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updated 3:00 PM BST, Apr 15, 2015
Technology and life sciences news from the Cambridge cluster

Cambridge’s fifteen quid computer set for Q4 launch

  • Written by Ben Fountain
  • Published in Hardware

The Raspberry Pi alpha PCBA Cambridge social enterprise developing a £15 computer has sent a prototype of the device to manufacturers, putting the project on course for a Q4 launch.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation is an educational charity set up by a group of Cambridge entrepreneurs and technologists to develop a small, cheap computer that school children can use to get to grips with the nuts and bolts of computer science.

The starting point for the project, according to one of its founders, gaming pioneer, David Braben is the dramatic fall in the number of computer science graduates being produced in the UK, a result he says, of ICT teaching in schools failing to capture the imagination of students.

The Raspberry Pi device is a single board computer in a package the same size as a USB memory stick, powered by a 700MHz ARM11 processor and capable of running the Ubuntu flavour of Linux. There is a USB port at one end, an HDMI at the other, an SD/MMC/SDIO memory card slot for storage and general-purpose I/O for further expansion.

As well as attempting to emulate the inspirational effect Acorn’s BBC Micro had on a generation of young kids, The Raspberry Pi Foundation is also borrowing another aspect of their approach by releasing two specs of the device.

‘Model A’, which will cost £15 will have 128 MB of SDRAM and no ethernet networking, while ‘Model B’ will cost about a fiver more and have 256 MB of RAM, an integrated 2-port USB hub and 10/100 ethernet controller.

Raspberry Pi will be shipped with a suite of open source software, including the Iceweasel browser and Koffice, as well as Python to encourage children to get coding.

Since announcing last week that the alpha version of the PCB had been sent to manufacturers, the organisation has since said via Twitter that it is hoping to launch the production version in Q4 (“Nov-ish”) and is looking at numbers in the thousands by the end of the year. It has also said it hopes to have all manufacturing carried out in the UK.

Although electronically identical, the prototype is 20 per cent larger than the one they hope to put into production. It will be used to validate the schematic design and serve as an interim software development platform.

The project has generated significant interest around the world so it has set up a forum on its site to answer questions about the device and field feature requests.

Raspberry Pi will be sold through its website and a network of distributors, but the organisation is not taking pre-orders. According to one tweet: “No pre-orders - we don't want to take anyone's money before we've got a shippable product.”

As well as being headquartered in Caldecote near Cambridge, The Raspberry Pi Foundation’s founding team is made up overwhelmingly of Cambridge people. Joining Braben are Cambridge Angel and serial entrepreneur, Jack Lang; lecturer at Cambridge University’s computer lab, Robert Mullins; a professor at the same lab, Alan Mycroft; and startup founder and Broadcom multimedia platform architect, Eben Upton. Also on board is founder and MD of Norcott Technologies, Pete Lomas.