31 January 2022

What is a Raspberry Pi? (Blog by Steve Lewis)

Looking at some of my previous posts, I’ve mentioned using a Raspberry Pi without explaining what a Raspberry Pi actually is. I thought that this would be a good opportunity to explain where the Raspberry Pi computer came from, what it is, and what it can do.


While working as a Director of Studies in Computer Science at Cambridge University, Eben Upton began work on a simple computer in 2007. He found that students entering the programme had potential but were lacking computing experience. This meant using the whole first year to get them up to speed, putting more pressure on the remaining two years of the course. It was Eben’s idea to give out simple computers to students visiting on an open day and to ask them what they had done with them when they returned for an interview. The students who created something interesting were more likely to be accepted into the programme.

2006 version of the Raspberry Pi (raspberrypi.com)

Once work on the board began in earnest, Eben, along with other colleagues, realised more could be addressed with their little computer. So, they set up the Raspberry Pi Foundation, “a little charity with big ideas.”

In fact, the demand for their Raspberry Pi computer far outstripped their ability to supply, with 100,000 people on their mailing list ordering on day one. This led to manufacturing and distribution being handed over to element14 and RS Components (although even their websites both crashed on day one).

Source: Upton and Halfacree, Raspberry Pi User Guide (Wiley, 2014) p.3-9

Sony UK Technology Centre soon became involved in the manufacture of Raspberry Pi, this collaboration has grown exponentially, as has the product range, with an output of one Pi manufactured every 0.6 seconds.

What is a Raspberry Pi?

The Raspberry Pi 4 is a low cost, credit-card sized computer that plugs into a computer monitor or TV and uses a standard keyboard and mouse.

Raspberry Pi 4 (raspberrypi.com)


There are also different versions of the Raspberry Pi computer that can be used in different ways.


Raspberry Pi 400 (raspberrypi.com)

Built into a keyboard, Raspberry Pi 400 incorporates a purpose-built board based on Raspberry Pi 4.


Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W (Raspberrypi.com)

Your tiny, tiny, $15 computer. Ideal for robotics, camera work or anything that requires compact, portable computing.


What can you do with a Raspberry Pi?

In short, you can do anything and everything that you can do on a desktop computer but a lot more. This is definitely not an exhaustive list and I will focus on its use in an educational setting (media centre use will not be mentioned).

Using the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins, you can connect to and control an electrical circuit. Making the Pi a perfect introduction to physical computing in school. You can connect individual components such as LED’s, buzzers, a variety of sensors and cameras, and pre-built boards such as the Sense HAT (hardware attached on top) as used on board the International Space Station for the Astro Pi Challenge.

A simple traffic light circuit built in our coding workshop, connected to GPIO pins

The Sense HAT is also an ideal way of collecting real data for analysis in Science. Everything you need for all of these can be found on the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Projects Page (more on that next month).

If this is all a bit too much initially, you can also create music using Sonic Pi, a fabulous introduction to text-based programming, bridging the gap between Scratch and Python. There is also a sandbox version of Minecraft called Minecraft Pi, where you can interact with the Minecraft world using Python. There are also some classic games that you can play and adapt quite simply using Python.

The opportunities with Raspberry Pi computers are fantastic. It is a low-cost, high-powered way to introduce learners to real-life computing for a purpose in a fun and stimulating way. Next month, we’re going to explore Raspberry Pi projects that can help your students on their learning journey.


by Steve Lewis


Sony UK TEC Celebrate Success at National Make UK Manufacturing Awards

At this years’ National Make UK Manufacturing Awards, Sony Europe B.V.’s UK Technology Centre (UK TEC) were crowned winners of two prestigious awards for Innovation and Developing Future Talent. Also marked out for praise on the evening was Apprentice Rising Star finalist Scott Roberts, and Thomas Davies who was highly commended in the Apprentice Endeavour Award.

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