The awesome story of Raspberry Pi

raspberry pi history

In the computing history, Raspberry Pi has now clearly left a trace
And this is an incredible story, from a guy building single board computers for his entertainment, to a major foundation selling over 15 million devices in the world
I’ll try to sum up this evolution today for you

What’s the Raspberry Pi history?
It’s difficult to explain it in a few lines, but the story started in 2006 with the creation of the first prototypes inspired from the BBC Micro
And 6 years later, the first Raspberry Pi was born
The main goal was to help young people discover computers at low cost (about $30)

Now I’ll try to give you all the needed information to understand the Raspberry Pi history: origins, development, key dates and results

Eben Upton: The project origin

Who is Eben Upton?

Eben Upton is a British engineer, creator of the Raspberry Pi and the Raspberry Pi Foundation
He studied physics and engineering at the Cambridge university
Then he worked for prestigious companies, like Broadcom, Intel and IBM

First prototypes

Eben Upton worked five years from 2006 to 2011 on a single board computer project (mainly on evening and weekends, while working at Broadcom)
The BBC Micro from Acorn computers he had used at school, inspired him to create his own product
But as you can see below, it’s not a copy/paste:

bbc micro
The BBC Micro model B, released by Acorn Computers in 1981

They sold this computer for  £350 in the UK and it was difficult for schools to buy enough computers for all students

On his side, Eben Upton was working on a smaller and cheaper device
He worked first on big boards to make tests and debug easier, but the goal was to create a small computer at the end
Here is a photo of one of these first prototypes:

raspberry pi prototype atmel
Eben Upton prototype based on Atmel processor

Moving to the Raspberry Pi idea

While Eben Upton was creating his prototypes, he realized that there was an education problem in the UK, with high prices for computers
That implies that young students didn’t learn computer sciences, turned away from the computer professions, and companies in the UK lacked computer professionals

If you’re a young reader, I remind you that in 2006 we were at the beginnings of the Internet that we know today:

  • Google is starting to be widely used
  • Facebook has just become accessible for everyone
  • Twitter got its first tweet

So the world needed many programmers and network engineers to continue the Internet development
Eben Upton tries to find a solution, with the goal of building a computer ten times cheaper than the BBC Micro

If you are interested in knowing more about Eben Upton and the story of the Raspberry Pi origins, I recommend watching this video from the Centre for Computing History:

The Raspberry Pi name origin

Do you know why we call the Raspberry Pi like this?

Raspberry

Many computer manufacturer’s names come from fruits, and it’s the same for Raspberry
Before Raspberry Pi, we already had Apple, Acorns and Apricot computers
So it was mainly to follow the trend, but also a funny reference to the expression ‘blowing a raspberry’
Eben Upton said it was an allusion to the project nature at this time

Pi

The “Pi” part is a reference to the Python part of the first devices created
These devices started with a terminal prompt where you needed to type any Python code to do what you want
This was to make the difference with all others computers running with BASIC (like the BCC Micro I quoted previously)

Raspberry Pi Foundation goals

The Raspberry Pi Foundation birth

In 2009, Eben Upton created the Raspberry Pi Foundation to structure the Raspberry Pi development
It’s a registered educational charity foundation based in the UK
He had made up his mind, the goal of the Raspberry Pi will be to help young students learn the programming basis at low cost

He could have created a classic company and sell the Raspberry Pi for $100 to make money, but his main goal was to help people and solve a problem

Goals

As I already mentioned it previously, the main goal was to release computers around $30
This should help schools teaching computing and allow students to be interested in jobs of this field of activity

The foundation introduces Scratch as a first programming language for kids
For those who don’t know it, Scratch is an easy language to learn, where you move instructions with the mouse to create what you want
It’s a perfect first programming language

Projects achieved

You can check the Raspberry Pi blog to read stories about the foundation achievements (link below)
Since the beginning, the main goal stayed the same, but with a worldwide mission now
Here are examples of the success they got:

  • Funding a computer lab in Afghanistan and South Africa
  • Helping computers development in Africa
  • Raspberry Pi gifts for schools in the UK (Google offered 15000 Raspberry Pi in 2013 for example)

You can check this page to learn more about this

Raspberry Pi models

Now that you understand why the Raspberry Pi exists, let’s see more about hardware specifications and the Raspberry Pi evolution since the beginning

Originally, Eben Upton wanted to create two models: A (cheaper) and B (faster)
Recently they built the Raspberry Pi Zero (smaller)

Model A

raspberry pi model A

Version 1

The Raspberry Pi A is not the first model released, they revealed it on February 2013, one year after the B
As I said, they intend the model A to be cheaper, the first version will cost about $25
They got this price by making choices on hardware components: less USB ports and ram for example
But the Raspberry Pi 1 A remains interesting with these specifications:

  • CPU: ARM 700Mhz
  • RAM: 256 Mo
  • 1 USB port
  • 8 GPIO pins
  • HDMI, Audio and SD slot

In November 2014, they released an update (1 A+), with some changes on the hardware, mainly:

  • 17 GPIO pins instead of 8
  • Jack audio output instead of RCA
  • Micro SD instead of SD

This allowed the Raspberry Pi 1 A+ to be smaller and lighter than the first version

