Palm-sized custom computers

Children of the 1980s grew up alongside some pretty groundbreaking computers and consoles: The Commodore 64, Amiga, Spectrum ZX and BBC Micro. As they grew up, they carried with them an understanding of how computers work, turning themselves into the world’s most innovative and skilled coders.

Those 80s children are now running Silicone Valley, but somewhere along the way, young children lost the connection to computing that their older brothers and sisters enjoyed 25 years ago. That’s where the Raspberry Pi comes in.

The affordable computer for kids (and hobbyists) was invented in Cambridge in 2008, by Eben Upton, Rob Mullins, Jack Lang and Alan Mycroft. The team were based at the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory when the idea was first conceived in 2006, and ever since, the phenomenal success and creativity shown by those using Raspberry Pi has begun to have a global impact.

How exactly does Raspberry Pi work?

There are a few generations of Raspberry Pi, each allowing slightly different levels of customisation. The Raspberry Pi 3 has a full HDMI port, camera interface, audio jack and bluetooth, as well as the capability to connect to the internet. It’s all neatly arranged onto a single circuit board with no moving parts.

The Raspberry Pi is a computer. It can be used as a standalone processor like in the some of the projects mentioned below, or connected to a monitor or TV. The simple answer to how Cambridge’s most versatile computer works, is ‘however you want it to.’ The Raspberry Pi is a blank canvas, onto which children as young as five have laid projects with a potentially global reach.

What have people done with the Raspberry Pi?

Ever the curious inventors, people of all ages, all over the world have put the Raspberry Pi to work in wonderful, creative and frequently life­saving ways.

Wetter Forest: Preventing forest fires

This award­winning project by teenagers from Newcastle College, details how a Raspberry Pi can be connected to humidity and moisture sensors in at­risk forests. The Pi feeds data to a website, and alerts the relevant authorities of any fire hazard.

Pi n’ Mighty: Teaching kids to recycle

Led by children as young as eight, this project involves a robot called ‘Round­eyed Robo’ who uses a built­in Raspberry Pi to scan household materials, suggesting the best way to recycle them.

Pi n’ Mighty is, in essence, exactly what Raspberry Pi’s inventors at the Cambridge Computer Laboratory intended for the tiny computer ­ teaching children to enjoy coding and computers, and to use them to create things with a greater purpose.

PiPark: Faster parking, reduced emissions

PiPark aims to reduce the amount of time people spend looking for a parking space, lowering overall emissions. It works by attaching a small camera to a Raspberry Pi, which in turn, relays information to the car park operator who can direct drivers to free spaces.

As well as teaching kids to code, the Raspberry Pi has the potential to be used in everything from medical devices, to agriculture, recycling and clean water production for those in remote, power­ deficient developing countries.

Raspberry Pi has even been into space, flying around the Earth at 18,000mph onboard the International Space Station with British Astronaut Tim Peake.

From clean water for developing countries to terrestrial orbit, Cambridge’s Raspberry Pi is changing the way children interact with computers, shaping their impact on the world around us.

Explore further

25 fun things to do with Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi blog

Back to the top

Keep exploring

ARM chip

Show me