Five years ago, my son obtained a Raspberry Pi. I’d heard a lot about the $35 board that had been in the news, and how it was supposed to bring back learning about computers cost-effectively and interestingly, primarily by allowing easy integration with other things such as motors, servos, LEDs and sensors.
Today, that platform has spawned many variants, gained faster processors, more connectivity and a whole slew of add-ons, as well as plenty of almost-alike systems from the Far East. How did it start, and what’s happened in the intervening years?
Back before the Raspberry Pi foundation existed, Ebon Upton was concerned that people arriving at St John’s College, Cambridge University (where he was Director of Studies) didn’t understand how computers worked. So he got together with David Braben, writer of the original Elite space trading program for the BBC Micro, with the goal of creating a cheap computer. The new device would be used to educate people about how computers work, using things that would be already to hand or could be obtained cheaply to complete the system. (In a similar fashion to the BBC Micro of 1982, and the later BBC micro:bit which launched after the Raspberry Pi)
So the Raspberry Pi foundation was born in 2008 to provide a mechanism for delivering this vision. In 2012, on February 29th, the Raspberry Pi Model B was launched. It had a single core Broadcom BCM8235 ARM processor clocked at 700Mhz, 256MB of memory, 2 USB ports, Ethernet, headphone socket, composite video out, HDMI (and a DSI interface for LCD panels), SD card slot, and GPIO pins.
A lower cost Model A was launched the following year, losing the Ethernet connectivity and the USB port. In July 2014 and November 2014, the Model B and Model A gained a plus, some extra memory (512MB total), and a micro-SD card and some extra GPIO pins, as well as price reductions (remember the aim is to provide low-cost computing hardware).
The later Raspberry Pi 2 Model B (launched February 2015) provided a 900Mhz Broadcom BCM8236 quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM and an additional 2 USB ports.
In November 2015, the Raspberry Pi Zero was launched, costing only $5, using the Model A processor (BCM8235) at 1GHz and 512MB of RAM, a mini HDMI connector, micro-USB connectors. The Pi Zero was on a much smaller footprint PCB, approximately half the size.
Later in October 2016 a revision to the Raspberry Pi Model B (2 ver 1.2) provided the BCM8237 processor, again at 900MHz, and this allowed the Raspberry Pi to become a 64-bit platform.
And in February 2016, the Raspberry Pi Model 3 was launched, boosting the processor clock to 1.2 GHz, USB boot mode, as well as on-board Wifi (802.11n) and Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity.
Not only did the hardware get updated, but the software environment also has improved with many more operating systems (including Windows 10 IoT) being available for the platform.
All of this improvement of capability and reduction of cost is a result of the commitment to making available low-cost computing so that people can do what they want with it, using easy interfaces and programming. Thanks to the Raspberry Pi Foundation for a commitment to deliver this, now and into the future.