This article is aimed at those Creative Technologists who have gotten used to Arduino, but hear everybody talking about the Raspberry Pi instead. Maybe some have tried to convince you that the Pi is ‘better’ and ‘more professional’ in their most authorotive voice, but the thruth is they are very different systems. There is a lot of information on both systems, including comparisons, on the net. But in this article, let’s focus on what an average Creative Technologist would like to know!
The basic differences
Let’s start with the similarities of the Arduino and Pi systems, in order to also see the difference. The first thing a Creative Technologist might notice, is how similar they look. We see a PCB with pins, components and connectors. The first hints of the difference between the systems are those connectors: while Arduino just has a USB port, the Raspberry Pi includes an ethernet port, HDMI, and an SD card slot. This is because Raspberry Pi is a full computer, comparable to a laptop, and therefore needs all this input and output to work as such. Arduino does not – it’s not a full computer, but a microcontroller, designed to be hooked up to your PC, be programmed and then connected to electronics to control them.
Should I use Arduino or Pi?
On a Raspberry Pi you can do virtually anything you could do with a computer: connect to the internet, display and edit data, even play some games. This makes the Pi for many people ideal for running simple servers, data storage and communication between computers. Us Creative Technologists are, especially for assignments, generally more interested in making applications with sensors and screens.
The Pi offers an advantage here when it comes to networking: with a built in ethernet port (and Wi-Fi if you have a newer version, which is otherwise available through a dongle) it doesn’t require a shield like the Arduino would. For example, one CreaTer wanted a device that could track celestial objects. He used the Raspberry Pi to get data on this from the internet, and do some calculations on them. Then, he connected the Pi to his Arduino. By using serial communication, he sent the data to the Pi, to the Arduino. The Arduino then used this data to control a motor, which would turn a laserpointer to the right spot in the sky. As so can see, the Pi is a perfect device for internet-of-things projects.
Of course, you don’t need the Arduino to connect hardware to the Pi. The Pi has I/O pins (keep in mind they’re all digital and not analog!). However, the Arduino offers the Arduino IDE and its corresponding language you all know for easy communication.
Another important advantage of the Pi is that its processing power is much larger than that of an arduino. For example, complex calculations and video processing are things that the Arduino would struggle with.
The Pi is not ‘programmed’ like you would upload code to an Arduino. It comes, however, with Python (recommended), C, C++, Java and Ruby preinstalled. You can use IDEs on the Pi to program and run code (or the command line if you prefer).
Why does the Creative Technology curriculum teach Arduino if Pi seems more versatile and powerful? Because it’s much more straightforward to control electronics using Arduino! You only need an IDE on your working computer and a USB cable to read and write data. The Arduino has analog and digital pins, and the internet is full or shields to control almost anything you can imagine. You don’t need to run an entire operating system – and if you only possess one mouse, keyboard and monitor, this means you do not need to switch between Raspbian and your standard OS. Finally, Arduino has it’s own C-based language designed specifically for it, a language you should be familiar with by now!
So keep in mind that for many applications that a Creative Technologist would make during his study, a Raspberry Pi would be unnecessary and the least efficient option. Don’t be intimidated by those that mock Arduino for being a ‘lesser’ version of Raspberry Pi – they probably don’t know what they are talking about.
Keep the advantages and disadvantages of both systems in mind when have to choose between them for your next project.
How do I get started using Pi?
When you have decided to use the Pi, there are some steps you have to follow to set everything up.
Download the Raspberry Pi’s Default OS, Raspbian, put in on an SD card, put the SD card in your Rasperry Pi and you’re good to go. (Sort of – follow this guide to set up your system.) If you plug in a mouse, keyboard and monitor of course, using the mentioned HDMI and USB ports.
A CreaTer might find it daunting that Raspberry Pi isn’t as straightforward as Arduino when it comes to programming. As mentioned, Python is the recommended language for the Raspberry Pi. Try these tutorials to get started in a manner that will remind you of Arduino.
There are other great places for tutorials and inspiration, like instructables.com and diyhacking.com. However, if you don’t have a basic knowledge, these might turn out to be daunting and discourage you from using the Pi further. So, do not be discouraged by the colourful and childish look of the official Raspberry Pi tutorials. They are indeed aimed at a very wide audience, but they are a good way to get started!
Finally, some of our CreaTe colleagues at SNT wanted to express their concerns to you regarding safety. The standard username and password are the same for every Pi. If you do not change these, your system will likely be hacked to send around spam. And then SNT will block your Pi from the network. Let’s boldface this to keep them happy: change your username and password as soon as possible!
For CreaTers, the Pi is very interesting to be used in projects that require a network connection. Or projects you would otherwise use a normal computer for, but when you prefer a more compact solution. However, Arduino is still the most straightforward method to achieve most of what you need in projects. Think carefully about the requirements of your project!
To get started with Raspberry Pi, try out some of the links mentioned above. Good luck and happy hacking!
Featured image source: Flickr.