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Life of Pi can inspire the next business generation

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  • by Bernard Ginns Business Editor
 

THE leading global manufacturer and distributor of the Raspberry Pi microcomputer has urged the Government to exploit the educational potential of the British invention and unleash the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Early adopters in Yorkshire say the £30 credit card-sized computer creates a platform for innovation in education and industry and could be the catalyst to reinvigorate the region’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Element 14, part of the Leeds-based Premier Farnell group, has sold more than a million devices to customers in 65 countries across the world since the launch just a year ago.

Speaking at the Yorkshire Post Business Club, Mike Powell of Element 14, said: “If the Government gets involved in Raspberry Pi, what they will be doing is fuelling the future.

“They need to have a long-term vision and need to understand that more young people who can programme computers is good for our economy.

“It really needs to form part of an integrated approach to education.”

Academics at Cambridge University’s computer laboratory developed the Raspberry Pi to give young people access to cheap, programmable computers after becoming concerned at declining standards among computer science students.

The Raspberry Pi plugs into a TV and keyboard and can be used for many of the same things as a desktop PC. Users can develop their own software to create programmes for real world applications. “It’s only limited by people’s imagination,” said Mr Powell, a technical development manager.

He claimed that the Raspberry Pi could challenge the dominance of Microsoft in computing. Mr Powell said paid-for software has a place in the economy but encourages the view that programming computers is complicated and difficult.

“What we are trying to do with this project is turn that on its head and expose people to the world of open sourcing and hardware and get them to realise that this stuff is fun and easy and you can do some really powerful things with it,” he said.

In a demonstration to an audience of Yorkshire business leaders, Mr Powell and colleague Claire Doyle, the global head of Raspberry Pi, described applications including a remote-control Lego crocodile, a beer brewing kit, a home media centre, a stratospheric camera in a helium balloon and a stock control system for a business supplying the aerospace industry. A Yorkshire law firm has been trialling it as an alternative to Microsoft Windows XP for connecting its lawyers’ desktops.

Mr Powell said the Raspberry Pi can help nurture a new wave of UK software engineers and also create innovative applications for the so-called “internet of things”.

He said: “There is a very strongly growing market which is small black boxes in our environment that sensor things like flooding, wind speeds, footfall, traffic and all kinds of things that are sent back to central databases. That kind of environmental intelligence requires low-cost hardware. Raspberry Pi fits into that category very nicely.”

Speaking at the event, Adam Beaumont, the Yorkshire telecommunications entrepreneur, said there will be more than 50bn connected devices by 2020.

The managing director of Aql added: “These are remote measurement or control devices and they need to be highly reliable and deployable in remote and harsh locations so a platform like Raspberry Pi lends itself perfectly to this kind of application and it is coming in at a tenth or hundredth of a price point of existing devices.”

Ms Doyle said Raspberry Pi “went viral” on the day of its launch and in the last quarter generated sales of £6.8m, with significant demand from North America. She added: “It’s a brand new market and we are seeing an explosion in the number of new customers and the number of new segments.”

Ms Doyle added that Element 14 is developing new products to support Raspberry Pi, including a camera board.

Last month, the company moved manufacturing operations from China to Wales in partnership with Sony.

Ms Doyle said the decision has been warmly welcomed by international customers.

“When we had dual sourcing and manufacture for a period of time, we had customers across the world requesting the UK one, reinforcing the quality,” she said.

Asked about the product’s name, which is owned by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, Mr Powell said: “Many computers that have become popular were named after fruits so they picked the next one along, the Raspberry, honestly.”

Service sector looks to new system

A YORKSHIRE law firm is trialling a new system to connect lawyers’ desktops using Raspberry Pi.

Lawyers at Clarion have been using Windows XP, but are planning ahead for when Microsoft withdraws support next April.

The firm said the £30 microcomputer creates a platform for innovation, not only in the education sector but also for Yorkshire plc and could be the catalyst for reinvigorating the Yorkshire entrepreneurial spirit.

The Yorkshire Post Business Club is a forum for the region’s business leaders to gather and debate topical issues.

Twitter @bernardginns

 

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