Starting With Raspberry Pi

Don’t Be Intimidated

There are many posts out there about starting with Raspberry Pi. Here’s ours. I am going to assume that you have some development experience, likely with web applications, and you are looking to expand into the world of microcomputers and actually interact with the real world.

Even if you don’t have that experience, keep in mind is that this thing was literally built as a learning tool. Really! So it’s ok to start from scratch. Yeah, there’s a lot to learn, but kids with single-digit ages are doing this. So don’t be intimidated! You can figure this out. And if you need help along the way, Orlando IoT is here for you – join the Orlando IoT Slack group and ask other people for help along the way!

What Is A Raspberry Pi?

So what is a Raspberry Pi? In short, it’s a small computer, a microcomputer if you will. It has a bit of RAM, a four-core processor, the ability to connect to Bluetooth and WiFi, an HDMI out, a 3.5mm audio jack for audiophiles, a slot for a microSD card that holds the operating system and any files you save to it, and some USB ports.

Unlike most desktop computers, it has an ARM processor. The ramifications of this is that you can’t just throw Windows 10 on it. You can, however, put Linux or a version of Windows called Windows 10 IoT Core on it. Another distinction between the RPi (say that to be cool) and a regular computer is the GPIO pins, GPIO meaning “General Purpose Input/Output.” So a mouse, keyboard, and screen are typical computer I/O and they are single purpose inputs (mouse and keyboard) and outputs (screen). GPIO means you can hook any electrical thing up to the computer as an input or output. You can use temperature sensors or distance sensors as inputs, you can use motors and LEDs as outputs.

What To Buy

Required Items

Where do you buy an RPi and which one should you get? I recommend getting the Raspberry Pi 3, which is the latest one, and getting it from Amazon is probably the default option. What else do you need? Well, you could always buy a kit on Amazon that comes with everything you need, and that will get you started. You might already have some of that stuff, so here’s a list of things you’ll need (and feel free to not buy things you already have):

Suggested Items For Any Project

Technically, that will get up up and running, and you’ll be able to SSH into it and do interesting things, but ultimately a Raspberry Pi by itself isn’t so exciting. You’ll likely want to have a few more things to do interesting projects:

  • Raspberry Pi 3 case
    • Keep your RPi safe from harm
  • Mouse and Keyboard
    • If you want direct control of your RPi (not just SSH or similar), you’ll want these
  • External Monitor
    • If you install an OS with a GUI, and you are controlling it with a mouse and keyboard, you’ll want to see what you are controlling
  • HDMI Cable
    • Hey, you want to connect to that monitor, right?

Fun With Inputs And Outputs

You’ll have a Raspberry Pi, and you’ll be able to use it as a computer, but you already have a computer, don’t you? You bought a Raspberry Pi to do fun projects. For that, you’ll want sensor and actuators and all sorts of fun things. Here’s some suggestions.

  • GPIO Breakout and Breadboard
    • The breakout is for connecting your GPIO pins on the RPi to a breadboard
    • The breadboard is the basis for experimenting with circuits
  • Jumper Wires
    • For connecting circuits on the breadboard
  • Sensor Kit
    • For all the cool things you can measure in the real world
  • LEDs
    • Bright and shiny Light-Emitting Diodes, or “lights” for people who hate acronyms
  • Resistors
    • For slowing the flow of electricity so it doesn’t burn out sensors and LEDs
    • Only necessary sometimes, project instructions will likely tell you what type of resistor you need where
    • The colored lines on the side indicate how much resistance they have
    • A colorblind person’s nightmare
  • Speakers
    • Music to my ears

Tools & Accessories

Once you’ve experimented a bit, you’ll likely want to build a project to show off at Maker Faire. Well, the breadboard is fun, but it won’t cut it for a real project. These aren’t required for getting started, but can get handy as you get more serious.

  • Multimeter
    • So you can measure current and whatnot
  • Soldering Iron
    • Once you want to connect wires on projects you want to move around, you’ll want to “glue” them together with solder
  • Electrical Tape
    • So you don’t short out wires after you solder them. Wrap the tape around wires you solder together
  • Wire Kit
    • You’ll want wire to use to solder together beyond those jumper wires
  • Wire Stripper
    • For stripping and cutting wires
    • You will hate yourself if you get a cheapo one of these

You’ve Got Everything In The Mail… Now What?

The short answer is that you do a bunch of Googling. You Google how to set up your RPi (or Pi if you are really, really cool) using your OS distro of choice, whether that be some flavor of Linux (likely Raspbian) or Windows (Windows 10 IoT Core is your only option here). You Google how to use your multimeter. I’m pretty sure that’s just magic. You find out what libraries are available in your favorite language of choice to talk to the GPIO pins. And you don’t give up.

A checklist for the longer answer:

  • Put your RPi in its case for safekeeping
  • Download NOOBs (New Out Of The Box Software) from Raspberry Pi and put it on your microSD card
  • Put the microSD card in your Pi
  • Plug your microUSB power supply into the Pi
  • Plug a monitor and keyboard and mouse in
  • Follow the on-screen instructions
  • Attach the breakout to your breadboard
  • Find out how to do a Blink program with your language of choice (Google “Raspberry Pi {Language} Blink”)
  • Wire some stuff up and don’t worry to much about explosions. They are rare.
  • Look at some Demo programs
  • Connect it to the internet and make it a true IoT project!

That’s pretty much it. Search engines are your best friend, and you can always reach out to your fellow members at Orlando IoT via our Slack, so sign up to that and get to asking.

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