On a recent visit back to England, I read an article on the Raspberry Pi mini computer. I became very, very curious and this is why. In the 1980's I was given a BBC microcomputer, an all-in-one computing device commissioned by the BBC to support IT literacy programmes. It was just a keyboard, with connection to a floppy disc drive and a video output to a CRT monitor. Not much else. But it's beauty was that it got people interested and some confidence about simple programming.
I have a fabulous memory of the day I wrote some code (BBC Basic), hit RUN and in amazement saw the results. I’d actually managed to generate coloured circles in random sizes, positions and 8bit colours on screen – it looped and I sat watching for ages, with more than a little pride.
Thirty years later, I’m sitting at another keyboard, built into a MacbookPro, battery powered (it’s portable!), built-in hi-res screen, a Terabyte of storage, 8Gb RAM, a DVD writer, network card, USB, Thunderbolt interface, accessing the Internet by tethered iPhone, running 6 different programmes, with a Bluetooth mouse! How things have changed in such a short time. [Check out Moore’s Law on the theory of IT growth: Gordon Moore is intel’s co-founder]
Most people have no idea how lucky young people of that era were, with easy access to programming. Until now! Eben and Liz Upton of the Raspberry Pi Foundation are from my generation and in recent years witnessed the decline of accessible technologies to help people learn simple programming. All because the market is saturated with devices that do all that stuff for you - from iPhone to Xbox, Xperia to PS4.
The Raspberry Pi minicomputer is a response to the lack of recreational programming knowledge universities find in new students, a response to a new need for people to 'code'. And it's an astonishing piece of kit for around $20 with sales already over a million, it will output to TV, a computer monitor, full audio, USB and HDMI. It's powered by a mobile phone adapter and has general purpose input output connector and an ethernet port. Memory comes via an SD card, but can be extended through an external hard drive. The list of functionality goes on...and so does its potential to help people learn and prototype endless applications and devices. Here's a link to the Top 10 coolest uses of a Raspberry Pi
Raspberry Pi is a trademark of the Raspberry Pi Foundation
How powerful is it?
So what’s in the Pi? The Pi is amazing (geek warning, here comes the tech). The GPU provides Open GL ES 2.0, hardware-accelerated OpenVG, and 1080p30 H.264 high-profile decode. The GPU is capable of 1Gpixel/s, 1.5Gtexel/s or 24 GFLOPs of general purpose compute and features a bunch of texture filtering and DMA infrastructure. That is, graphics capabilities are roughly equivalent to Xbox 1 level of performance. Overall real world performance is something like a 300MHz Pentium 2, only with much, much better graphics. So… for the size, it’s mighty stuff.
Back to the article I was reading about the Pi. Initially I thought, ‘I want one!’ Then I thought what a waste, who could really use one? kLab came to mind. kLab's mission is to promote, facilitate and support the development of innovative ICT solutions by nurturing a vivid community of entrepreneurs and mentors. Go here for more.
Twitter – that an amazing comms thing - in seconds I’d made contact with Nic Pottier at kLab and agreed to donate one. Seconds later, I’d ordered one through Amazon; that’s pretty special too if you go back 30 years.
This week I met Claude Migisha, kLab’s General Manager. He’s a cool and casual chap, but a slick professional. I could see straight away this guy’s credentials. “Let’s arrange a competition for the Pi and give it to the winner with the most innovative idea”, he suggested.
WIN WIN WIN with kLab and TSM
And that’s the plan. So as you’re reading this start thinking what you could do with a full Raspberry Pi setup. We need a few weeks to work out how this will work and make sure Minister for ICT and Youth can get involved, but watch this space and check TSM Facebook pages for more details soon.
Claude is the kind of guy who could sell Costa Rica bananas to farmers in Rwamagana – not that I took much convincing. He asked, I said yes and so every Monday afternoon TSM will be offering mentorship at kLab – because the C in ICT is really 'Customer'!
By Simon Corden
Online Editor TSM