Home Assistant Yellow - Pi-powered local automation

I've dipped my toes in 'smart home' automation in the past.

Typically I approach 'smart' and 'IoT' devices as a solution to one simple problem, instead of trying to do 'all the things'.

For example, I wanted to make it easy for my kids to control a home theater with four different devices and complex audio/visual routing, so I bought a Harmony remote and programmed it to control TV, a game console, an Apple TV, and radio. I don't want Logitech to start controlling other aspects of my house, or to give intruders an avenue by which they could invade my home's network.

However, many smart devices require a persistent Internet connection to use them, and that I cannot abide.

Home Assistant Yellow - inside enclosure

Autofocus on a Pi - ArduCam's new 16MP camera

ArduCam with other Raspberry Pi Cameras - v2 HQ and Autofocus 16MP

ArduCam recently completed a successful crowdfunding campaign for a 16 megapixel Raspberry Pi camera with built-in autofocus.

The camera is on a board with the same footprint as the Pi Camera V2, but it has a Sony IMX519 image sensor with twice the resolution (16 Mpix vs 8 Mpix) and a larger image sensor (1/2.53" vs 1/4"), a slightly nicer lens, and the headline feature: a built-in autofocus motor.

Autofocus performance

Getting right into the meat of it: autofocus works, with some caveats.

First, the good. Autofocus is quick to acquire focus in many situations, especially in well-lit environments with one main subject. Using ArduCam's fork of libcamera-still or libcamera-vid, you only need to pass in --autofocus and the camera will snap into focus immediately.

Red Shirt Jeff Special and 2021 YouTube channel retrospective

In 2020, I got serious about my YouTube channel after seeing explosive growth from a series on the Turing Pi Raspberry Pi cluster. Early in 2021, the success of my books and the YouTube channel resulted in me quitting my last paid consulting gig, and focusing all my time on Hosted Apache Solr, writing, and making videos.

In 2021 the channel went from just under 100,000 subscribers to 253,000 (and counting!):

2021 Subscriber growth - Jeff Geerling YouTube

Video views went from about 6 million to 21 million, as a few of my Raspberry Pi-related videos took off (though I wouldn't consider any of my videos 'viral'—most get a slow 'wave' of growth if they get popular).

Raspberry Pi holds its own against low-cost ARM NAS

Earlier this year, I pitted the $549 ASUSTOR Lockerstor 4 NAS against a homebrew $350 Raspberry Pi CM4 NAS, and came to the (rather obvious) conclusion that the Lockerstor was better in almost every regard.

Jeff Geerling holding Raspberry Pi Radxa Taco NAS board and ASUSTOR Drivestor 4 Pro

Well, ASUSTOR introduced a new lower-cost NAS, the $329 Drivestor 4 Pro (model AS3304T—pictured above), and sent me one to review against the Raspberry Pi, since it make for a better matchup—both have 4-core ARM CPUs and a more limited PCI Express Gen 2 bus at their heart.

Around the same time, Radxa also sent me their new Taco—a less-than-$100 Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 carrier board with 5x SATA ports, 1 Gbps and 2.5 Gbps Ethernet, an M.2 NVMe slot, and an M.2 A+E key slot. (The Taco will soon be available as part of a kit with a CM4 and case for around $200.)

The specs evenly matched, at least on paper:

Pine64 and Radxa's new Pi CM4-compatible boards

Since the Raspberry Pi was introduced, hundreds of clones have adopted the Pi's form factor (from the diminutive Zero to the 'full size' model B). Often they have better hardware specs, and yet they remain a more obscure also-ran in that generation of Single Board Computer (SBC).

Pine64 SOQuartz and Radxa CM3 in front of Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4

So when I saw Radxa's CM3 and Pine64's SOQuartz, I wanted to see if either would be—as they advertised—'drop in, pin-compatible replacements' for the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4.

tl;dr: They're not. At least not yet.

Hardware and Specs

Both boards are technically pin-compatible. And both will boot and run (to some extent) on pre-existing Compute Module 4 carrier boards, including Raspberry Pi's official IO Board:

Turing Pi 2: 4 Raspberry Pi nodes on a mini ITX board

Last year I spent a bit of time building a Kubernetes cluster with the original Turing Pi. It was fun, and interesting, but ultimately the performance of the Compute Module 3+ it was designed around led me to running my homelab off some newer Pi 4 model B computers, which are at least twice as fast for almost everything I run on them.

Turing Pi 2

So this year, I was excited when the folks at Turing Pi sent me a Turing Pi 2 to test drive. And the board arrived just in time for Patrick Kennedy from ServeTheHome to challenge me to a cluster build-off at Supercomputing '21! Check out his ARM cluster build here.

2021 Open Source Pay-it-Forward Pi Giveaway

This year, I wanted to solve two problems:

  1. Open source projects and maintainers often get no reward (even a simple word of thanks!) for their efforts maintaining the tools we rely on every day.
  2. I have a box full of really awesome Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 boards and products like the CutiePi, a PiBox mini 2, and a MirkoPC!

To solve both problems, I'm doing a giveaway—to enter to win one of any of the pictured items below (and maybe a few others I can find lurking in my office), just donate or say thank you to any open source project or maintainer, then submit your entry.

OSSThanks Giveaway items

The drawing will be at random and should be held next Friday, so please make sure to fill out the entry form by then!

I built a $5,000 Raspberry Pi server (yes, it's ridiculous)

When I heard about Radxa's Taco—a Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4-powered NAS/router-in-a-box—I knew what must be done.

Load it up with as much SSD storage as I can afford, and see what it can do.

Raspberry Pi CM4 Taco NAS with 48 TB of SSD storage

And after installing five Samsung 870 QVO 8TB SSDs and one Sabrent Rocket Q NVMe SSD—loading up every drive slot on the Taco to the tune of 48TB raw storage—I found out it can actually do a lot! Just... not very fast. At least not compared to a modern desktop.

Special thanks to Lambda for sponsoring this project—I was originally going to put a bunch of the cheapest SSDs I had on hand on the Taco and call it a day, but with Lambda's help I was able to buy the 8TB SSDs to make this the most overpowered Pi storage project ever!

CutiePi - a Raspberry Pi CM4 Linux Tablet

A few weeks ago, I got my hands on an early prototype of the CutiePi.

CutiePi Tablet with Raspberry Pi mug

Unlike many other Pi 'tablet' projects, this one is actually more of a, well, tablet, since it is based on the diminutive Compute Module 4. And because of that, and a custom main board, the CutiePi is less than half as thick as the other decent modern Raspberry Pi tablet on the market, the RasPad—plus it has a cute handle:

CutiePi Back

It has an 8" 1280x800 multi-touch display, a 5000 mAh battery, USB 2.0, USB-C power (you can use the tablet while charging), micro HDMI for an external monitor or TV, and a microphone, speaker, and 5MP 1080p rear-facing camera.