This guide demonstrates how to install Raspbian on a Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, connect the Raspberry Pi to a 7″ Touchscreen LCD, and integrate the computer and touchscreen in a cardboard box (which doubles as a case and storage for battery, keyboard, and cables).
I got interested in the Raspberry Pi, because it has many capabilities for learning: kitting out a computer, installing a Linux-based operating system, programming interactive software, and building with electronics. In particular, I am interested in how the Raspberry Pi can be used to create interactive software and be a platform for digital storytelling (which figures into one of the upcoming classes that I will be teaching at City Tech–ENG 3760 Digital Storytelling).
Instead of buying my kit online, I wanted to shop local to get started. Originally, I considered going to Microcenter, which is near where I live in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, they were sold out of the touchscreen display that I wanted. Instead, Y and I took a train into Manhattan and visited Tinkersphere where one of their helpful staff guided me to the things on my digital grocery list. I purchased Tinkersphere’s pre-made Raspberry Pi 2 kit, a 7″ Touchscreen LCD display, a battery pack (in retrospect, I should have purchased two of these, which I will discuss below), and a mono speaker with 1/8″ plug.
Tinkersphere’s Raspberry Pi 2, Model B kit includes all of the basic equipment needed to begin working with this tiny computing platform. The kit is built around the Raspberry Pi 2, Model B computer with a 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU, 1GB RAM, 4 USB ports, 40 GPIO pins, HDMI port, ethernet port, combined 3.5mm audio jack and composite video, camera interface (CSI), display interface (DSI), micro SD card slot, and a VideoCore IV 3D graphics core. Additionally, the kit includes a wireless keyboard/trackpad, USB wifi adapter, 8GB micro SD card with NOOBS (the easy to use Raspbian installer), USB micro SD card reader, breadboard, wires, and 5v power supply.
To begin the setup, we should orient ourselves with the Raspberry Pi. This is the Raspberry Pi 2, Model B computer viewed from the top and the bottom:
The first thing that we need to do is insert the micro SD card with a copy of NOOBS pre-copied. If you need a copy of NOOBS for your own micro SD card, you can download it from here and follow the instructions here for formatting and copying the files from a Mac or PC to the micro SD card. The Raspberry Pi’s micro SD card slot is located on the bottom side of its circuit board. A micro SD card goes in only one way which allows you to press it in. If correct, the card should “click” and stay as seen in the photos below.
Next, connect the Raspberry Pi to a display (such as a TV) with HDMI, and plug in the wifi adapter and wireless keyboard into two available USB ports. Alternatively, you can connect the Raspberry Pi to the Internet via ethernet and to a wired keyboard and mouse. Then, connect it to the 5v power supply. As soon as it is plugged in, the Raspberry Pi is turned on and operational. It will begin to boot from the micro SD card’s NOOBS installer, which will guide you through the process of installing Raspbian. See the images below to see what this looks like and what choices you should make for a basic installation.
NB: While we could have connected the 7″ Touchscreen Display to the Raspberry Pi before beginning the installation, the current version of NOOBS would not detect and use the touchscreen display. It is necessary for Raspbian to be installed and updated before the 7″ Touchscreen Display will be recognized and used as the Raspberry Pi 2’s primary display.
After rebooting following the installation, the raspi-config tool launches. This program gives the user easy access to many configuration options for the Raspberry Pi including how it should boot (automatically login and load xwindows, or boot to a command prompt login), and if you would like to overclock the Raspberry Pi for additional performance (use this option with caution–you will likely want to add heat sinks and increased ventilation if you overclock the system). I configured my Raspberry Pi to operate at normal speed and to boot to the command line with login.
The default login for the Raspberry Pi is username “pi” and password “raspberry”. Type each of these credentials in when asked followed by pressing the Enter key. Then, you will find yourself at the command line interface (CLI).
Before setting up the 7″ Touchscreen Display, we need to update Raspbian. To do this, first type: “sudo apt-get update”. If prompted to install anything because it will take a certain amount of space, simply type “y” and press “Enter”.
To explain what this command means, “sudo” runs a command as superuser, or the user that is all powerful on a linux system. The command that you want to run as superuser is “apt-get,” which is a package manager, or a manager of software packages that run on your Raspberry Pi. “update” is a modifier for “apt-get,” and its purpose is to tell “apt-get” to update its index of available software packages with what is stored on the remote software repository (where your Raspberry Pi is downloading its software from).
