Raspberry Pi in Your Eye
27 April 2012
Everyone’s talking about it, they want it, they need it and most of them (including most of the mainstream media) don’t really know what it actually is.
So, the raspberry pie is… a computer.
Okay, there is more to it than that.
The RaspberryPi looks similar to micro-controller boards like the Arduino but is actually capable of running a version of Linux and connecting up to a screen and a keyboard, letting you run your own software. There isn’t anything particularly amazing about this in itself; other boards capable of this have been around for a year and a half already, like the Beagleboard XM.
The real difference is that the Beagleboard costs about £105 and the RaspberryPi costs £16, so it’s cheap, almost throwaway, there are magazines that are more expensive (albeit I will concede, very expensive, niche ones).
That is probably the really amazing thing about the RaspberryPi, you can spend your £16, hook it up to your TV and a keyboard, stick in an SD card and surf the net (pretty slowly) or work on your novel, play around coding in Python or use it as the basis of an interactive digital project.
However, as interesting and impressive as the RaspberryPi is, its future success will in no small part owe a lot to the existing hacker and hobbyist communities. Arduino, Processing, openFrameworks, to name but a few, have quietly built large communities who have made coding and electronics accessible to those who are interested, but spent their ICT lessons learning PowerPoint.
These are not by any measure ‘mainstream’ communities, but they are creative and innovative, and they are already achieving some of what the Raspberry Pi foundation are trying to accomplish, albeit on a smaller scale. The Arduino community is a particularly good place to see this in action, head over to their website and you’ll find step by step guides to starting your first projects, tutorials, example projects and an extensive reference library.
Then search YouTube, you’ll find step-by-step guides and tutorials, Google arduino projects and you’ll find everything from blinking LED’s to Twitter triggered coffee machines, and a lot of them will freely display the code they used and the wiring diagrams for the electronics. All of this makes the Arduino a very open, encouraging and exciting tool, and a great gateway into digital interaction.
Can the RaspberryPi build on this and get more people tinkering creatively? Undoubtedly, but the Raspberry Pi foundation want to do more than that, they want to revolutionize the way ICT is taught in the UK. This means going from teaching kids basically how to use MS Office, to getting them writing their own code and understanding how that computer plays videos or how exchanging packets lets them update their Facebook status. If it works it’ll be amazing, and what’s more those kids will be learning this on Linux in an open source environment.
That alone could be the biggest victory of Raspberry PI, creating a generation of kids who grew up using open source software. The implications of that could be huge, not just for certain monopolistic software companies. The beauty of open source is that if you don’t like how something works, you can change it, imagine what a generation of people who had grown up with that mindset could do.
But there’s an enormous amount of work to do to get there, and an education system that is stubbornly resistant to change, though even if we only got one hundredth of the way there, it would be beautiful.
This piece is written by Jaimie Barker