This is part of a regular series of articles exploring some of the terms used in e-learning (view other articles in the series). We’ll do our best to break down the jargon and explain what things are from a basic perspective.
As Pi Month [3.14] comes to a close it seems an appropriate time to write about the Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi is a low-cost (£19), credit-card sized computer developed by the charitable Raspberry Pi Foundation as a way to encourage children to become interested in computers and learn how they work at a fundamental level, including how to write their own software.
Although education is the primary reason behind the creation of the Raspberry Pi, the device has also found a receptive audience among techies, engineers, artists, dabblers/tinkerers and the curious. The main reasons for this are that the small size makes it easy to fit in robots, art installations, etc., the low power requirements means it runs from USB or some AA batteries, and it can be made to interact with and control external devices, from making slow motion and Matrix-style ‘bullet time’ videos to synchronising tap dancing toys to music and ensuring the optimal temperature for making wine and beer. Some of my favourite projects are the Beetbox, which turns a few root vegetables into an electronic drum kit, and the translating glasses. A big part of the success of the Raspberry Pi has been the community of helpful enthusiasts that has grown up around it and who are happy to offer advice on topics ranging from how to edit Microsoft Office documents through to running experiments in near space.
A stunning set of time-lapse sequences controlled by a Pi.
For those with a mathematical interest, the Pi now comes with a fully working copy of the Mathematica computational software for non-commercial use. This makes the Raspberry Pi the most cost-effective way to get access to this powerful mathematics software that normally costs between £200-£3000.
So, in essence, the Raspberry Pi is a small, highly versatile, and cheap computer (a full setup costs about £70-80, less if you already have a spare mouse, keyboard, etc.) that connects to a television and can be used like a normal computer, but that also encourages investigation into how computers work and the creative things that can be done with them. If you are curious about the Raspberry Pi and want to find out more, the official blog is a great place to go to see the possibilities and have a look at some of the projects that people are able to do thanks to this tiny computer.