Raspberry Pi 2: Six Things You Can (And Can't) Do - InformationWeek

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2/11/2015
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Raspberry Pi 2: Six Things You Can (And Can't) Do

Now is a good time to look at what you can -- and can't -- do with a brand new Raspberry Pi 2.

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If the words "Raspberry Pi" make you think of dessert more than creative hacking, then it's time for you to renew your geek credentials. The newest version of the "RasPi," the Raspberry Pi 2, provides the perfect excuse to do just that.

The original Raspberry Pi changed the way many engineers and developers thought about the possibilities of an embedded system. A $35 Linux server in a 3" x 5" package, the RasPi allowed developers to write complex control systems using the same languages and operating system functions that they might have used in the business support world.

[ What other options exist for programming the Raspberry Pi 2? Read Google Launches Coder For Raspberry Pi. ]

The newest version has the same I/O capabilities coupled with much more RAM (1 gigabyte versus 256 megabytes in the original) and a dramatically faster CPU (a quad core 900 MHz ARMv7 versus the original 700 MHz ARMv6k). The new speed and power have changed what is possible with the Raspberry Pi, but there are still some limitations that must be kept in mind.

The Raspberry Pi 2 is a bump in power and speed from the original.

(Image: Raspberry Pi Foundation)

The Raspberry Pi 2 is a bump in power and speed from the original.

(Image: Raspberry Pi Foundation)

One of the most intriguing sets of possibilities came from Microsoft's announcement that Windows 10 Embedded will be available on the Raspberry Pi 2. The announcement has led to some hyperbole about cheap workstations and budget corporate assets. There's no question that individuals and organizations are doing amazing things with these little systems, but now seems a good time to look at what you can -- and can't -- do with a Raspberry Pi 2.

  • You Can Run Windows 10 Embedded -- Windows 10 Embedded, like the embedded versions of earlier Windows operating systems, is a command-line version of the OS core designed to power control systems, kiosks, appliances, and other devices for which the Windows user interface isn't required. It allows a developer to use the Microsoft developer tools and attach the embedded devices to a network under Microsoft Active Directory control and management.
  • You Can't Run Microsoft Office -- Office won't run on Windows 10 Embedded because the products need all of those fancy user interface pieces that the Embedded product doesn't have. There are additional reasons, but the takeaway is that you can't replace your Windows desktop with a $35 computer in an Altoids box. Sorry.
  • You Can Build a Better Supercomputer -- People started building Raspberry Pi supercomputers with the Model A. For a researcher with a small budget (or just a very curious hobbyist) the possibilities inherent in a bunch of cheap Linux computers and a pile of Legos are almost unlimited (and absolutely irresistible). With more memory and four times as many compute cores on each device, it should be possible to build much more capable supercomputers at minimal expense.

Researchers at the University of Southampton built one of the first Raspberry Pi supercomputers.




(Image: Simon Cox, University of Southampton)

Researchers at the University of Southampton built one of the first Raspberry Pi supercomputers.

(Image: Simon Cox, University of Southampton)

  • You Can Teach People to Code -- Computer programming has become one of the "must-have" skills for the modern technical employee. Learning the programming essentials in a desktop environment can be difficult, because of all the user interface components that have to be considered. The Raspberry Pi 2 gets around all of those and adds the possibility of blinky lights to show whether the program is doing the right thing. And let's be honest: Everything is better and easier with blinky lights.
  • You Can't Take Its Photograph -- OK, to be more specific you don't want to take a photograph of the Raspberry Pi 2 if you're lighting it with a flash. The sudden, intense light of a flash at close range causes the computer to turn off. Why? It turns out that a key component is photo-sensitive -- something that's not at all an issue if you've got the board in a nice, dark, project box. If you want to take a photo of your RasPi 2, though, just put it on a table near a window and use natural light.

  • You Can Build a Cloud -- Unlike many other single-board embedded computers, the Raspberry Pi 2 has all the components you need to put a project into the cloud. Add a power supply (a 2 amp micro-USB supply is plenty), connect it to the rest of your project, write the code to be delivered to the outside world via the included Web server, and you're in the cloud.

The Raspberry Pi 2 is brand new. At this point, no one knows precisely what businesses and individuals will do with the new power and capabilities. I've already got my eye on several projects: What would you like to do with all that speed? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

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Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Analyst at Omdia, focusing on enterprise security management. Curtis has been writing about technologies and products in computing and networking since the early 1980s. He has been on staff and contributed to technology-industry publications ... View Full Bio
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Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/19/2015 | 10:40:34 AM
Re: Excited
@Technocrati, I've worked in and around heavy industry just enough to think about problems with sticking people into dangerous situations. But there are many more much less hazardous situations that will benefit from embedded intelligence.

