If you were given a $35 raspberry pie, you probably would expect the pie to be amazing, given the price. However, if you were given a computer for that price, your expectations would be very low… until you were told that it was the best-selling British computer in only three years after its introduction in 2012.
That feeling of surprise has always surrounded the Raspberry Pi, a tiny computer the size of a credit card that has been used by hobbyists, students, and developers with a wide range of backgrounds and skill levels. Its power and flexibility has allowed people to bring numerous projects to life, ranging from a custom retro gaming box to a microwave.
A New Breed of DIYers
As the Raspberry Pi includes almost everything that a normal-sized computer has, such as a CPU, USB ports, Bluetooth, Wireless LAN, and an HDMI port, it can be used as a way to bring customizable computing power to projects where a custom-created computer was needed in the past, especially given its small size. This trait has allowed people with various interests to use the Raspberry Pi for their projects, as well as introduce them to fields and interests they weren’t interested in in the past.
For many, it introduced them to the world of programming and possibly took their hobby to the next level by bringing them to life. With general purpose input/output (GPIO) pins, it’s easy for the Raspberry Pi to interact with electronics. Toy makers are now using the Raspberry Pi to add functionality to the toys they make, or modify other toys, turning them into “smart toys.” Likewise, it allows programmers an easier way to bring their projects from software to the physical world.
Introducing Open Source
Given its unique hardware, the Raspberry Pi can’t use regular operating systems without some major add-ons. An open source operating system based on Debian optimized for the Raspberry Pi called Raspbian was created. For programmers who used Linux, getting around in this OS was not much of an issue. For those who weren’t familiar with Linux, using it proved to be more of a challenge. However, true to the nature of open source, a community quickly formed. Users were able to collaborate with each other. New users were able to learn from the more experienced ones.
This not only further encouraged more people to get a Raspberry Pi, knowing that a supportive community was there to help them should they encounter any problems, but it also introduced more people to the open source software movement. This further improved the Raspberry Pi as more people joined the collaboration.
Educating the Future
As the reason for the creation of the Raspberry Pi by the Raspberry Pi Foundation was to promote the teaching of basic computer skills in schools and developing countries, the Foundation actively promotes its use in education around the world and provides support to these educational institutions. One of these initiatives is Picademy, a free teacher training initiative with the aim of giving them the tools they need to be able to teach their students well.
With the use of the Raspberry Pi, a relatively inexpensive tool, kids are able to experiment with computer projects without much financial risk, compared to if they tinkered with a standard desktop computer instead. As making mistakes and subsequent guidance tend to be great for learning, using a tool that can be easily re-acquired at relative ease makes it perfect for kids. And with Raspberry Pi gaining even more traction around the world, a lot of future adults will have the knowledge on open source software and computing in general. This could have great benefits in areas where a gap exists in access to computing education, as well as society as a whole.
While we can expect to see a lot of the benefits of Raspberry Pi in the future, there are already quite a number in action today, thanks to some open source entrepreneurs. Slice, a media box with internal storage that can connect to TVs, is commercially released with a Raspberry Pi running inside it after a successful Kickstarter campaign. Unlike other media boxes, it’s easy to customize, especially for those familiar with Raspberry Pi. Another product called Pi-Top, a laptop that’s powered by Raspberry Pi, was launched with minimal external components while also making it easy to customize. Its goals aligned well with the educational goals of Raspberry Pi as it provided a cheaper alternative for people to have their own computer.
These are just a few of the projects that have utilized the Raspberry Pi and there is definitely much more to come. One area might be blockchain technology, often called the next generation of the internet. While it’s commonly associated with massive mining rigs, the much-smaller Raspberry Pi is slowly entering this new space as users on the Nxt blockchain platform are able to participate in the network with the device itself.
The Raspberry Pi has clearly made its mark on the world. It has introduced large numbers of people to programming and enabled projects to come to life, both personally and commercially. As it continues to be adopted in education and open source software development, we can only expect its positive effect to exponentially grow in the future. Not bad for a $35 computer.