Developers of miniature computers relish the fruits of their labour

 

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The Independent Online

When the low-cost Raspberry Pi was launched in February 2012 to help make computing more accessible, its popularity took even its creators by surprise.

More than 3.5 million of the creditcard- sized computers have been sold to date, and a worldwide community of enthusiasts has evolved around the product thanks to Raspberry Jams – popular events where users share ideas and projects they have developed using the Pi.

Teacher Alan O’Donohoe organised the very first Raspberry Jam in Preston, Lancashire, just after its launch. With huge demand for the device, he was frustrated at not being able to get hold of one.

“I thought: How can I get people in a room so I can actually see one of these?” he said. “I listed the first one online and within half an hour we had around 60 people signed up. That’s when I realised we didn’t have a big enough room.”

Raspberry Jams have since gone global, with events happening from Singapore to Silicon Valley.

Anyone can organise one or attend, and they range from large-scale gatherings in lecture theatres to small informal workshops. O’Donohoe says they allow children to be creative and innovative and learn computing in a relaxed environment away from the pressure cooker of school.

His local event in Preston is on a Monday evening every month. “Children come along with their parents and they get a very rich experience,” he says. “People with all kinds of backgrounds and levels of experience come together and work collaboratively.And that’s what I love about it.”

One seven-year-old created his own operating system on a Raspberry Pi and demonstrated it at a Jam. And at last year’s annual Raspberry Jamboree convention, a keynote speaker was 13-year-old Amy Mather who demonstrated the computer game she had developed on a Pi.

Resources and ideas shared at these events are filtering into mainstream education, and some Pi projects have even led to business ventures.

Ryan Walmsley, aged 17, devised a low-cost motor-controller kit to use with the Pi. He now runs his own business Ryanteck Ltd selling this and other products.

Clive Beale, director of educational development of the computer’s creator, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, said: “People are running jams just because they love the Pi and are passionate about it. We have a big educational team, but without that community we wouldn’t have all this informal education going on.”

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