At heart, I'll always be a technology geek. Keeping that at my "core" provides me a continual sense of wonder about technology, and renewed interest in what is coming next.
One project that I've been following with great interest for some time is the Raspberry Pi project. (That's "pi", as in the Greek letter. Cute, eh?) Raspberry Pi is a small computer, with a circuit board the size of a credit card. Yet it's powerful enough to do lots of interesting and useful things.
Raspberry Pi is based on a special processor called an "ARM". Your PC or Mac probably runs an Intel processor. The ARM is just like that, but smaller, and requires very little power (the Raspberry Pi uses the same 5 volt power plug that you use to charge your phone.) You can't simply run Windows or Mac programs on an ARM, but you can adapt them through a process called "recompiling". Or, developers can just write new programs with Raspberry Pi in mind.
The group behind the Raspberry Pi aims to bring inexpensive computing devices to education. Their ideal is to turn Raspberry Pi into an affordable computing platform to help introduce the next generation of students to technology. The basic model will sell for only $25.
As we wait for the first units to go on sale, I start to wonder how we might apply the Pi to our campus technology and learning. I've discussed a few options with KK and Nic in our computer science department. Here are some of my first thoughts for student projects:
- A possible replacement for lab PCs or Internet "kiosk" PCs
Despite its small size, the Raspberry Pi has enough computing power to support a modern graphics desktop environment, built on Linux and the familiar Firefox browser. I'm curious to see how Raspberry Pi might fare as a dedicated "web browser" machine, suitable for kiosks.
Could Raspberry Pi also replace some of our lab PCs? This might require "virtualizing" some of our more powerful applications, so they actually run on a server somewhere, and get displayed on Raspberry Pi. This is certainly possible. More technical folks might recognize the "VNC" viewer; this also runs on the Raspberry Pi.
- A display device, like the video display outside Higbies
This would make an excellent project for a student. Could we see future displays around campus that are built on the Raspberry Pi? I see two possibilities, depending on need and connectivity:
- Raspberry Pi might fetch images over the network from a web server, then cycle through those images on a monitor. At convenient intervals, Raspberry Pi might refresh it's copy of the images. This makes it very easy for someone to update every connected display device, simply by changing images on a web server.
- For spaces that do not have a network connection, an enterprising student might write a program that automatically copies images from a USB fob drive, then cycles through those images on a monitor.
Even more interesting would be a student project to automatically display a Powerpoint presentation on a monitor, using Raspberry Pi. This would make it much easier for campus owners to put new content on the display devices.