The Raspberry Pi Foundation spreads the word in the US Midwest

Lead Image © Rita L Sooby

Pi Time

Raspberry Pi engineer Rob Bishop brings his roadshow to Kansas City

More than 200 people gathered in Kansas City, Missouri, at Science City, Union Station, on August 23 to meet Rob Bishop, Raspberry Pi engineer and evangelist. The audience spanned a wide range of ages, including parents and grandparents with children, retirees, hobbyists, students, teachers, and artists. Kansas City was yet another stop on the Midwestern leg of Bishop's "Raspberry Pi US Roadshow."

After being introduced to the crowd by Luis Rodriguez, employee of Science City and producer of Maker Faire, Kansas City, Bishop spoke for about 20 minutes, introducing the Raspberry Pi and telling the story of the Raspberry Pi Foundation (see "The Raspberry Pi Story"), before opening the floor to questions.

The Raspberry Pi Story

The Raspberry Pi Foundation came into being when computer science professors at Cambridge University saw the number and quality of applicants to their program decline. They determined two primary causes: (1) computer science (CS) wasn't emphasized in schools and (2) kids didn't have access to machines they could program, like the Ataris, Acorns, Commodores, and Spectrums of the 1980s, which at the time were essentially toys. Children have grown up, Bishop said, using "increasingly intuitive and abstracted devices" that don't convey a sense of what a computer really is. The toys kids do have access to have software unavailable to the purchaser; in fact, anyone attempting to hack them could get into legal trouble.

To reverse the disturbing trend seen at Cambridge, Eben Upton and others [1] set up an educational charity, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, to bring together teachers, academics, and enthusiasts. Their goals were to encourage the teaching of programming in schools, bring industry and funding sectors together with the education sector, and not only create the next generation of engineers, but also increase the level of programming skill among non-engineers. At the time, however, most electronics were not cheap enough to risk breaking. Additionally, we are too dependent on the machines we do have to risk much experimentation. One way for the Foundation to meet their goals was to create an open computer cheap enough to break and cheap enough to buy for a child.

With the explosion of mobile computing, components came down in price to a point at which a US$ 35 board was possible to produce. This price point was chosen because it's equivalent to about the price of a textbook in the UK (although it comes in at more than two times the cost of a US middle school text book or one third the cost of a US university textbook).

With the Foundation advocating for schools to establish standards for CS education, making it as important as other life skills courses, kids would be able to tinker with the Pi and put in enough hours to gain the skills needed to reach a certain level of competency. Then, the next time students proposed a project, instead of expecting the parents or schools to buy closed-source, expensive equipment, they would think, "I can build that."

Modern Punk: One Rasp Pi project at the Science City Maker Space filtered tweets with various Raspberry Pi hashtags and printed them on a home-made printer.


The first question Bishop fielded from the audience was about worldwide Rasp Pi sales. He noted that about one third of Pis are sold in the US, one third in Europe, and one third in the rest of the world. That means, per capita, sales are lower in the US than in the UK and the rest of Europe, which is a troubling statistic and one reason to institute the US roadshows.

A number of people were curious about what the Foundation would do next, or what the engineers might add or remove from the Pi now that they'd seen how it was being used, or whether a Raspberry Pi 2 was on the horizon.

Bishop responded that they thought they had created a platform that "is good enough for most uses, and it's the cheapest thing." He admits some choices were compromises, but usually to keep costs down. Because they've built a flexible and extensible platform, he said, they're leaving to cottage industries the accessories, specialty devices, and boards that extend the basic Pi. In fact, he said, many of these cottage industries have sprung up around the Pi and are financially lucrative.

For example, although the Foundation at first considered delivering the Pis with cases, exposure of the board was by design, because many kids don't know what a computer really looks like. Now people are making money creating all kinds of Pi cases. This philosophy extends to the Pi itself. The Foundation, with fewer than 10 employees, does not have the resources to manufacture the Pi and distribute it themselves; instead, they have licensed partners who build and distribute the boards for them. Profits are then split between the distributors and the charity.

Another reason not to change the Rasp Pi, Bishop noted, is so they wouldn't make obsolete everything that's been built around it thus far. If they built something different, they'd "lose a lot of what came before." (However, Eben Upton, a Foundation member, has admitted he'd like to "stay around for at least another product launch," implying a new product might appear after all [2]).

Passion for the Pi

An educator in the audience wanted to know how to get kids excited about programming. Bishop said he advocates "stealth" learning; that is, find out what the child is already excited about – whether it be sports, robotics, weather, or gaming, for example – then they will figure out what they need to build, and with a Pi, they can build it. Also, Bishop recommended introducing kids to hacker and maker spaces, where they have the tools and people who can help them.

Buy this article as PDF

Express-Checkout as PDF

Pages: 2

Price $2.95
(incl. VAT)

Buy Raspberry Pi Geek

Get it on Google Play

US / Canada

Get it on Google Play

UK / Australia

Related content