As a new tech-focused curriculum is set to launch in September, PCR catches up with Raspberry Pi CEO Eben Upton.
How involved has Raspberry Pi been in the new tech-heavy school curriculum?
We’ve been preparing teachers for the very substantial challenges of using a completely new curriculum.
We hired Carrie Anne Philbin at the start of the this year. She was a teacher up until Christmas but has since been very active in the STEM education agenda at teaching computing in schools.
She came up with and founded what we call Picademy, which is a teacher-training programme where we take 25 teachers at a time, bring them in to the Raspberry Pi office and give them a two-day intensive course. It’s free professional development for teachers – not many people offer this stuff for free.
Was the Raspberry Pi always intended for use in the education sector?
Our original dream was to produce a computer that would fill that niche role that the BBC Micro, the Spectrum and the Commodore 64 had in the 1980s – the fun, programmable, cheap computer that you can have in your bedroom.
In time I think we’ve seen that in order to achieve that goal – just as the BBC Micro was a great bedroom computer but was also in schools – you have to have some engagement with the formal education system.
And now it’s not just children that have taken to the Raspberry Pi…
That’s right, there have been two surprise markets. One of them is the adult hobbyist – those that were into the computers from the ‘80s and have been drawn back into it by the Raspberry Pi.
The other is the industrial market. There’s a vast number of people taking Raspberry Pis and building them into pieces of industrial equipment. As the Pi becomes more credible we have people looking at our pricing [from £24.99] and saying: “Wow, that’s got to be a promotional price. You can’t possibly hold that.” But we have and we will always continue to.
Have you seen an increase in demand for the Raspberry Pi in the lead up to the new curriculum?
One of the really encouraging things is that when we started doing this back in 2006, very few people appreciated how serious this problem was that children don’t know how to program. Over time, people have become more aware of the problem and it’s become easier to get people’s attention. There’s been a rising level of interest and we’ve seen it in sales.
In the first year, sales to children, to parents with children, or to schools, was 10 per cent. It’s more like 40 per cent today.
Are you involved in any after school clubs?
We received a donation last year from Google UK of $1 million to provide kits consisting of a Raspberry Pi, power supply, case and an SD card. We produced about 15,000 of these and we’ve been delivering these to organisations, one of which is called Code Club. It’s been very high profile and has Prince Andrew as its patron. It’s been very successful in building this community of after-school clubs. It’s not necessarily Pi-centric but it’s material that will run on the Pi.
Another organisation we work with is called Coder Dojo, which is based in Ireland. It has 300 to 400 coding clubs and we’ve provided a few thousand Raspberry Pis for them through this Google grant we received.
What products feature in the Raspberry Pi range?
There are two main variants of the Raspberry Pi (A and B) as well as a couple of accessory products. There’s a 5MP camera that you can attach to the Pi and an infrared version too.
We also just launched a B+ model, which uses less power, and a Compute Module, which is a miniaturised version of the Pi that is intended for use by our industrial customer base.
They love the Pi because it’s cheap, stable and powerful but it is a little too big when looking to imbed it into another product. Everyone wants to make small products so we have released this miniaturised version so customers can buy it, click it into a socket on their product and get all the platform and price benefits of the Pi. Our Compute Module is such a good fit for the Internet of Things (IoT). If you want to build a smart thermostat or a home energy monitoring kit it’s small and unobtrusive. We will almost certainly see some interest in that space.
Are you working on anything new?
We’re working on an LCD display, which is something we’ve wanted to do for a while. It has a driver board on the back, which is designed to connect to the Pi and output its display. We’re hoping to push it into production before the end of the year. It’s going to be fantastic.