At CES, for example, I saw a great underwater drone. When I think about the possibilities of getting low-cost, long-duration views of what's going on inside our rivers, lakes, and estuaries, it just thrills me no end. I also think we're on the verge of finally seeing some of the benefits of intelligent buildings that we've been talking about for years.

And I'm enough of an optimist to think that we're going to see some really interesting ways for people to interact with one another -- including ways to help make face-to-face interaction richer and easier -- so that some of the "digital loneliness" will start to go away.

I know that there are downsides to some of the digital applications but I'm silly enough to think that the positives are going to outweigh the negatives by a fair margin.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/19/2015 | 9:54:42 AM
Re: Excited
@Technocrati, I love the idea of being able to pilot my drone from the comfort of my office (especially on a day like today), but the FCC has some other ideas <grin>.

What really excites me, though, is the idea of doing advanced instrumentation and data gathering from a drone platform. When I think about the data that could be obtained in various micro-climates, or in areas too dangerous for human environmental sampling (say, around hazardous waste spills or from the middle of large red tide blooms), it gives me some hope for being able to better understand the world around us.

People more creative than me (including young people who haven't yet been taught about all the things that "aren't possible") are going to do some wonderful things with a combination of intelligent platforms and remotely operated vehicles. I can hardly wait to see what sort of applications they come up with!
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/17/2015 | 11:38:53 PM
Re: Raspberry Pi 2: Six Things You Can (And Can't) Do
@Brian.Dean, I think it's fun to imagine what an imaginative high-school student (or science club) could do with a RasPi supercomputer. I have to believe that we're going to see some truly amazing things coming out of science fairs in the next few years!
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/17/2015 | 11:35:16 PM
Re: Raspberry Pi 2: Six Things You Can (And Can't) Do
@glenbren, while there's no way I would go back and do the whole "youth" thing again, there are ways in which I envy the kids. When I was the age to be absorbing programming with a Pi my dad was teaching me the secrets of a slide rule and a friend was showing me how much fun we could have with a Heathkit tube amateur radio rig.

Sigh.

As my son occasionally reminds me, things were different "back when I was alive."
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/17/2015 | 11:31:07 PM
Re: Date and time
@SamRay, you're right about the Raspberry Pi's lack of an RTC, but the built-in network connectivity means that it should be fairly simple to either set up an NTP server or take advantage of one of the public NTP servers to synchronize actions. Hmmm...that actually seems like the sort of project that lends itself to a Raspberry Pi build.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/17/2015 | 11:28:00 PM
Re: Raspberry Pi 2: Six Things You Can (And Can't) Do
@Chris, that's a great thing to give a nephew -- I have a young nephew who will be getting one in the near future. And I suppose one of the great things about the low price is that the right set of jobs around the house could earn a budding engineer a new platform in fairly short order!
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/17/2015 | 11:26:35 PM
Re: Micro-Mainframe
@pdembry950, now we just need "pocket JCL" and a micro punched card reader to make me feel right at home! Oddly enough, I can imagine APL being a good match for the Raspberry Pi 2, though Jerry Pournelle's description of it as the world's first "write-only language" makes the whole educational purpose a little hazy.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/17/2015 | 11:24:00 PM
Re: Raspberry Pi 2: Six Things You Can (And Can't) Do
@PedroGonzalez, I agree that sharing the joy of construction and programming with the younger generation is a great use for these systems. I taught my son to program using a very old copy of TurboPascal: If Arduinos and Raspberry Pis had been around when he was young, I have a feeling the workbench would have been full of these little embedded systems -- and our house would have been rather more tightly controlled than it actually was!
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/17/2015 | 11:21:28 PM
Re: Nice!
@HFish, that setup does sound nice! I'm curious: Did you lean on plans and software from other projects to put this together or is it all original design and software? I'd love to hear more about how you put it together!
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/17/2015 | 11:18:49 PM
Re: Excited
@Technocrati, I'm still exploring the Raspberry Pi (I have a Model B) but I'm looking forward to getting a Pi 2 and playing with it. I wonder whether there are some interesting drone projects that could use the power of a Pi...

I know it's not a traditional InformationWeek topic, but I'd love to know what you're planning to do with the RasPi -- maybe we could set up a board here to share some of our experiments.
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