The Raspberry Pi — the pocket-sized, bare-bones computer based on a Broadcom chip — has amassed a homegrown base of fans who love to tweet about their latest Pi-based projects, post tutorials on YouTube and plan “Raspberry Jam” sessions where novices can learn to up their programming game.
With 2.5 million Raspberry Pi computers sold, it’s hard to believe that it’s only been two years since its launch. But as the team at the Raspberry Pi Foundation celebrates its second birthday today, Eben Upton — the Broadcom engineer who also heads the foundation — reflects on the impact that the affordable, endlessly-hackable computer has had.
The foundation’s mission has been to get young people interested in computer science while boosting the teaching of basic programming to students. In that time, the Raspberry Pi — and the possibilities that come with tinkering with it — has been taken to another level, enraptured by hackers, techies, teachers, hobbyists and do-it-yourselfers.
Upton says that he didn’t expect the Pi to take off in the way it has.
“We sold out in the first five minutes and saw 100,000 orders on the first day,” he said. “We’re constantly amazed by the uses that people have found for the Pi, from emulating retro game consoles to dropping a teddy bear from the edge of space, every day brings new surprises.”
Upton – a technical director in the Mobile and Wireless Group at Broadcom’s Cambridge, U.K., office – lends his passion as well as his technology skills to the cause.
He’s spent time interacting with Broadcom Foundation’s MASTERS finalists in Washington, D.C., and garnered quite a few accolades for his passion of teaching programming to kids, including a silver medal by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering and a 2012 spot on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s “35 Innovators Under 35” list.
The efforts have made it to the international stage, as well, with the Raspberry Pi cited as a policy talking point in a speech by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to the World Economic Forum at Davos in January.
The Raspberry Pi has since attracted a horde of dedicated enthusiasts who’ve done some really neat things with it, such as sending it into space to take photos and automating everyday tasks (cat food dispenser, anyone?). In the past year, the Pi has gone global, notably in emerging markets such as sub-Saharan Africa, where programmers are using it to build microbusinesses.
“There’s been a lot of interest from the developing world,” Upton said in a blog post.
Back home in Cambridge, the Pi’s popularity has even inspired publicity around a local wunderkind who’s become an expert on the topic. Middle-schooler Matthew Timmons-Brown, 14, ran a sold-out series of workshops for Raspberry Pi users and has become known as the “Raspberry Pi Guy” for his series of informative YouTube videos.
This week, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is marking its anniversary with three-day celebration dubbed the “Raspberry Jamboree“, with events happening around the world. It’s also releasing some exciting new materials for teachers to use in their classrooms.
Two years in, the Foundation is staying true to its mission: Putting programming at the heart of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, and having a lot of fun while doing it.