Six Year Old Helps Build Raspberry Pi ‘Supercomputer’

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“Iridis-Pi” is housed in a rack made of Lego

A team of engineers from University of Southampton, led by Professor Simon Cox, has built the world’s first “supercomputer” made from 64 Raspberry Pi boards – assisted by Cox’s six-year old son, and some Lego bricks.

The “Iridis-Pi” links 64 miniature Linux computers into a single system, housed in a custom-made rack made out of… Lego. The designers were helped by the professor’s six year old son James, “who provided specialist support on Lego and system testing”, and the whole thing is very energy efficient.

Design challenges

Iridis-Pi, named after its big brother, Southampton University’s Iridis supercomputer, contains 64 ARM11 700MHz processors, 16 GB of RAM and a Terabyte of flash memory – 16 GB per board. Because every Raspberry Pi is so energy efficient, the whole system can run off a single 13 Amp mains socket.

The “supercomputer” uses the Message Passing Interface (MPI) protocol to communicate between nodes using Ethernet, and costs just £2,500, switches excluded. The first test of the machine was, naturally enough, to calculate the value of Pi, and the Professor and his son then moved Iridis-Pi onto more demanding work  using Python and Scratch programming software.

“As soon as we were able to source sufficient Raspberry Pi computers we wanted to see if it was possible to link them together into a supercomputer,” explained Cox. “We installed and built all of the necessary software on the Pi starting from a standard Debian Wheezy system image and we have published a guide so you can build your own supercomputer.”

“The team wants to see this low-cost system as a starting point to inspire and enable students to apply high-performance computing and data handling to tackle complex engineering and scientific challenges as part of our on-going outreach activities,” he added.

“The Raspberry Pi is great fun and it is amazing that I can hold it in my hand and write computer programs or play games on it,” said the six year old custom rack designer James.

You can find the complete step-by-step guide to building a tiny “supercomputer” here.

Since its release in February, Raspberry Pi has inspired thousands of DIY projects, both hardware and software. Earlier this month, the University of Cambridge had launched a free online course designed to teach programming enthusiasts how to write their own operating system for the miniature computer.

Last week, official worldwide Raspberry Pi distributor Premier Farnell announced a partnership with Sony UK Technology Centre that will see Raspberry Pi made in Wales. Although the device was designed in Britain, it was previously manufactured only in China.

On Thursday, Premier Farnell saw its share price leap after the electronics distributor beat expectations for the first half of the financial year. The company said momentum around the release of the Raspberry Pi had led to sales exceeding forecasts, reports City A.M.

Look out for our interview with the developers of software tools for Raspberry Pi from Seneca College in Toronto, Canada next week!


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