This week, the highly anticipated Raspberry Pi computer launched on the UK market, quickly followed by the vendors’ websites crashing due to such high demand for the kit. So what is Raspberry Pi and why is everyone so keen to get their hands on one?
Despite sounding like some kind of fruity dessert, Raspberry Pi is actually an innovative, credit card sized computer system which aims to encourage people to get into programming. Priced at just £22, the uncased circuit board has been produced by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a charitable company formed by Dr Eben Upton and his colleagues at Cambridge University’s Computer Laboratory. It might look simple, but after six years development, it has a whole host of features which are set to revolutionise the way we think about modern technology and home computing.
The credit card sized Raspberry Pi computer is set to revolutionise
the way we think about modern technology and home computing
The Rapberry Pi is a Linux based computer system, complete with pre-installed open-source software which is able to run many common software applications and as such, allows users to undertake typical tasks such as word processing, creating spreadsheets, playing games and watching high-definition videos. The tiny computer can be plugged into a TV or monitor through the onboard HDMI and RCA sockets, and a keyboard and mouse can be attached through the two USB 2.0 ports. In addition to this, the Raspberry Pi manages to squeeze in an audio jack for sound output, a Micros USB port for transferring data to and from mobile phones, digital cameras and other devices, an SD card slot to act as a hard drive and an Ethernet port to connect to the internet.
The team behind this revolutionary piece of hardware are trying to bring back the magic of computer programming, such as was seen in the late 1970’s and 80’s with home-based computer systems such as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. For those who are too young to remember, the ZX was a keyboard – originally with squishy rubber keys! – that users would plug into their TV screen, attach a joystick to and use a tape-cassette player to load a game. The screeches generated from loading these games became a sound of the 1980’s, and the more curious of gamers would collect magazines each week, learn about programming and spend hour upon hour typing in lines of code to build their very own game on the machine. This system wasn’t cheap, costing between £100 and £200, and with the Raspberry Pi packing in more features and coming in at around 10 per cent of the cost, it’s perhaps no wonder people are already looking forward to experimenting with this exciting new device.
The timing of the launch is almost perfect after Dr Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Google, heavily criticised the UK for its lack of a compulsory computer science lessons, and more recently, Michael Gove spoke at BETT 2012 praising the benefits of computer programming and placing a higher emphasis on the need to incorporate it into the curriculum.
After a surge of customers crashed the websites on its launch day, Raspberry Pi’s two vendor websites, Premier Farnell/Element 14 and RS Components are now eagerly awaiting new stock for keen buyers. bee-it will be producing a full review of the Raspberry Pi in the near future and will be asking leading educators what impact it could have on both home and school computing, so keep your eyes peeled for more details!