The Raspberry Pi is probably one of the most important creations for anyone who loves to tinker. Originally designed to help children learn how to program in an inexpensive way as well as interface with various simple outside world devices such as lights, switches, motors.
However, its power lays in its GPIO (General Purpose Input Output). This allows other boards to be connected quickly and easily to expand what this little power house can do.
In terms of home automation and robotics it is ideal due to its small form factor (The A/B range a little bigger then a playing card or Altoid tin), its ability to be expanded with extra boards to allow it to use servos, motors, sensors, cameras, etc. The latest versions have built in wifi, bluetooth, HDMI, USB ports and Ethernet.
If you need something smaller there is the cheaper and tiny (about the size of a stick of gum) Raspberry Pi Zero. The W version of this has built in wifi and although not as powerful as the full size version, in many ways it’s more amazing due to its size.
The Raspberry Pi is not the easiest computer to set up if you buy just the bare bones board. If you turn it on, you get a light, the first thing you need to do is install an operating system. The operating system as standard runs from a micro SD card (earlier versions of the Pi, this was a full size SD card). Not all SD cards are compatible with it. Once you have found a card you have checked online should work, usually a minimum of a 4gb card (8GB or higher for NOOBS) but no more then 32gb (you can go higher but requires a different formatting technique for the SD card).
To install a single operating system (Raspian being the most popular) or nowadays rather then going for one particular one, you can download NOOBS that gives you a range. Again, this isn’t a case of simply downloading and dragging and dropping on to the SD card, ready for the Pi to open it when it starts up. It needs to be installed on the SD card using an SD card memory card formatter program.
First time users it may be buying a kit that also will include a microSD card that contains NOOBS. This will allow you to select what operating system you want to use with your Pi out of the box.
If you are not used to Linux then there is a learning curve using Raspian. If you are coming from Windows PC or Apple Mac then get ready to using bash codes and command lines. You can stick to the nice Windowseque display for programming and getting connected to the internet but to update, upgrade or add new packages, then these are usually done using bash codes in a command line interface. It really just means you’ll have to type rather then just click. The good thing is that there is a very active community with plenty of support online. Normally after a month of playing and hours of wondering what you’re doing wrong, you’ll be able to operate it like a pro.