To call the Raspberry Pi a handy little piece of kit would be an understatement. The credit-card computer shook the world, and is poised to help develop a generation of computing whiz-kids.
The Pi has evolved from accessible teaching aid, to running every classic video-game the 80s and 90s ever cranked out.
What seems like a simple creation went through an arduous journey on its way to becoming the best-selling UK-developed computer in history.
From humble (pie) beginnings
Back in 2006, Eben Upton, the Director of Studies in Computer Science for St. Johns College, Cambridge, noticed something distressing about the people he and his colleagues were interviewing for course placements.
Pinning this down to a lack of proper education in schools, Upton and a group of other academics working at the college collaborated with Peter Lomas of Norcott Technologies and David Braben – the influential game designer behind the Elite series.
Their goal was to create a cheap computer that will get children interested in computing.
The inspiration for the Pi was the BBC Micro, the system that Elite was originally designed for. They were a series of microcomputers designed for the BBC Computer Literacy Project back in 1981 that were made with a similar goal in mind.
Developing the early concepts
The Pi was never intended as a money-making venture, but rather a labour of love. This led to the ‘The Raspberry Pi Foundation’ being founded in 2008, in order to endorse and develop the Pi.
The Foundation was established to help promote the teaching of computer science at school level and make computing fun and accessible.
Early designs of the Pi were modelled on the Atmel ATMega644 – an already existing microcontroller. The original designs were impractical because their components cost too much and didn’t provide enough power – completely going against the Foundations mission statement.
The first prototype to use the current ARM architecture was shown off in 2011, and was about the size of a standard USB stick; with an HDMI port on one end and a USB port of the other.
What kind of a name is Raspberry Pi?
The name ‘Raspberry Pi’ originates from a long tradition of naming microcomputers after fruits e.g. Apricot Computers and Tangerine Computer Systems. The Pi bit is included because originally the Pi was going to only run the Python programming language. Get it?
Through several different designs, the Raspberry Pi evolved into a microcomputer capable of much more – supporting not only Python, but also Java, C/C+, Pascal, Smalltalk and countless more.
The Pi’s launch and its impact
On February 2012, the Raspberry Pi 1 Model B launched at just $35/£25, and offered a 700 MHz processor, 512 MB of RAM, two USB ports and a GPU capable of 1080p display – all in the palm of your hand.
Since its inception, the Pi has seen several different iterations, such as the slightly stripped-down Model A/A+ for those with less cash, or the super economic Raspberry Pi Zero – which would set you back a whopping £4.
Last year, The Raspberry Foundation announced that they had surpassed 5 million units sold worldwide – beating the ZX Spectrum and becoming the best-selling British computer of all time.
Fast-forward to 2016 and we now have the Raspberry Pi 3 – complete with a quad-core CPU, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for a small price, in just as small of a package.
The potential of the Pi as a teaching tool caught the eye of Google; who gifted 15,000 of them to UK schools in 2013 to help children develop computer science skills. Raspberry Pi is continuing to grow, and catering to the native digital learners of tomorrow.
Plus, they’ve helped create an R2-D2 droid, and it’s that kind of application that makes the future of Raspberry Pi all the more exciting.