I spent Tuesday afternoon strolling the expo floor at the Embedded Systems Conference (now one of several concurrent events under the “DESIGN West” banner). It’s a big industry show for component electronics and test equipment…mostly out of my league, to be honest…but nonetheless interesting to drop in and see what’s new and where things may be headed.
A lot of folks are asking what and if we’re going to do with the Raspberry Pi. Since today is Pi day we can share some of our plans and experiments – we have a series “Pi Plates” for @Raspberry_Pi – “Shields” for the Raspberry Pi. Right now no one has shipping hardware so like everyone else we are waiting to get the read hardware to test our designs. We have a few ready to go based on the information out there and will have more later (and updated) once we test. There are no details beyond this and no ETA (don’t ask!) Please keep in mind this is an experiment, if something crazy happens we might not be able to do these of course. However – if someone gets an extra one and can get it to us to test we’ll give you a set of “Pi Plates” for the assistance if and when they’re done. At Adafruit we think we have the best line up of accessories for the Arduino and Beagle Bone, we think you’ll like what we have cooking for the Pi if it all works out Once we have anything to show we’ll devote a segment on our weekly video show – ASK AN ENGINEER.
So, what’s it like in practice? I had a chance to play with the Debian “squeeze” distribution – the official Fedora based image was not yet available. Getting the image written onto an SD card (I recommend 4 GB min as the default image leaves not a lot of empty space to install new software on a 2 GB card) was simple enough following these instructions. I decided that it would be fun to try to get my Neural Network controlled RC car working on Raspberry Pi. The Rasp Pi team are working on an add on “Gertboard” for I/O but since those aren’t available yet and the device already has USB ports, connecting an Arduino UNO board should work great, right? Well, yes, but the debian image doesn’t come with kernel driver support or prebuilt modules for the usb/serial interface Arduino uses. It took quite a bit of digging to find all the info I needed to build these myself, but I’ve made prebuilt modules available at the end of this post if you’d like to repeat this yourself.
The Remix is a distribution comprised of software packages from the Fedora ARM project, plus a small number of additional packages that are modified from the Fedora versions or which cannot be included in Fedora due to licensing issues – in particular, the libraries for accessing the VideoCore GPU on the Raspberry Pi.
This is because of a hardware parts substitution that was made in the factory by accident: specifically, where we’d specified jacks with integrated magnetics in the BOM and schematics, the factory soldered in non-magnetic jacks. No magnetics means no network connection.
It’s cool to see Pi posting about the process of making the Pis.
This is a guest post by Harriet Green, Chief Executive of Premier Farnell. Premier Farnell is a global distributor of electronic components, including the Raspberry Pi. It is also the founder of the electronic engineering community, Element14. Few products in recent history have created the level of excitement generated by the Raspberry Pi launch last week. Demand for this new credit card-sized computer was reminiscent of the original iPhone — during peak demand, we were receiving more than 700 enquiries a second in Europe, a pattern replicated globally.
…Only by supporting projects like Raspberry Pi with the right platforms and ecosystem can the promised revolution in technology education achieve its potential output — new products and initiatives that radically change our planet forever. We need to work together to realise the power of community and make sure this renaissance happens.
Very cool to see Harriet Green guest blogging on WIRED!
The Raspberry Pi Foundation, creator of the Raspberry Pi ARM-based tiny computer that sells for $25, has announced that it has signed up Premier Farnell and RS Componentsas licensed manufacturers of the devices. The Foundation explained that the new model would remove the limitations of its previous supply model which meant it could only do batches of ten thousand Raspberry Pis a time, and that from now on, the device would be manufactured to meet demand. The Foundation will make a small profit from each Raspberry Pi sale which will be put back into the charity to help it achieve its educational mission.
…Although Raspberry Pi boards are designed with open source software in mind, with a remix of Fedora Linux being developed for it, the boards themselves are not open source hardware. The Foundation hopes to make the board open later on, with a release of the whole design, but is concentrating of building a sustainable educational foundation.
There have been quite a few questions in the forums and on the comments about what libraries will be available, what codecs, what is open source etc. This short post will try and give people some idea of what will be available at or around launch time. It won’t be comprehensive – I am sure that for some it will generate more questions than answers, but I hope it will be of help.
Firstly, libraries. Any distribution will need to supply a set of closed source libraries that give access to the GPU acceleration features…
The Open/Closed source debate can become quite heated, as those perusing the comments and forums may have noticed. As stated above, the host side libraries for the graphics acceleration are closed source and are provided by the SoC supplier. The Foundation has no control over the closed nature of these libraries. Since the vast majority of people simply use libraries such as these, it was deeded a trade off worth making to get the high graphics performance. It’s worth noting there are no other SoC devices with a similar graphics performance that are open source. There is no GPL issue here, these are user side libraries not linked in any way to the kernel.
There are a few drivers for the SoC which are linked in to the kernel, these are GPLed and hence OSS. One of these drivers is the interface from the user space libraries to the GPU. The user side libraries use this ‘driver’ to communicate with the GPU and tell it what to do.
Here’s a handy diagram that may help visualise what’s what.
Raspberry Pi manufacturing update. Looks like there should be some in early 2012 – It doesn’t appear possible to make them anywhere but China and to meet their $25 price point…
… Simply put, if we build the Raspberry Pi in Britain, we have to pay a lot more tax. If a British company imports components, it has to pay tax on those (and most components are not made in the UK). If, however, a completed device is made abroad and imported into the UK – with all of those components soldered onto it – it does not attract any import duty at all. This means that it’s really, really tax inefficient for an electronics company to do its manufacturing in Britain, and it’s one of the reasons that so much of our manufacturing goes overseas. Right now, the way things stand means that a company doing its manufacturing abroad, depriving the UK economy, gets a tax break. It’s an absolutely mad way for the Inland Revenue to be running things, and it’s an issue we’ve taken up with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
What’s Raspberry Pi trying to rekindle?
