Robert Mullins, co-founder and trustee of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, admits he never anticipated the little bare-bones computer would generate so much interest.
There are 100,000 Raspberry Pi devices being shipped every month, despite being launched as recently as February 2012. Mullins said the community that has evolved around the Raspberry Pi has been central to everything to do with the project: “They have shaped the platform and are creating really exciting projects that draw more people in.”
His office at the Cambridge Computer Laboratory has been visited by some of the biggest names in the industry, who all seem to get excited about the simple concept engendered in the Raspberry Pi.
The device was conceived as an educational computer. “A few of us in the Cambridge area were really worried about falling numbers of admissions to the computer science course at Cambridge. We also saw a fall in the number of students taking science A-levels,” said Mullins.
It was inevitable the team involved would propose building a computer to tackle the admissions problem, he said. In the original meeting the team discussed the BBC Micro, an educational home computer which department head Andy Hopper helped develop. Over 30 years have passed since the BBC Micro and the team saw an opportunity to use low-cost components to build a modern-day equivalent.
“We are at a stage in computing where everyone can own a computer and we wanted something that was open and flexible,” he said.
How schools are using Raspberry Pi
The team wanted to give children a blank canvas, which could be used to demonstrate the creativity of computing. “They would be able to create something and gain a sense of achievement when they wrote their first program,” he said.
One such project is music programming at a school in Dagenham, Essex: “We wanted to demo that computer science is an interesting subject so we are exploring how to use a synthesiser on Raspberry Pi with a special programming language that generates music.”
Using music to help IT education is different to the kind of projects that are sometimes run in after-school computer clubs, where two-wheeled robots are often demonstrated. Such demos tend to be of more interest to boys. But Mullins believes the approach taken by Raspberry Pi and its fans could help to encourage more girls to take an interest in computing. He said: “If we can address the gender imbalance it would completely solve the skills issues.”