Raspberry Pi DIY workshop teaches students how to use customizable, versatile minicomputers

January 17, 2018
student holding raspberry pi

Second-year student Julia Costacurta wants to use Raspberry Pi, a customizable minicomputer, to program a plant-watering device (Image: Saralyn Cruickshank)

What would you build if you could design any kind of tech device for $35? Would you bypass the costs of major cellphone providers and build your own smartphone? Would you build a bartending robot to mix your favorite cocktails perfectly each time? Would you relive your youth and create a retro video game console that cuts out the need for those pesky, dust-prone game cartridges?

This month, 15 Johns Hopkins students are learning the ins and outs of a versatile device capable of these and infinitely more functions: the Raspberry Pi, a small, green single-board computer capable of fitting inside an Altoids tin.

Raspberry Pi is a revolution in computer hardware, enabling users to build their own computers and smart devices. Developed in the United Kingdom, Raspberry Pi costs as little as $35 and has become a worldwide phenomenon, with global sales surpassing 15 million units last year. These bare bones, accessory-compatible minicomputers have become especially popular in fields relating to home automation, data visualization, robotics, and Internet-capable devices.

The Raspberry Pi DIY Intersession course, offered by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering, provides students with not only the Pis but also a fleet of peripheral devices such as LED light panels, Google-compatible voice kits, and a series of sensors and circuits enabling them to build their own devices. Students are guided through setup and programming before being unleashed to pursue their own Pi-powered projects.

Instructor Bryan Bosworth, a postdoctoral fellow in Electrical and Computer Engineering, says these minicomputers and their capabilities represent autonomy and freedom.

“You don’t have to take what The Man gives you,” he says half-seriously to the class in their second meeting. “When you master this kind of computer engineering, you won’t be beholden to anyone—you can get these devices to do what you want.”

Excerpted from The Hub

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