There was a real enthusiasm for electronic devices when I was a kid. It wasn’t that it was geeky – it was actually quite trendy for a short period of time. But that’s not the point. The thing is that when the focus is on the device itself, that’s one thing, but what you can do with the device is a lot more interesting. [In Raspberry Pi] you’ve got quite a powerful, very cheap device that anyone can carry around, take to school, and hopefully do interesting things with that make it seem less like it’s purely a school thing.
We do realise that it’s only going to be a subset of people that will even get engaged with it, but it’s filling a gap where there isn’t actually a place for people to get engaged at the moment. There’s a huge gulf right now between [making UGC in] Halo Forge, Rollercoaster Tycoon or LittleBigPlanet, and things at the top end like XNA where you’ve got to know your bananas to get engaged in it. For me the BBC Micro crossed that gap. Actually, the bottom bit didn’t even exist back then, but it shows that there is a will to learn ‘programming Lego’.
At the moment, on a normal machine you’ve got to know quite a lot to be able to boot Linux, fire up a compiler and get anything to compile. Just to say your own name on the screen is a challenge. Whereas on the BBC, you’d see in every shop that someone had typed, ‘So-and-so is clever,’ or ‘So-and-so smells’. Line 20, Goto 10: that almost entered the vocabulary, it’s so straightforward. It’s understandable even to someone who hasn’t done programming. It would be great if you could take that and wrap it in something where it’s easy to create something – websites, for instance – very easily. You can do it to an extent with things like Java, but it’s much harder to get into, and in terms of teaching it’s much harder as well.
So is it safe to assume there will be an analogue to BBC Basic on Raspberry Pi?
Well, we have BBC Basic. It’s not an analogue, it’s the BBC Basic. We’re just checking where we are with the rights to that. There may or may not be an issue with the magic three letters there. But the point is that BBC Basic was hand-optimized on machines that were hundreds and hundreds of times slower than this. So it’ll feel like the speed of Assembler, it’ll run like the wind. And I think that’s very exciting. A Java virtual machine is typically 80mb, often bigger still, which is ludicrous. Whereas my guess is that entirety of BBC Basic will fit easily in [Raspberry Pi's] primary cache. And that to me, in a perverse way, is very attractive. You could write something in Basic doing fancy graphics processing but where you could look at it and it’s really obvious what it’s doing. That’s great from a teaching point of view, and from a fun point of view.
Personally, I’m still not sold on this whole Raspberry Pi project yet. That’s just my opinion, of course, and I will admit that I can see some handy uses for the kind of functionality the RP (purportedly) offers. I also understand exactly what he’s getting at with the BBC Micro analogy. For many kids in the US in the early 80′s, that role was filled by the Apple II or the Commodore 64. I certainly wish kids today could have the same experience with computers that I had with my //e when I was a kid — being able to dive right in to programming and making the machine perform tasks I thought up myself, rather than just choosing from a menu of pre-ordained tasks someone else has decided to offer to me.
I still wonder, however, just how open (as in hardware) the platform will be. He throws down a somewhat vague gauntlet of sorts here (emphasis mine):
Is the lack of a case a deliberate aesthetic choice?
Yes. It’s a practical thing as well, because this is a developer board – it’s not a consumer device. The plan is to do that next year. But yes, in a sense it’s embracing our roots as well. It’s not being ashamed of what we’re doing, and trying to make things look nice and antiseptic. Which we may do down the line, but that [would be aimed at] a different group of people. I suspect that a lot of Edge readers would go, ‘Oh, that’s cool. You can see exactly what’s on the board.’ The sort of people who do take the lid off their computer and see what’s inside. So I think there’s no shame in what’s there.
We’ve made it extremely public what is there. So if other people want to make it I’d actually challenge them to build it for the same price. Never mind retail it for the same price. I think that’s the point, at $25 – $35 we’ve managed to keep the price astonishingly low.
“Our dream is that the Raspberry Pi gets to a large number of schoolchildren and that a fraction of them learn how to program. They will become the next generation of innovators who will stimulate the economy,” he said.
Although only the size of a credit card, Raspberry Pi has a 700Mhz Arm processor, up to 256MB of flash memory. It will run a version of the popular Linux operating system, although Mr. Mullins said the final software package has yet to be finalized.
Development on the Raspberry Pi started three years ago, he said, and they hoped to have a product for sale by mid 2012.
There is currently a waiting list of more than 10,000 people.
…here are the Gerbers (a visualisation of the printed circuit board or PCB) for the finalised version of the Raspberry Pi. I get several messages every day asking what it can possibly be that we are still working on: I hope you will understand on looking at this why the routing, which has to be quite spectacularly complicated to minimise expensive PCB features and to keep things tiny, took as long as it did! That snarl in the middle is the signal escape for the BCM2835, the chip at the heart of the Raspi. The elves have been working overtime.
Question for the folks who are following this project closely, is the plan for the Raspberry Pi foundation to make it open-source hardware? The project page says “An ARM GNU/Linux box for $25″. The GNU/Linux part is open source of course, but we couldn’t find anything specific for the hardware. Post up in the comments if you know, that would be really cool if it was! It looks like in the Q&A they are under NDA for some of it, so maybe it can’t be for some of it, but a lot of of it – seems possible!