Computer Laboratory

Fresher's Raspberry Pi pages

First off, congratulations on making your offer and getting into Cambridge - there's an exciting year ahead of you!

This year the department has bought Raspberry Pi boards for each of you to play with over the next few weeks. The boards have been distributed to Colleges, and you should be receiving yours soon if you haven't already!

Firstly, doing anything with the boards is completely, 100% optional. But there are lots of fun things to do with your Pi that will potentially give you a headstart this year. As I’m sure you know, no computing experience is assumed by the course so don't worry if you don't know where to start - the info below should help!

The Pi is yours to keep so feel free to use it however you want: overwrite the OS/firmware, run a media centre with it or whatever else you can think of. As well as playing with the pi before you arrive you should join the Facebook freshers group that some second-year students have started for hints and tips -

Just for fun, we'll run a little competition to see who can do the most interesting thing with their Pi between now and the start of term. "interesting" is deliberately vague - hardware, software, tutorials, whatever - just do something cool! We'll ask for entries at the start of term...

Raspberry what? How do I get started?

The Raspberry Pi is a small, cheap (£25ish) computer designed to encourage tinkering at home, in schools, or wherever. It was developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, which has its roots here in the Computer Laboratory. It's received a lot of press, and googling it will get you a lot of info about it.

We've supplied your Pis with a blank SD memory card. To get started, you'll need to put a system image on that card and you'll need to find a few cheap peripherals. These will probably include a power source, keyboard, mouse, HDMI cable and TV/monitor - see our simple guide. The easiest way to power a Pi is through its micro-USB port - this needs the same type of USB cable that most of us use to charge our phones. Alternatively, you can use just about any of the "multipurpose" DC adapters that come with different connectors (the Pi needs 5V, 0.7A).

Now you will want to get something useful onto that SD card so your Pi can be used. Start here:

What do I do now?

Explore. Fiddle with it. Break it. Fix it. Improve it. Here are some specific suggestions:

  • Get used to the Linux environment in the stock Raspberry Pi distribution. Getting used to working in a command line environment and knowing the basic UNIX tools is incredibly useful. Make sure you can do simple things like search for files, search for words within files, write simple bash scripts, install packages, etc. If you're completely lost, open a terminal and follow the University of Surrey tutorials.

  • Follow our Pi tutorials. Some current students have been working on teaching/tutorial material for the Pi this summer - check out the tutorials pages for some simple and advanced projects that will set you up for the first year.

  • Try some programming. Probably the easiest language to start with on the Pi is python, but it does support many other languages. Don't get bogged down creating graphical interfaces - concentrate on the core programming tasks (generally the algorithms). There are lots of tutorials you can follow, including the official python one.

  • In addition, there are many web resources for the Pi, including the Raspberry Pi Wiki

I’m stuck/confused

You could start by contacting your College's Director of Studies for Computer Science. But also feel free to email Robert Harle (the IA course co-ordinator) with any questions/issues or check out the Facebook group if you want to talk to other students.

Join the 2012 CompSci
Fresher Facebook group