The Many Faces of Raspberry Pi: From Toy to Autonomous Drone

By | Jun 21, 2012

Raspberry Pi, the $25 open-board computer, made its debut earlier this year to great anticipation by students, hobbyists, and industry professionals alike. The low-cost computer is intended as an educational platform to teach school children in developing countries to program, but industry professionals are increasingly taking a closer look, in part because of its envisioned potential.

In a recent Engadget article, Terrence O'Brien evaluated the computer's components by running the Pi through a series of tests. He found that the Pi was able to perform on the level of a 300MHz Pentium II, as advertised, and that the Broadcom graphics chip, a Videocore 4 GPU, was mostly worthy of the buzz it has received. On the downside, the computer struggled from the software perspective, leading the author to believe that the supported Linux language variants were not particularly reliable. Overall, O'Brien found that the Pi was "more likely a tinker toy."

And yet, The Register reported that OpenRelief, a group that makes tools for disaster relief efforts, is using the Pi to control a computer-vision system onboard an autonomous flying drone. It will communicate with a radiation-detection system and weather sensors, providing information to on-the-ground responders and disaster management systems.

So it seems that the Raspberry Pi's usefulness may be greater and even grander than expected, when possibilities beyond the hobbyist stage are considered. And while most midsize companies will not be building autonomous drones, they may still want to take a closer look at the Pi and its potential value to the company. IT professionals who may not have had much hands-on board-level operations experience but who would like to explore that option, should look at the Pi's value in learning about developing embedded applications, video, or Android applications, all on a $25 or $35 board. The Broadcom chip potentially brings the IT shop into an embedded systems design, development, and test environment without having to spend thousands. SMBs especially can take a small footstep into that environment at a low level of financial commitment. Any midsize company that uses open source tools should consider the Pi as well, because while there are many open source software platforms available, there are relatively few open source hardware platforms.

It's likely that Raspberry Pi will not be a tool for everyday innovation, but it definitely has potential to lead to some types of unique and useful applications. The Pi is at the stage that Linux was when it was first released in the early 1990s. Back then, nobody thought Linux would have the influence, the community support, or even the utility that it has today. For now, expect that the Pi is more for hands-on training for intellectually curious IT professionals and others with an interest in evaluating what open source tools can do. Midsize businesses may be surprised to discover that they have quite a few of those interested, ingenious people in their IT shop and elsewhere in their ranks.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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