Makers gonna make
Why is the Raspberry Pi seen as the first choice for makers?
The Raspberry Pi has a history of disrupting the status quo of the SBC market. The initial release in 2012 caused a massive price drop in the cost of a development platform. Since then we have seen many different companies release their own SBC, hoping to capture some of the interest the Raspberry Pi receives. The vast majority of these products have never attained the same attention, despite some having better features, a lower price, etc. Boards such as CHIP, released in mid 2016 and featuring a similar specification to the Pi Zero.
But what CHIP offered then was unique, a wireless package that covered WiFi 802.11n / Bluetooth 4.0 and a built-in battery connection for LiPo cells, so your project could operate for long periods via a battery. All of this for only $9? Surely there had to be a catch? Well, yes, there was. What CHIP didn’t have far outweighed these features. Chiefly it did not have the support of a massive community of makers, all helping one another to invent and create new projects. The CHIP is also unable to output to HDMI without the use of a special shield, which blocks access to all of the GPIO pins. So for that initial $9 you do not see much benefit for media or desktop use.
There are other boards on the market. Orange Pi, ODROID and Pine all offer a platform to build upon, but no other SBC offers the same amount of support and community as that of the Raspberry Pi.
But just as we see with flagship models, the Raspberry Pi Zero W has access to HDMI output, and 1080p HD video playback thanks to the VideoCore IV GPU. So you can watch your HD films via a £10 device, or you could use the GPIO and trigger video playback using a myriad of inputs, perhaps even designed to enable those with a disability to independently use the device.
So why are makers so taken with the Raspberry Pi? Is it down to cost alone? Not at all. The reason is that their ideas are not constrained. Projects large and small can be built with the Raspberry Pi. For anything from turning on a
simple LED all the way up to creating miniature clusters of computers for scientific projects, the same Pi can be used and it requires only time and effort for the learner developer to grow their skills.
With the new Pi Zero W we are going to see more embedded low-power projects that use wireless to send and receive data. Projects that do not require the use of a monitor and that can be run headless, via a local or remote connection. ‘Citizen science’ projects that gather data using cost effective sensors and then upload the data to vast repositories for later analysis will benefit from the Pi Zero W, and as a result more information can be gleaned from the world around us, and all of it can be powered by a £10 computer no bigger than a stick of gum.