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Cambridge Invents ... Raspberry Pi

Collusion's interview with one of the inventors of Raspberry Pi, Eben Upton

Do you know that Raspberry Pi, a $35 dollar computer created to encourage children and young people to learn to write code, was created in Cambridge and is made up of components from Cambridge?

The idea first arose in 2006 after the University of Cambridge - one of the world’s leading universities for computer science, noticed a significant drop in the number of applications to study the Computer Science Tripos, and that applicants had significantly less experience of programming. They concluded that this was for a number of reasons, including a lack of programmable home computers such as the BBC Micros of the early 1980s, and also, young people’s experience in schools, where they were taught how to use programs such as Microsoft Office and create web pages but not how to write code or create programs for themselves.

So a team from the Computer Lab, including Eben Upton, got together to create a prototype and set up a company. The Raspberry Pi - named after the tradition of fruit based computer companies and ‘Pi’ for it’s programming language, Python, finally went into production in late 2011 and was launched on 29 February 2012. However, demand massively exceeded expectations and to October 2014, more than 3.8 million Pis have been sold around the world.

The credit card sized computer comes without the plastic shell that we’re accustomed to, exposing the inner components and helping people to get to grips with what’s under the hood. At its heart is an ARM processor and there is no hard drive; information is instead stored on an SD card of the kind used in most digital cameras.  It is designed to work with peripherals that can be easily found at home, plugging into a TV or monitor via HDMI and has USB ports for a keyboard and mouse. It’s powered by a microUSB mobile phone charger. There’s also an audio out socket for headphones, an ethernet port for internet access, and a video out port.

The Raspberry Pi has become a firm favourite with young people and old alike, encouraging and allowing people to experiment and try new things without risking the important data on the family PC. It size and price make it accessible to all and ideal for daring projects. It pays homage to Acorn’s inspirational BBC Micro by using the same model names - A, B, B+ and continues its work through the Raspberry Pi Foundation, which receives the profits from Raspberry Pi sales for work to advance the education of adults and children, particularly in the field of computers, computer science and related subjects.

Based on the experience of the BBC Micro generation, it seems likely that over the next ten years or so Cambridge will once again prove responsible for a growth in computer skills and enthusiasm.

Press play above to hear more from Eben about the Raspberry Pi.

Back to Cambridge Invents list of inventions.