The Raspberry Pi Foundation
The idea behind a tiny and cheap computer for children came in 2006, when Eben Upton was lecturing and working in admissions at Cambridge University. Eben had noticed a distinct drop in the skills levels of the A Level students applying to read Computer Science in each academic year when he came to interview them.
From a situation in the 1990s where most of the children applying were coming to interview as hobbyist programmers, the landscape in the 2000s was very different; a typical applicant now had experience only with web design, and sometimes not even with that. Fewer people were applying to the course every year. Something had changed the way children were interacting with computers.
Eben and colleagues from the university like Rob Mullins and Alan Mycroft (both now trustees of the Raspberry Pi Foundation) batted around ideas about what had happened in schools to cause this change. A number of problems were identified:
The colonisation of the ICT curriculum with lessons on using Word and Excel, or writing webpages
The end of the dot-com boom
The rise of the home PC and games console to replace the Amigas, BBC Micros, Spectrum ZX and Commodore 64 machines that people of an earlier generation learned to program on.
There isn’t much any small group of people can do to address problems like an inadequate school curriculum or the end of a financial bubble.
But we felt that we could try to do something about the situation where computers had become so expensive and arcane that programming experimentation on them had to be forbidden by parents; and to find a platform that, like those old home computers, could boot into a programming environment.
Over the next few years, Eben, having left Cambridge University to work in the electronics industry, then worked on building prototypes of what has now become the Raspberry Pi in his spare time.
By 2008, processors designed for mobile devices were becoming more affordable, and powerful enough to provide excellent multimedia (a Raspberry Pi can play Blu-Ray-quality video), a feature we felt makes the board desirable to children who aren’t initially interested in a raw programming device.
The project started to look very realisable. Eben came together with a group of friends and old colleagues with a wide-ranging group of skills, some of whom were already wrestling with the problem of what to do about producing new young programmers.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation Trustees
These people became the Raspberry Pi board of trustees:
Eben Upton, project founder and lead designer (Liz Upton is also a full time volunteer).
David Braben, a star game designer and Cambridgeshire entrepreneur with a book of contacts as long as your arm
Jack Lang, a local academic and business angel who worked on the original BBC Micro project.
Pete Lomas, MD of a hardware design and manufacture company where our earliest boards have been designed and built.
Professor Alan Mycroft and Dr Rob Mullins from the Cambridge University Computer Lab, who have provided a lot of the educational direction of the project.
Three years later
We are almosty at the end of our first run of development – although it’s just the beginning of the Raspberry Pi story.
David has been tireless in raising press awareness and finding us sponsorship. Pete has designed and built our first batch of boards for test; Jack runs the business end of things and has a warehouse we’ve filled with hundreds of thousands of pounds-worth of components ready to turn into our first boards.