Raspberry Pi Hacks (2014)
Founder and Trustee, Raspberry Pi Foundation
In April 2011 I was coming to the end of an executive MBA program at Cambridge and looking forward to spending some quality time with my wife, Liz. The old joke is that MBA stands for married but absent, and after two years of barely seeing each other, the last thing on our minds was jumping straight into another startup.
But after our accidental announcement of the Raspberry Pi educational computer project the following month (see “Funny Story...” sidebar), we had little choice but to knuckle down and make it happen. Liz, a freelance journalist by background, dropped everything to run our nascent community at www.raspberrypi.org. I, along with my colleagues at Broadcom and my fellow Raspberry Pi Foundation trustee Pete Lomas, started to figure out how to actually deliver the $25 ARM/Linux box that we’d so rashly promised to build.
We went to see Rory Cellan-Jones at the BBC, in the hope that we might be able to use the dormant “BBC Micro” brand. He put a video of our prototype on his blog and got 600,000 YouTube views in two days. There’s nothing quite like accidentally promising over half a million people that you’ll make them a $25 computer to focus the mind.
Nine months later, we launched the Model B Raspberry Pi, taking 100,000 orders on the first day and knocking out both our distributors’ websites for a period of several hours. In the 18 months since then, we’ve sold nearly two million Raspberry Pis in over 80 countries.
So, how did our little educational computer, conceived as a way of getting a few hundred more applicants to the Computer Science Tripos at Cambridge, get so out of control? Without a doubt, the explosive growth of the Pi community has been thanks to the creativity and enthusiasm of hobbyists, who see the Pi as an easy way to connect sensors, actuators, displays, and the network to build cool new things. Where for the first year of the project Liz’s blog posts described work that was being done by us as we struggled first to design the Pi and then to build enough of them to keep up with demand, today the vast majority of her posts are about what you have been doing with the Pi.
It’s hard to pick favorites from the vast number of projects that we’ve seen and featured on the website. As an unreformed space cadet, the ones that stand out most in my mind are Dave Akerman’s high-altitude ballooning and Cristos Vasilas’s astrophotography experiments. Dave’s work in particular promises to put a space program within the budgetary reach of every primary school in the developed world and is part of a broader trend toward using the Pi to teach young people not just about computer programming, but about the whole range of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects. Another great development in this area was Mojang’s decision at the end of 2012 to port Minecraft to the Pi, creating the scriptable Minecraft Pi Edition and spawning a large range of educational software projects.
As we head into 2014 and toward the second anniversary of the launch, we’re looking forward to seeing what you all get up to with the Pi. One thing is certain: it won’t be anything I can imagine today.