Innovation

Raspberry Pi: Essential add-ons for modders and everyday users

TechRepublic has covered some pretty nifty hacks for the Raspberry Pi, the $40 credit card-sized Linux computer.

But the Pi ships as a bare board, and if you're going to use the Pi to bark commands at a robot or sail an autonomous boat you're going to need to invest in some extras.

To help you on your way TechRepublic has rounded-up the ultimate collection of add-ons for the Pi, from boards for controlling robots to keyboards and screens that let you use it on the move.

This round-up assumes you already have the basics - the power cables, memory card, basic keyboad and mouse and video leads - you need to get going with the Pi.

Note a lot of these accessories have been built by individuals or small teams, so expect a bit of a wait to receive them.

Gertboard

Before you build a mechanical butler you're going to have to get to grips with the basics of using the Pi to control items in the real world.

This is where the Gertboard comes in, a circuit board that not only allows your to use the Pi to interact with motors, sensors and lights but is designed to teach you how to do so.

The board has been designed to allow you to start with the simplest tasks when using the computer to control devices - beginning with reading whether a button on the board is pressed and flashing an LED, and working up to using the board to talk to items in the outside world.

Programmable directly from the Pi's general purpose input-output port using the Atmel AVR software development kit, the board adds real-time sensing and control capabilities to the Pi.

As Liz Upton of the Raspberry Pi Foundation puts it, the Gertboard is great if you want to use your Raspberry Pi to drive motors, open doors, lift things, power robotics, sense temperature, switch devices on and off, flash lights or teach it to play the glockenspiel - basically to do anything really cool.

It comes with an assembly manual and a user manual, which also act as teaching guides, bundled with plenty of programs to show you how to put things together.

While the board ships with all of the components needed to connect to the Pi it does come in kit form, meaning you're going to have to break out the soldering iron. No fear, as this guide points out, soldering is easy.

Gertboard is available through element14. Readers in the UK can order it here, Singapore and other Asia Pacific countries here; Australians here and Americans here.

Photo: Raspberry Pi Foundation

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.