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Using a Raspberry Pi as an Information Radiator

We have found the Raspberry Pi to be a cost-effective replacement for the Mac minis that we use in our office to drive TVs that are information radiators.  We use these radiators to display the build status of our ci (continuous integration) projects.  At ~$60 (Raspberry Pi, USB WiFi, enclosure), it’s 90% cheaper than using a $600 Mac mini.


  • Raspberry Pi Model B Revision 2.0 (512MB).  We ordered from Amazon even though they charged a healthy premium ($47 vs. $35).  We did not want to wait 12 weeks for the unit to arrive (they are still notoriously backordered).
  • SB Raspberry Pi Case This case protects from static and bumping. It looks cheap and is not sturdy.  With more time we would have bought this one from Adafruit
  • USB wifi adapter
  • 32 GB SD card A 4 GB card would be adequate, but we already had this one in our server room.
  • Power adapter Again found in our server room.  Cheap USB cables may not work with Raspberry Pi, at least that was the experience of one of my co-workers.  The USB cable that comes with this power adapter works.  I wanted to make sure the same thing did not happen to me as this was also mentioned on Tech Crunch.  My working voltage was 5.022 Volts with a multimeter.  From the same article they recommend a voltage of 4.75 and 5.25 volts and “anything outside this range indicates that you have a problem with your power supply or your power cable.”
  • HDMI cable Another server room find.

Setup The Raspberry Pi is different from a home PC/Mac:  It doesn’t have a built in hard drive or flash memory chip; it has an SD card for a brain.

  • First, you need to get an operating system for it.  The best place for this is: Raspberry The one I selected is the Raspbian “wheezy”
  • I used the instructions found here to setup the SD on my Mac laptop.

Once the operating system was installed I booted the Pi with an HDMI monitor connected.  You will be presented with a screen as seen here from Adafruit.  This is named, appropriately enough, the Raspi – config screen.  Here I selected a few of the different options:

  • change_locale and change_timezone
  • ssh which enables ssh
  • boot_behavior – start desktop at boot
  • expand_rootfs

After rebooting, I inserted the USB wifi dongle.  This brought an antenna icon right on the desktop, double-clicking this brought up a menu which let me enter the credentials I needed to access the wireless network.

After completing the wireless install I setup from the Raspi – config screen:

  • update – this upgrades the software on the Raspberry Pi to the latest version

To boot the Raspberry Pi to specific webpage at boot follow these instructions:

Boot to browser

Accessing your Raspberry Pi without a keyboard or mouse attached

Our Raspberry Pi’s are connected to TVs with no keyboard or mouse attached; however, we needed to access the console remotely.  Our solution?  We used x11vnc combined with a VNC client so that we could access them remotely.

The following VNC clients will work:

Apple’s Screen Sharing will not work; it is unable to attach to a passwordless VNC server.

Do the following to install x11vnc which will allow you to VNC into a “headless” (no monitor, keyboard, or mouse connected) Pi from an external machine.  Install true-type fonts for your viewing pleasure.

sudo apt-get install ttf-mscorefonts-installer

sudo apt-get install x11vnc

sudo curl -o /etc/init.d/x11vnc

sudo chmod 755 /etc/init.d/x11vnc

sudo update-rc.d x11vnc defaults

Here is the finished project:

Raspberry Pi working on my desk

  1. Martin Butt says:

    Simple, elegant, cheap and standard. Love it.

  2. […] Using a Raspberry Pi as an Information Radiator from Pivotal Labs. Created using some Adafruit gear, including our 7″ HDMI display! […]

  3. Hi. What’s that monitor you’re using? It looks like a 7″ HDMI… so that might’ve cost quite a bit… Also, I don’t think you would’ve found that Adafruit case any more sturdy – the plastic is very similar and it feels a lot less solid than the SB case, in my opinion

  4. Jimmy Alenius says:

    Nice! How do you remote control the pi? Is it some sort of terminal or software?

    Regards / Jimmy

  5. Brendan McDonald says:

    Great to see local companies embracing the Pi. I just picked one up this week and have been tinkering each night after work. Looking forward to see how else you guys use them!

  6. drewp says:

    My version of this uses a cheap composite video screen from ebay ($20? search ‘car lcd’) and then I run firefox, without X, following and

    At video res, I get about 680×460 and I need font-size: 30px to read the text.

    Instead of a pi-specific case, I just stuck it in one of the fancy cardboard boxes that a cell phone arrived in.

  7. Andy J says:

    Hey Laurence,
    Saw your post as linked from Adafruit’s blog. I think this is great, and I would love some info about what programming it took to create the “information radiator” software. I’ve heard a range of things that others use (from custom PHP to PowerPoint!), and I would like to homebrew something like this myself. This ( is probably the sexiest one I’ve seen.
    Thanks for any info you can provide!
    -Andy J

  8. Hi Andy,

    The software is actually something we wrote at Pivotal, called Project Monitor. We open sourced it, so you can check out the repo here to get started:

    I’m the PM so feel free to shoot any questions/complaints/feedback my way.


  9. Mike says:

    Great tutorial. I wanted to mention that while getting this setup, I had to also install x11-xserver-utils to get x11vnc to startup on boot.


  10. Mike says:

    Saw this in your Boulder office and loved it so much we did an identical setup! Super easy to set up, works well, and looks great.

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