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Just what is it about the Raspberry Pi?

Posted by Richard Lambert on 3rd April 2013

As the Raspberry Pi computer celebrated its first birthday last month, I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly has made such an unpolished (at face value) gadget such a phenomenon so quickly.

And a phenomenon it undoubtedly is. With over a million units sold in its first year, countless ‘the sky’s the limit’ projects and some seriously die-hard fans, the eponymous single board computer has taken the tech world by storm.

Even the fact the Pi’s official birthday falls on February 29th (meaning we technically have to wait another three years to bring out the party poppers, depending on if you’re a character in The Pirates of Penzance) didn’t stop the computer’s loyal following from celebrating in style this year.

Cheap, straightforward and a local hero

There are plenty of single board computers on the market, of course, but none have come close to capturing the imagination of experienced and beginner programmers alike in the way the Raspberry Pi has.

With an intriguing name helping to set it on its way, the Raspberry Pi is admirably simple to get to grips with, and it was launched with the aim of driving a new generation of programmers in schools – a key education focus area for the government.

The price helps, too. £25 for a computer isn’t bad, and even while the true final cost of setting the thing up works out to be a bit higher (“What do you mean £25 doesn’t include a monitor, keyboard and mouse?”) the fact remains that the Pi is almost universally accessible to budding programmers.

The recent confirmation that distributor element14 has now moved 100% of its Raspberry Pi production process to the UK from China has further strengthened the bond with the burgeoning Pi community, at a time when positive local manufacturing news stories are hard to come by. This is a UK innovation that we should be proud of.

Bringing together the programming community

A real masterstroke of the Raspberry Pi programme has been bringing together the many experienced and beginner programmers into an environment to share ideas, tips and even crowd source funding for ambitious new projects.

Among the inspired, impressive and often downright whacky projects to have emerged over the last 12 months, we’ve seen a Pi-controlled robot boat set out across the Atlantic, a unit launched 40km into space (the ‘Pi in the Sky’… oh yes they did!) and a stuffed toy chicken that reads out tweets. Naturally.

It’s only going to get stronger

If you thought setting up a Raspberry Pi to help brew beer was as good as it’s going to get, think again. These coding projects – impressive as they have been – are just the beginning.

Recent developments, such as the Gertboard, mean we can expect to see more projects that focus on the ‘real-world’ applications and use the device to interact with the physical world around us.

Later in 2013, we could well see an ‘off the shelf’ product which has at least used the Raspberry Pi in the development process, with the price point meaning that moderate value commercial applications are definitely viable.

So whether you’re a long-standing Raspberry Pi enthusiast or just somebody who’s been wondering what the fuss is all about, there are plenty of reasons to keep your eyes on the credit card-sized computer’s journey over the next year.

Richard Lambert