links and information to get started, with a series of activities meant to build experience. Design a rock, paper, scissors game, for example, then finish off the module with a how-to on basic encryption techniques.
Code with Scratch
Looking for projects to help some youngsters get a head start with programming? Scratch is geared specifically toward children, with a language and format tailor-made by the MIT Media Lab. Raspberry PI’s Scratch: Module 1 is a great place for new users and it has a language and format geared specifically toward nurturing young tech enthusiasts.
To keep kids entertained, the first Scratch module is loaded with game-building activities and fun diversions. Start by coding musical instruments to create a digital band, then make a ghost-catching adventure, and wrap up by building your own boat-racing game.
Build a website
If you’re ready to start learning how to build a website with Raspberry Pi, the CoderDojo HTML & CSS course offers a three-stage tutorial. You’ll find instructions on how to build a fully functional website with guidance on how to develop its look and flow.
In this tutorial, Raspberry Pi and CoderDojo offer a comprehensive scenario with users building a website to showcase their home country. Or if you already have other goals in mind, there are plenty of community-generated sources on HTML and CSS.
Design an Android app
For more app-inclined users, CoderDojo’s App Inventor for social innovation offers a compact guide to creating a few different systems. By the time you’re done, you’ll have built a quiz app, exercise tracker, and an open-ended accessibility map for recording data and locations.
Even for relatively new users, this is a great place to start working with more complex ideas. Not interested in building apps from scratch? Do some research and you’ll find numerous downloadable options to jump into.
Build a simple robot
Designing and building a robot probably sounds like a big hurdle if you’re new to the topic, but not with Raspberry Pi’s simple Build a Robot module. It provides the basics of how to build a robotic toy buggy. For the first tutorial, you’ll get down to construction and basic controls. The second tutorial focuses on building a remote control, while the last packet shows how to make your buggy follow a line.
Tackle a big project
Described by the Raspberry Pi Foundation as Big Projects, you’ll also find an entire section of their website devoted to their most complex activities. It includes the robot buggy guide we talked about above.
This is a great section to move into once you’ve mastered some basics and have the confidence to handle projects with more variables. Want to use your Raspberry Pi to build a higher-capacity device? The Foundation’s Build an OctaPi project is an excellent way to learn. In particular, it provides a manageable starting point for users interested in more powerful, distributed computing.
Popular Raspberry Pi projects
The Raspberry Pi Foundation’s courses are some of the most user-friendly places to get started, but there are thousands upon thousands of other concepts out there. Just use your favorite search engine to explore.
Also, if Raspberry Pi’s core learning material doesn’t interest you, don’t worry. There are plenty of other options out there. And in this section, we’ll cover a few interesting project types that resonate with plenty of different users.
Open-source media center
Fleshing out simple multimedia players is a particularly popular use for Raspberry Pi, with lots of open-source options to get you set up. You can even stream games from your computer to another screen when you install Steam Link software on your Raspberry Pi.
OSMC.tv, which is short for open-source media center, is another great option for organizing and enjoying movies, music, and photos, to name just a few things. With OSMC, you can customize your interface and shop apps all with the click of a remote.
Facial recognition systems are a popular way to mod Raspberry Pi projects. They create simple security protocols or help flesh out your own novelty build. Tony Dicola at Adafruit Industries offers a great summary of this project in his Raspberry Pi Face Recognition Treasure Box guide. While simple systems may not offer a completely reliable defense against tampering, they do provide an unusual and interesting way to have fun with Raspberry Pi.
Retro gaming platform
If old-school games are your favorite pastime, you’ll want to take a look at one of the many tutorials for adapting Raspberry Pi into a retro-gaming platform. One of the most recent guides comes from YouTube channel DrewTalks, with his video Everything You Need to Build A Raspberry Pi Retro Gaming Console.
This tutorial includes a lot of detailed information regarding the other components you’ll need for your setup. It also offers some general insight into how you can best handle your own Raspberry Pi gaming builds.
What is Raspberry Pi 4?
The Raspberry Pi 4 is the latest iteration of the device. Over the years, Raspberry Pi has mainly focused on expanding its product line across several size formats and generations. This means that early generation Raspberry Pi devices are still produced alongside newer systems.
The Raspberry Pi 4 comes with a lot of upgrades and additions, and it’s available at a few different price points depending on how much memory you’d like preloaded. Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton calls it “a comprehensive upgrade, touching almost every element of the platform.” It features better power performance, more features, and a slate of compatible accessory options you can add to your kit.
For more on Raspberry Pi 4, check out Upton’s complete blog post and feel free to browse the selection. It’s regularly updated by a variety of contributors, so you can find tons of unique projects and helpful links.
More about the Raspberry Pi Foundation
Beyond its core product line, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has a large list of collaborations and other endeavors geared toward making tech accessible. For instance, the CoderDojo is a part of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and they’re home to many resources for users who want to learn more about programming.
Code Club is another example, and they provide support specifically for the younger set. Designed for users in the 9 to13-year-old age range, this a good way to give eager young learners a boost. There are also in-person Raspberry Pi Jams if you want to build contacts and experience. The group’s website includes a map of upcoming events and guidance on how to organize your own Jam.
Looking for some new ideas or more specialized information about Raspberry Pi? The Raspberry Pi blog at the foundation’s website includes regular news posts, insights into products and development, and even a growing list of novel project ideas. Some particularly great articles include a guide to adding audio functionality to Raspberry Pi and how to build an Amazon price tracker.
Where to buy and tips for getting started
There are a lot of places to buy a variety of Raspberry Pi models, but you should start by looking at the Foundation’s product listings. At the bottom of each entry, you’ll find plenty of reliable source recommendations provided by the Foundation, and it’s the best way for users to buy with confidence and certainty.
Remember that the best uses for Raspberry Pi depend on you and your goals for the technology. Whether you want to play around with one yourself or you want to help a younger user start their tech training, Raspberry Pi provides many affordable options.
If you don’t find anything up your alley in what we went over above, feel free to expand your search for the perfect projects on the web. Your imagination is only the only thing holding you back when you begin using this extraordinary device.