Some of the greatest technological breakthroughs aren’t always immediately apparent. They can slip quietly under the radar when they first come out and their importance only becomes realised later on.

That will probably be the case with Raspberry Pi, a brilliant idea that will make sure kids around the world can be computer literate in the future and at relatively little expense.

The Raspberry Pi is a pocket-friendly, ARM based single board computer the size of a credit card that was developed here in good old Blighty by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a charity whose aim is to help children to learn about computers and programming.

It plugs into a TV and keyboard and can do much of what a desktop PC does, including word-processing, spreadsheets, games and high definition video. Indeed, the Raspberry Pi’s great strength is its great flexibility; there are plenty of add-ons so you can customise it to do what you want it to.

Early designs for the Raspberry Pi were developed in 2006 by Eben Upton and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory who challenged teachers and computer experts to create a computer that would inspire and engage children. They’d noticed a decline in the numbers and skills levels of the students applying to do degrees in Computer Science. In the 1990s, kids who applied had a good working knowledge of programming but a decade on the applicants didn’t have that knowledge and were more into web design.

Upton and his team identified a number of issues with the way children were using computers. They noticed that the ICT (Information and Communications Technology) curriculum in schools seemed to be dominated by working on Word and Excel or creating web pages while home PCs and games consoles were all ready-to-use and didn’t require any knowledge of programming or how computers work; very different to the BBC Micro, Spectrum ZX and Commodore 64 machines the previous generation had learnt about computers on.

Determined to get programming back at the heart of home computing like it had been in the 1980s and 1990s, Upton and his colleagues designed several versions of what would become the Raspberry Pi between 2006-2008. With the power and affordability of processors available to mobile devices by then, it became apparent that their computer could also provide multi-media as well as programming to make it more attractive to the younger generation.

In 2008, Upton and some like-minded colleagues formed the Raspberry Pi Foundation to try to make the concept a reality. By October 2011, a demo version of the Raspberry Pi was made public and the first models went on sale in February 2012. Within a year, more than one million Raspberry Pi boards had been sold through licensed manufacture deals

The response from schools, colleges and universities was particularly encouraging with Raspberry Pis becoming increasing commonplace in the classroom. Aside from the education sector, there’s been great interest from hospitals and museums too, who recognise that the Raspberry Pi offers a much cheaper alternative to conventional PCs. For the same reason, there’s a lot of interest from the developing world in this affordable but powerful technology.

It’s in the classroom where the Raspberry Pi is set to have the most dramatic effect though. Whole communities have grown up around the small computer as kids learn how to use and get creative with it.  And as more schools and homes find that the Raspberry Pi is a great – and cheap – way to learn about computers and computing, we’ll see a whole new generation of truly computer savvy individuals coming through.

As the Raspberry Pi Foundation says: “We want to see cheap, accessible, programmable computers everywhere… we want to break the break the paradigm where without spending hundreds of pounds on a PC, families can’t use the internet. We want owning a truly personal computer to be normal for children and we’re looking forward to what the future has in store.”

There’s a quiet revolution going on and the Raspberry Pi is at the heart of it.

Until next time