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Bitcoin micropayments device runs Linux on Raspberry Pi

Sep 22, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 2,548 views

21 Inc. has launched a Linux and Raspberry Pi based mini-PC with native support for the Bitcoin currency protocol, enabling a Bitcoin micropayments server.

Since its debut in 2009, the peer-to-peer, open source Bitcoin crypto-currency protocol has continued to gain traction, especially for global transactions, legal and otherwise. Now, Andreessen Horowitz backed startup 21 Inc. has unveiled what it calls the world’s first computer with native hardware and software support for the Bitcoin protocol. The developer-oriented 21 Bitcoin Computer, which is intended primarily as a micropayments platform, is now on pre-sale for $400, with shipments due in November.

21 Bitcoin Computer in standalone mode (left) and as a PC peripheral
(click images to enlarge)

The 21 Bitcoin Computer runs a specialized version of Linux called 21 Bitcoin OS on a quad-core Raspberry Pi 2 SBC that integrates full Bitcoin code. 21 Bitcoin OS is billed as “the first Linux distribution that includes both the device drivers to generate a constantly replenished source of Bitcoin and a suite of programs written to natively consume it.”

Additional views of the 21 Bitcoin Computer
(click images to enlarge)

The computer communicates with a datacenter backend, and integrates a “21 mining chip” that lets you buy Bitcoin goods. It also features a “21 micropayments server” for selling goods by the Bitcoin.

Application examples are said to include mining Bitcoin on the command line, setting up digital content stores, rewarding users for posting social media links, and charging rent for using IoT hardware. The device and firmware stack also lets you develop and sell Bitcoin API calls, such as language translators or file converters.

The 21 Bitcoin Computer can act as a standalone payment box or as a peripheral for a Linux, Mac, or Windows PC. The system includes a factory-installed copy of the Blockchain so it can be used as a secure bitcoin full node, which supports the global bitcoin network by fully validating transactions and blocks.

21 Bitcoin Computer components (left) and custom PCB with 21 mining chip
(click images to enlarge)

Aside from the devices well-known Raspberry Pi computing platform, there are few detailed specs on the device. The 8-ounce computer measures 6.0 x 4.0 x 3.0 inches and ships with a power supply, USB-to-laptop cable, and a 128GB SD card. A fan keeps the crypto process running cool.

The ultimate goal is to enable a network of Bitcoin computers using the same micropayments system, writes 21 Inc. CEO Balaji S. Srinivasan in the announcement. Since the 1990s, a variety of frictionless micropayments schemes have been proposed for selling web content a la carte by the nickel or dime. None have gained much traction, yet the growing success of Bitcoin is giving new hope to the concept.

As more and more free content disappears behind payment firewalls, or appears for the first time on the web as protected content, users are forced into a variety of subscription services. This often means paying for far more than what is actually consumed, not to mention dealing with a profusion of accounts and passwords. The alternative is free content, usually accompanied by distracting Internet advertising, which is nonetheless insufficient to provide adequate compensation for content providers. As a result, micropayments offer an increasingly attractive alternative to subscriptions and free content.

Back in May, 21 Inc. unveiled the 21 Bitcoin Computer’s 21 mining chip as a standalone product that could be embedded in phones and other Internet connected devices. The 21 Bitcoin Computer appears to be principally designed as a way to attract developers to the platform, in order to better support the company’s embedded chip business.

The well-funded 21 Inc. has attracted investments from Cisco Systems, Qualcomm, RRE Venture, and many others, in addition to the main Andreesen Horowitz funding. Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers has joined its advisory board.

Further information

The 21 Bitcoin Computer is available on for $400, with shipments due Nov. 16. More information may be found on the Amazon 21 Bitcoin Computer page, as well as this Medium Corp. blog announcement.

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One response to “Bitcoin micropayments device runs Linux on Raspberry Pi”

  1. Brooks says:

    imagine this embedded into an actual wallet

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