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The life of Pi

Craig Chapple speaks to Raspberry Pi CEO Eben Upton on the story behind the tiny computer, how it can make an impact on education and why the UK is unprepared for the impending computer science curriculum

THE TINY CREDIT-CARD sized Raspberry Pi computer was launched two years ago in February 2012 to immediate success. Designed to encourage children and the wider public to get into programming at an accessible price, the Pi immediately sold 100,000 units on its fi rst day. The fi gure beat the non-profi t foundation’s wildest dreams. It had hoped at best to reach 10,000 sales. In fact, the organisation’s realistic target had been to sell 1,000.

And now, the tiny computer has been voted by industry professionals as the top tech in games in the Develop 100 Tech List, and has sold more than three million units, surpassing popular programmable computers of old such as the BBC Micro and Amstrad CPC. Indeed, it was those classic machines from the 80s, and the lack of successors to those systems in the late 90s and 00s, that inspired its creation, says Raspberry Pi CEO Eben Upton. That and the subsequent lack of coding talent following the death of these machines.


“I was involved in interviewing people to come and study at Cambridge from 2004 to 2007,” says Upton.

“And the really shocking thing was the number of people applying to study computer science at Cambridge was much lower than it had been a decade before.”

When Upton himself attended Cambridge University, the course had been tough to get on to, such was the high demand. The class, he says, was full of people who had got to grips with coding from an early age thanks to systems

like the BBC Micro, with Media Molecule co-founder Alex Evans also studying there. “There was a real sense by ten years after that, by the time I was interviewing people, that the home computing culture had gone away and, as a result of the disappearance of that, we were getting fewer people coming in to university,” states Upton.

“The people coming in were still very bright, but they hadn’t had that level of practical experience. And that then limited what they could do when they went on to graduate.

The number of people applying to study computer science is much lower than a decade ago.

Eben Upton, Raspberry Pi

“A number of people at Cambridge had this realisation – and the Raspberry Pi was just our attempt to reboot that computer that goes in your bedroom.”

EDUCATING THE NEXT GENERATION One of the key ideas behind the Raspberry Pi, as well as creating something programmable that helps people learn to code, was to ensure it was available at an accessible price. The new Raspberry Pi B+, which includes new features to the hardware such as four USB 2.0 ports, better audio and low power consumption, still costs around £25.

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Upton insists though many assume most people in the country already have computers, that is not the case, and he believes the Pi is a viable and crucial alternative for those without the funds for a beefi er PC. “A lot of people still come up to us and say, ‘why are you doing this? Everybody’s got a computer. Why don’t you just write a software platform that runs on the computers everyone has?’ And it’s just not true,” he says. “There are people that just don’t have computers.” The Pi could help solve this issue though, and with three million already sold, it’s well on its way to playing a role in teaching crucial computing skills to children, ready for a new age reliant on technology.

But it’s not just the Pi, the UK is gearing up for the introduction of a rigorous new computer science curriculum to help bring the UK back to the forefront of the computing industry, and plug the digital skills gap as noted in the Livingstone-Hope report after

Raspberry Pi CEO Eben Upton (above) hopes the tiny computer (below) can revive the home computing culture prevalent in the 80s

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