Sony will make low cost, credit card-sized single board computers called Raspberry Pi. Would something closer to the real world do more to excite young people's interest?
While we may wish the Raspberry Pi Foundation success in its
praiseworthy aims it occurs to me that another such initiative more
geared to doing things in the "real-world" might be of greater interest
to young people.
The Mbed initiative has been built up around a
couple of single-board microcontrollers and associated tools for
programming. Mbed had similar origins to Raspberry Pi. It was started by
two engineers, this time with ARM Holdings plc, as a way to help
students prototype projects with microcontrollers.
microcontrollers based on ARM 32-bit Cortex-M3 cores the boards are
powerful but – for me – the have the additional advantage is that there are many useful
peripherals on-chip. As a result Mbed is much closer to being able to make real-world
projects do real-world things.
If you are a Linux enthusiast
keen to do things with graphics on the internet you will probably go
Raspberry Pi but if you are an embedded real-world kind of person keen
to use sensors, analog inputs and fire up motor controls and etc. You
can pay your modest anount of money and make your choice.
You have to remember that David Braben originally designed the Raspberry Pi to address the dreadful absence of "physical computing" in UK schools.
It's grown way beyond anyone's dreams, but it is not unreasonable to expect the target users to have a PC.
I don't know anyone who uses a separate keyboard and monitor. Just run over SSH (enabled by default) from your PC/laptop. Setup tightvnc if you want fancy graphics.
The depressing thing is the way schools are looking at this as just another computer to run applications. This will fail - it's a *lot* slower than a PC.
The real value is when you use the P1 header to drive peripherals - whether LED's, audio, motors, etc. I've just come back from the UK Open Source Hardware camp (see www.oshug.org or #oshcamp on Twitter), and the uses people can find for a Raspberry Pi are extraordinary.
If we are to change UK education, then we as professional engineers need to get projects like this into the hands of schools in a way that is very easy for them to use.
Watch this space...
I heard about Raspberry Pi more in March 2012 and tried to get one. I've made my living as a firmware developer and I think it's a great idea. I still would like to get a couple units even if it's not a 100% open design. Being ARM-based and access to interface details is the main thing I need. I do hope all the source code is open source as I would naturally want to build my own bootable image as well as develop my own applications for Raspberry Pi. Problems with Raspberry Pi that I noticed were a video showing a performance problem with graphics intensive game, a mistake in the BOM that caused shipping delays (something about a connector?), trouble keeping the price down to $25, and shipping and handling was high. I cancelled my first order. Would now be a good time to reorder? Where in the US? I've read this thread with great interest and as a firmware developer and parent (interested in kids education) I can tell you Raspberry Pi is a great hacking (in the best traditional sense of the word) opportunity despite the criticisms. I've got a couple small 1080p TVs in the kids bedrooms just waiting for a device like Raspberry Pi.
Have a look for A10 A11 boards that you can buy for 40$ now - they are better than Raspbery as have more powerful chipset, more memory and better graphics. Ports of Linux and Androids are there available.
As interesting as these RaspberryPi looks on the surface when I put on my marketing hat and really think about what I can or would want to do with it, I am frankly somewhat at a loss. I know the flames will be starting but really.
1) To me the out of the box I/O for embedded is limited. Anything that can accept an HDMI output is by nature expensive in comparison throwing the $25 out the window. That to some degree goes for Ethernet as well. The comparison is made to Arduino and I don't think it is as valid as Arduino is focused on interfacing to the real world.
2) It needs an SD card image. Yes they can be bought which is good, but if you ever need to create your own, you need a PC.
3) Speaking of PC, likely any first world or 2nd world development and programming that is ever going to occur for one of these is going to happen on a PC. Wasn't the point of the board to encourage programming ... well you are on a PC and you can write a myriad of programs for that with about as much user interface capability as the RaspberryPi.
4) There cheap dev boards from a number of hardware vendors in a similar price range that are not flying off the shelf. Yes I realize there is not the infrastructure ...but still. The processor choice/broadcom issue could make it difficult to translate the hardware into a custom design.
Will these be sold .... sure. Hundreds of thousands? I could see them selling a lot, but that could be a lofty goal.
Will they be used or collect dust (outside a university/college environment) ... quite possibly.
One needs to add an SD card, keyboard, power supply, display to create a computer. Otherwise you already have a computer and you are defeating the purpose of the board. To that end, it is not $25.
With sub $100 PC projects, with wifi (LAN is not good without a connection), I question the direction of the project at this point.
Of course the Raspberry Pi 2 follow on does not have to use the same Broadcom SoC, or even a Broadcom chip at all. Although it might ;)
But unfortunately, as we have gone from standard components towards single supplier SoCs it is an increasing trend for the chip companies to restrict access to datasheets.
The dictum being: "You must tell me everything about your business, before I will choose whether or not to tell you anything about this component.........And if I don't believe you are not going to buy a lot of chips, i won't."
I'm with you on the limits to the Raspberry Pi's openness. I think Broadcom have made a big PR and business mistake in this.
However most of the software is open, and the board schematics are available. For practical purposes, the system as experienced by students is open for exploration, in a way that mbed (which is still a prototyping and educational system I admire) is not.
Broadcom may naively be hoping that they can corner the market. However RaspberryPi is ultimately defined by its user interfaces, both hardware and software. If it is half as successful as we hope, then there will be plenty of others out there offering clones, with identical interfaces. It happened with Arduino, and Raspberry Pi is already far bigger.
But I am not sure limiting the information available (datasheet as secret document) is in the same spirit as open exploration.
As you may be able to tell the disappearance of freely available datasheets from the engineering environment is a pet peeve of mine. Broadcom is not alone in this.
Also the ST Discovery (CortexM0 for $8 and CortexM4 for $14) and NXP mbed ($$). BTW, I am curious what will be the post-promotion price for Stellaris Launchpad..
Having said that, Cortex M does not use virtual memory so it doesn't run "proper" memory protected OSes like Linux (I don't know if someone tried uClinux on them). The M series is great for a tight hardware/bare metal loop, but if advanced protocol stacks are involved (network, USB, codecs, vision, multiprocessing, etc), I would miss the rich, standard programming environment of an established system like Linux.
Surely if you want to got smaller embedded, there is Arduino.
The key thing about Raspberry Pi is its accessibility for students. The easy ability to control arbitrary hardware - my son wants to use it to control his radio controlled car, my daughter for wearable electronics.
But the key difference to mbed is the open source ecosystem. mbed is great, and well supported, but you use it within ARM's development environment. For education you need to be able to explore and that is what the Raspberry Pi's ecosystem gives you.