Connect a Raspberry Pi to the IBM Watson IoT Platform

Getting started with Watson IoT is as easy as Pi

The Raspberry Pi has fueled the maker culture by offering more power than many low-end devices. With millions sold worldwide, it has become a symbol of innovation and creativity for the Internet of Things (IoT). Because many engineers begin tinkering with IoT ideas on a Raspberry Pi, IBM has committed to the Pi ecosystem to deliver a powerful prototyping environment for cognitive IoT solutions.

Also, because Pi is an open platform, people are using it for many purposes, including:

  • automating household appliances
  • building security systems
  • simulating arcade cabinets
  • creating sensor based solutions for garage doors.

On the surface, these ideas sound like home uses, but once created, they can easily be expanded into enterprise or industrial settings.

Raspberry Pi 3.

This is why many developers and engineers use Raspberry Pi to create their first mock-ups to see how they might work. “It's inexpensive, it has the I/O and sensors, you can connect it to other things, make it do something, and program it very easily from almost any operating system — Linux, Windows, Mac,” said Bret Greenstein, vice president of Watson Internet of Things Platform. “It’s super-easy to connect to, deploy your code to and do something interesting.”

Raspberry Pi is a game-changer because for the first time and at a low entry price point, makers can do everything they can do on a computer, but at the device level, moving from simulating devices in an IoT solution to using a real one. According to Greenstein, this is significant because as soon as you use a real device versus a simulated one, you’ll encounter the same problems that customers or users have in the real world, such as handling passwords and IDs across multiple devices or wondering what will happen when the device restarts and you lose your work.

“These are all real-world things that, as soon as you begin playing and using a real device, you can start to see the implications of,” said Greenstein.

The Raspberry Pi integrates nicely with the IBM Watson IoT platform. You’re able to connect it directly into the IoT platform, get data from it, interact with it, oversee device management on it, and treat it as any other smart device. This makes it easy to begin prototyping and simulating ideas in the Raspberry Pi environment. The ability to get hardware that combines power and openness while working with real things, instead of a simulation, gives you the freedom to take average products and make them smart, connected devices while also building out innovative solutions around them.

Impact on the industry

“What’s really happening with IoT is that the regular objects are becoming aware — not consciously aware, but they’re becoming an active part of a business process,” Greenstein said. “So every light, every sensor, every thermostat, every printer, they’re all part of your business. And now you can actually see what’s happening with them, you can interact with them, and you can collect data from them.”

What this means is that you’ll no longer need to see if your printer is out of toner, for example, or if the coffee machine is working, because they’ll be part of your business network. These devices will be able to tell you what’s happening around them, such as whether people are walking by, how many people are in the room, or if something isn’t working properly.

Raspberry Pi can represent one of those smart endpoints in your business. If you can add intelligence to the devices within your business, imagine how much more efficient you can be.

In fact, these devices can get even smarter. You can add microphones,  cameras and many other sensors to a Raspberry Pi, and it could listen and see for you. You can feed the data directly into Watson, and it could understand.

“The computing power it took to put a camera, microphone, and have that capability in a machine that costs thousands of dollars was nearly impossible only a few years ago, and now we can use Watson in the cloud for free, connected to a Raspberry Pi for $35, with a webcam that costs $5,” Greenstein said. “We can take an interactive voice recognition system, prototype it, then create it.”


With all of its capabilities, Raspberry Pi is set to inspire current and future generations of engineers, developers, and hobbyists. When you democratize computer and design capabilities through access, flexibility, and power while making it available to everyone, you create an environment of unlimited possibilities. Raspberry Pi is open and powerful enough for you to do wild experiments that might fail, but you don’t have to worry about wasting your investment and can just try again.

Now take that idea and combine it with the cloud, and you’ve got yourself a game-changer. You can take a programmable, fully open computer and combine it with cloud services, which means that you’ll have the power of the cloud no matter where you are. Then you can get a hold of all the services in Bluemix, IBM’s hybrid cloud platform, to interact directly with your Raspberry Pi.

“Think of it this way: we connect the Raspberry Pi into the Watson IoT Platform so developers or engineers can interact with it — send commands, receive data from it — basically, your device is exposed to Watson IoT like a service in Bluemix,” Greenstein said.  “That means you can write applications in Bluemix that use the data from it. And it's at that point that you're coding at the Bluemix level. From there, [you] can either do development on the Pi itself, or you can do development in the cloud, having the Pi connected to the cloud.”

Once you have the creativity of the IBM’s Watson IoT Platform and Bluemix environment, along with the data and the access to a device such as Raspberry Pi, what comes next is up to your imagination.

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