The First Raspberry Pi

Selected by Eben Upton

Back in 2006, a group of us at the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory became worried that we were failing to attract a sufficient number of candidates to study Computer Science. Between 1995 and 2005 the number of applicants to the course had halved, and, of those who had applied, there was a steep decline in the level of knowledge about computers. Our hypothesis (and to this day it’s still a hypothesis) was that the disappearance of programmable computers in the home, and the associated ‘bedroom programming’ culture at the end of the 1980s, had left children with no easy way into computing as a hobby.

We asked ourselves whether we might be able to build a machine to fill this niche—something that was cheap, fun, rugged and programmable.

The exhibit represents my first attempt that year to build what would eventually be called a Raspberry Pi. It uses decidedly low-tech off-the-shelf parts, can be assembled by hand, and provides roughly the same level of performance and programmability as a 1980s 16-bit microcomputer. Unfortunately, while it’s cheap and programmable, it just wasn’t fun enough for children raised in an era of PlayStations and iPads to relate to. The eventual Raspberry Pi product is roughly 1,000 times as powerful as this one, and allows children to surf the web, play computer games and HD videos; these features are the vital hooks that get children interested in the device, starting them down the road to becoming computer programmers.

We’ve sold over two million Raspberry Pis since we launched last year, but I keep this board on my desk to remind me we didn’t get it right the first time.

About Eben Upton

Eben is a founder of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and serves as CEO of Raspberry Pi (Trading) Ltd, which is responsible for the foundation’s commercial and technical activities. In an earlier life, he founded two successful mobile games and middleware companies, Ideaworks 3d Ltd and Podfun Ltd, held the post of Director of Studies for Computer Science at St John’s College, Cambridge, and, along with his father, co-wrote The Oxford Rhyming Dictionary. He holds a B.A. in Physics and Engineering, a Ph.D. in Computer Science, and an Executive M.B.A. from the University of Cambridge.