After the update operation completes and you return to the command prompt, type: “sudo apt-get upgrade”. Similarly, agree to the prompts with “y” and “Enter”. The “upgrade” modifier to “apt-get” tells it to upgrade the software based on what it learned when updating its index with the previous command. Thus, when you run these two commands, you should run the update command first (learn) and the upgrade command second (act on what was learned).
To launch into Raspbian’s X11, type “startx”. Inside X11 or xwindows, you will find many of the GUI-based software that really makes the Raspberry Pi sing: Scratch, Python, Mathematica, and more. If you have never used X11, it works a lot like Windows 95/98 except that the Start Menu bar is at the top of the screen instead of at the bottom and “Start” is replaced by “Menu.” Some quick launch apps are directly available to be launched with a single click from the start bar (such as Terminal, the Epiphany web browser, and Wolfram Mathematica) while all of the installed X11 programs are available from the “Menu.” Below are images of the Raspbian desktop and navigating through some of the default programs available.
To easily install additional software, you can install the Synaptic Package Manager, which simplifies finding and installing software packages by wrapping package management in an easy-to-use GUI. From inside X11, open Terminal and type “sudo apt-get install synaptic”. This will install Synaptic, which you can open by clicking on Menu > Preferences > Synaptic Package Manager (more info on this and other Raspberry Pi stuff on Neil Black’s website).
When you done browsing around, you can click on the and choose to shut down. After a few moments, your display should show a blank screen and the activity lights on the back of the Raspberry Pi (red and green) should only be showing a solid red. At that point, unplug the micro USB 5v power adapter. If you are ready to install the 7″ Touchscreen Display, unplug the HDMI cable, too.
In the images below, I demonstrate how to assemble the 7″ Touchscreen Display and connect it to the Raspberry Pi. I followed the excellent instructions available on the official Raspberry Pi website, which also details how to install the Matchbox virtual keyboard for using the touchscreen without a keyboard.
Of course, you can use the Raspberry Pi with or without a case depending on your needs. I used the Suntory cardboard box from Japan for practical reasons (thinking: William Gibson: “the street finds its own use for things”–it’s a good size, on-hand, and looks cool) and research reasons (thinking about my work on proto-cyberpunk and the hidden nature of computing, which is an idea explored in my previous blog post about the poster that I created for the 13th annual City Tech Poster Session).
I have run the computer and touchscreen from the 5v battery that I purchased from Tinkersphere, but I get a graphics warning that the Raspberry Pi is under voltage (a rainbow pattern square persists in the upper right corner of the display whether in the CLI or xwindows). I might get a second battery to run the display alone, which would help me troubleshoot if the battery that I have now is actually outputting enough voltage and amperage needed by the Raspberry Pi alone. In the meantime, I am running everything at my desk with the 5v power adapter, which provides ample power for the Raspberry Pi and 7″ Touchscreen Display.
In the future, I would like to use the Raspberry Pi in a writing or technical communication course. There are many ways to leverage the technology: problem solving, writing about process, creating technical documents such as reports and instructions, using the Raspberry Pi as a writing/multimodal composing platform, digital storytelling with tools that come with the Raspberry Pi, and more. These ideas are built only around the Raspberry Pi and its software. A whole other universe of possibilities opens up when you begin building circuits and integrating the Raspberry Pi into a larger project.
The basic cost of entry with the platform is $30 for the Raspberry Pi 2, Model B and a few dollars for an 8GB micro SD card. If you have access to a display with HDMI, a USB keyboard and mouse, and ethernet-based Internet access, you can get started with Raspberry Pi almost immediately. For a future grant application, I am imagining a proposal to purchase the basic needed equipment to use Raspberry Pi in an existing computer lab. I can bring the kits to each class where students can use them on different assignments that meet the outcomes for that course but in an engaging and challenging way that I think they would enjoy and would be beneficial to them in ways beyond the immediate needs of the class.
On this last point, I am thinking of working with digital technology in an a way many of my students will not have had a chance to before, feeling a sense of accomplishment, learning from one another on team-based projects, experiencing a sense of discovery with a computing platform that they might not have used before, and of course, communicating through the process of discovery in different ways and to different audiences. This might be something that you’re interested in, too. Drop me a line if you are!