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Education Patents Hardware

Why One Person Thinks Raspberry Pi Is Unsuitable For Education 133

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the hep-cats-all-using-mips dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Raspberry Pi was designed for education. As any popular product is bound to, Raspberry Pi has been criticized a lot for things like lack of a box, absence of supplied charger or even WiFi. Raspberry Pi has a much more fundamental flaw, which directly conflicts with its original goal: it is a black box tightly sealed with patents and protected by corporations. It isn't even remotely an open platform." The author thinks that patents on ARM are a serious threat to the openness of the platform (among other things like the proprietary GPU blob needed to boot). But even the FSF doesn't go that far. Wired had an editorial with the foundation justifying "selling out a little to sell a lot" that has a lot of info on the choices they had to make to hit their cost target.
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Why One Person Thinks Raspberry Pi Is Unsuitable For Education

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @04:22PM (#41456013) Journal

    To speak about open hardware, there’s a device called Milkymist One based on an FPGA with an embedded LM32 processor. It’s as open as possible and is actually used in production (as opposed to mere hacking) to create some nice video effects.

    I went to their site [milkymist.org] and I see one youtube video of a two man show using it and some screen shots. That's what you call "in production"? If I send you a video of my Raspberry Pi rendering Mandelbrot patterns in front of a crowded room, will you call it "in production?" Furthermore the first thing they say on their site:

    Milkymist One

    The Milkymist One is an experimental hardware appliance for live video effects.

    I appreciate this blog's spirit and he has some valid points (like making it more durable) but he's really overselling some of these devices. He goes so far as to suggest TI's Beagle Board and casually dismisses that it's six or seven times the cost of the Raspberry Pi's Model A. I don't even ... know where to start. I own six Raspberry Pis and one Arduino Mega 2560. They cost me roughly the same.

  • by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @05:29PM (#41456845) Homepage

    that's what we're doing with the http://rhombus-tech.net/ [rhombus-tech.net] project. the scope of the project has the goals of the raspberrypi foundation as a subset; CPUs that we are actively pursuing have to have full GPL compliance, and are as open as possible / practical. where binary blobs exist, reverse-engineered alternatives are encouraged to be created. the first CPU Card is based on the Allwinner A10 (ARM Cortex A8, 1ghz, overclockable to 1.5ghz). the binary startup blob which is essential to set the DDR3 RAM timings before continuing with the 2nd phase of the boot process was reverse-engineered a few months ago; the MALI GPU has the limadriver project on the case; efforts are underway to investigate the proprietary video hardware encode/decode engine. we were given full access to the GPL kernel and u-boot sources within 48 hours of asking (even though we did not have a GPL compliance request outstanding).

    answering your question, archiebunker: designing something better is a bit harder than you might imagine. full access to technical datasheets is often denied: you are literally at the mercy of the SoC vendor and if they don't like the way you dress, or smell, or if you're not one of their pally-pal pals you can flat-out forget gaining access to the documentation. one of the key reasons is that they simply don't know if you have the expertise, or if you can be trusted not to pass on information to their competitors. so, if it turns out that you don't have the expertise, and you have to come to them with questions, you just cost them money. if you leak information to their competitors, you REALLY just cost them money - serious money.

    so what we're doing with the EOMA-68 initiative is to make the hard part - the CPU+DDR3+NAND - be "just a mass-produced component" that you can literally buy off-the-shelf in a retail store. if it comes in a case, you get access to the EOMA-68 interfaces and whatever else the CPU Card has on the user-facing front edge; if you buy it without the case, you also get access to the internal jumpers and additional connectors, for educational and R&D purposes as well as factory-install purposes.

    we're getting there. it's been a long haul, and we will not stop. the team behind the initiative will be sticking with this for the next decade, keeping it constantly up-to-date and ensuring that new CPU Cards are always available.

    here's the previous article about it - actually it was the PCB layout that was completed - the schematics were completed 2 months ago:
    http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/12/09/07/2322207/rhombus-tech-a10-eoma-68-cpu-card-schematics-completed [slashdot.org]

  • by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @05:40PM (#41457021) Homepage

    there are quite a lot of other points made in the original post - mention of patents, mention of cost etc etc - so it is quite easy to miss the key words "black box". focussing on the patents themselves in isolation is missing the point. it's *NOT* about the patents. it's about the fact that the device is a "black box".

    so it depends on whether you consider hypocrisy to be important or not. many people do not. what broadcom is really saying is "we support education and learning using our products because it's a good wheeze that makes us money and makes us look good at the same time. but you're not permitted to learn about this, this or this feature: we're keeping that entirely secret. if you want the source code, you can fuck off".

    the CPU being used has a rather unique design: the GPU boots up the CPU. the fact that the boot-up sequence is critically dependent on a proprietary blob to which no-one is given access REALLY pisses people off. privacy concerns, education hypocrisy: the works.

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