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Raspberry Pi and the Internet of Things (IoT) Revolution

Posted by editor on April 3, 2014 at 12:36 PM PDT

Recently I was wandering the aisles of a Barnes and Noble bookstore (the last big chain bookstore in the United States), and I was surprised to see a selection of 6 or 7 books about the Raspberry Pi! Perhaps this shouldn't have surprised me, but it did. Just now, I went to the Barnes and Noble web site and searched for "Raspberry Pi" books, and 70 books were returned, all of them genuinely about the actual hardware Raspberry Pi. Does this surprise you?

I think part of my surprise is that some of the first professional programming I did, back in the early 1980s, was developing data acquisition and instrument control software, writing software on $35000 Hewlett-Packard 9845 computers to control custom made boards and other devices over GPIO and RS-232 interfaces. I worked with stepper motors, digitizers, and a slew of other instruments and devices, assisting the U.S. Navy in testing existing and designing new transducers and sonar arrays.

That experience left me with the thought that controlling devices was a very expensive endeavor -- which it was back then. But, times change, and they have certainly changed a lot in the past 30+ years with respect to computers, sensors, instruments, and boards that can control hardware like stepper motors.

If you look at the basic layout of a Raspberry Pi, you've got a device that is actually much more powerful than most of the equipment I was working with in the early 1980s. For example, that $35000 HP-9845 had a 16-bit CPU running at 5.7 MHz, and it had a base RAM of 24 kBytes (with addition of another 48 kBytes possible). Today's $35 Raspberry Pi runs at 700 MHz and features 512 MBytes of RAM.

So, let's do the math: today, for 1/1000 of the cost of an HP-9845, you can get a processor that runs 123 times as fast, and has 21 times as much base RAM. Or, looking at it another way, a $35 Raspberry Pi can do the same processing that would have required 123 HP-9845s in the early 1980s. And those 123 HP-9845s would have cost more than $4.3 Million! That means that the cost of a unit of processing, using the HP-9845 and the Raspberry Pi as the comparative hardware, has fallen by 99.999% over the past three decades.

Considering these facts alone, doesn't this imply a revolution of some type? Clearly, the revolution has already happened with respect to computers that can control devices and access sensors.

It used to take a big government contract for me to be able to play with devices, control motors, automate research and development processes, etc. Today, a 12 year old who does yard work for the neighboring families can afford equipment that's far more powerful than what I was working with back then.

Some people think the Internet of Things (IoT) is just a gimmick, just a fad. No -- when the cost of something useful is reduced by 5 orders of magnitude, something big is going to come out of that. Let the real IoT revolution begin!

Watching this is going to be fun. Participating in it (as I plan to do) will be even more fun!


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-- Kevin Farnham (@kevin_farnham)

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