Raspberry Pi are the winners of the 2017 MacRobert Award. They were presented with the UK’s top innovation prize by His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent at the Academy's Awards Dinner on June 29.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation, through its easy to use, credit card-sized microcomputers, is redefining how people learn about and engage with computers. From initially setting out to help increase the number of computer science applicants to the University of Cambridge, the Raspberry Pi team has put the power of computing into the hands of people all over the world. By doing so, they are helping to ensure future generations are capable of understanding and shaping our increasingly digital world, able to solve the problems that matter to them, and equipped for the jobs of the future.
Around the turn of the millennium, university computer science courses began to see a dramatic decrease in the number of applicants. This is thought to be linked to the demise of programmable home computers like the BBC Micro and Spectrum ZX. As personal computers and games consoles became more complex, fewer young people felt able to access the ‘back room’ workings of computers, reducing the number of hobbyists. At the same time, computer programming was not widely taught in schools. Raspberry Pi is tackling these problems by firing kids’ imaginations about computing with an easy-to-use, powerful and robust programmable computer, at a price-point that makes it accessible to schools: just $35 for the flagship product, or an even smaller version, the Raspberry Pi Zero, at $5.
The bargain micro-PC can be used as the control centre of just about anything, from creating your own video games to robots, multi-room sound systems, pet feeders, or even scientific experiments.
The apparent simplicity of the Raspberry Pi belies the complexity of the engineering challenges faced by the development team. Designing a computer that cost less than a textbook, without sacrificing size, functionality or reliability, was a mammoth task. In order to maximise its applications, the Raspberry Pi also had to have video and audio capabilities and a wide range of inputs and outputs (such as USB and HDMI). This required highly innovative computer chip and software design to ensure not only that the Raspberry Pi didn’t overheat while performing such intensive tasks, but that it could be used in as many situations as possible. This was achieved through using a printed circuit board (PCB) with multiple layers, allowing components to be decoupled from each other and so increasing the flexibility with which the board could be designed. Raspberry Pi also makes use of a microchip designed in partnership with the Cambridge and Bristol offices of Broadcom Ltd to deliver best-in-class multimedia performance with limited power consumption. Raspberry Pi also features general purpose input/output (GPIO); this is a set of pins that allows any external device to be connected, giving it a huge range of applications.
Since the first Raspberry Pi was launched in 2012, the organisation has gone on to sell 14 million thanks to a dedicated community of makers, uptake within schools, and an increasing demand from industry. The unexpected industry demand stems from the reliability of the design; only five in every million Raspberry Pis experience failures (the typical industry rate is 1 in 1000) thanks to its partnership with Sony, which manufactures them in Wales more cost effectively and to higher standards than overseas.
Raspberry Pi is a not-for-profit organisation. The success achieved by the commercial arm – Raspberry Pi Trading – generates millions in profits that are then used by the charitable Raspberry Pi Foundation to help teach people about computing. Through initiatives such as Code Club, Raspberry Pi helps 85,000 UK children in 5,750 weekly Code Clubs learn the basics of coding. This reach is not limited to the UK; there are 4,500 Code Clubs outside of the country, teaching basic computing skills in 27 languages through 1,084 Raspberry Pi Certified Educators.
The unprecedented success of the Raspberry Pi, alongside a number of other government initiatives, is helping to boost applications to university computer science courses, with many citing Raspberry Pi as their inspiration.
The nominated team members are:
Dr Eben Upton CBE, CEO
James Adams, COO
Pete Lomas, Director of Engineering, Norcott Technologies
Dom Cobley, Engineer
Gordon Hollingworth, Director of Engineering
Liz Upton, Director of Communications