Version 2

Another surprise from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the Raspberry Pi model A didn’t get a second version
They went directly to the version 3, probably to follow the model B taxonomy

Version 3

The last version of the Raspberry Pi A came recently, with the Raspberry Pi 3 A+ in November 2018
For the same price of $25 at the release, you now get:

  • A 64bits architecture with a 4xCore CPU at 1.4Ghz
  • 512MB RAM
  • All needed networks components: Gigabit LAN, WiFi and Bluetooth

So this was a huge update for this model that came here
Even for $25 we get a good base to learn or teach any computing skills

Model B

raspberry pi model bThe Model B is a more “powerful” Raspberry Pi model, if we can say so, for a $35 computer

Version 1

As I said, it was the model B that came out first to the public
On the 29 February 2012, The Raspberry Pi Foundation released this UFO on the computer market

For the first time we saw a 85x56mm single board computer with:

  • CPU: ARM 700Mhz
  • RAM: 512M
  • 2 USB ports
  • HDMI, RCA Audio and SD slot
  • 10/100 Ethernet connector
  • 8 GPIO pins

This was not that different from the current computers in the market, but it costed 10 times cheaper
It was immediately a success with 500,000 sales in the first 6 months
And it was only the beginning of the story

As for the model A, they released in July 2014 an update with the same changes:

  • 17 GPIO pins instead of 8
  • Jack audio output instead of RCA
  • Micro SD instead of SD

And they also move to 4 USB ports, giving it more possibilities out of the box

Version 2:

Then they released the Raspberry Pi 2 B with two sub-versions in 2015 and 2016

  • Raspberry Pi 2 B
    • Released on February 2015
    • Has new versions on basic components but no big changes
    • CPU: Has 4 cores at 900Mhz instead of 1x 700Mhz
    • Get 1 GB RAM instead of 512M
  • Raspberry Pi 2 B ver. 1.2
    • Release on October 2016
    • Has 1.2Ghz CPU instead of 900Mhz
    • Moves to a 64bits architecture

These are more changes in the ability for a Raspberry Pi to run CPU consuming tasks and enjoy the quad cores architecture to run simultaneous tasks

Version 3

Then the version 3 of the Raspberry Pi B was born in February 2016
It’s basically the same board as the Raspberry Pi 2B 1.2, coming a few months later
But with the addition of wireless possibilities, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth integrated directly on the main board

Finally, in March 2018, the Raspberry Pi 3 B+ comes out with two improvements:

  • LAN: Gigabit Ethernet
  • CPU: 4x 1.4Ghz

By the time I was writing this post, it’s the most powerful Raspberry Pi on the market
So if you need speed and power in your projects, buy a Raspberry Pi 3B+ ( the best CPU, more RAM, faster network, …)

Model Zero

raspberry pi model zero

The last model from the Raspberry Pi catalog is the Pi Zero
It’s the smallest Raspberry with 65 mm long and 30 mm wide (about half of the B model)
It’ll be your perfect companion for traveling, pen testing or limited size projects

Raspberry Pi Zero

The first “Zero” model was released in November 2015
The main event was the size of the board, but it comes with these specifications:

  • Price: $5
  • CPU: ARM 1Ghz
  • RAM: 512M
  • 1 micro USB port
  • 1 mini HDMI output
  • 17 GPIO pins

It is pretty close from the Raspberry Pi B model in 2015
Because of the lack of space we got fewer ports but CPU and RAM are enough to use it

Raspberry Pi Zero W

In February 2017, the Raspberry Pi Zero receive an update, with a wireless card (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth)
It’s also the first version with a camera port built in

Raspberry Pi Zero WH

You could also find the version WH in your favorite reseller
This changes nothing on the specs, the only difference is the pre-soldered GPIO header
If you plan on using GPIO pins, it could help you start faster

The Raspberry Pi Zero W (or WH) is not really as cheap as $5 because you can’t do anything with only the board
But if you intend to create projects with a minimal wiggle-room, you can buy the Vilros kit on Amazon.com
I bought it recently and I’m happy with it, easy to start with all the needed cable and adapter

Raspberry Pi sales results

Even if the goal of the Raspberry Pi is not to make money with this product, we can’t ignore the successful history of the device in a sales point of view
Many computer brands should be jealous of these results

As I said they sold 500k Raspberry Pi in the first 6 months, 2 millions one year after, and they are now close to 20 million devices sold
It’s a rhythm of 3 million sales a year
To give you an idea, Apple sold 20 millions Mac in 2017, it’s not that far, and Raspberry Pi is on a niche market

Here is a graph of the total sales progress since the beginning of the Raspberry Pi story:

raspberry pi sales

If you want the exact numbers, here is what I have found:

  • September 2012: 500 000 devices sold
  • October 2013:  2 million
  • February 2015: 5 million
  • September 2016: 10 million
  • February 2017: 12.5 million
  • July 2017: 15 million
  • March 2018: 19 million

It’s the total sales since the beginning, not a year result

Raspberry Pi key dates

And for those who are preparing a presentation or just want the essential information, here are all the key dates to remember about the Raspberry Pi story:

  • 2006: Eben Upton started to work on the first concepts
  • 2011: We are close to the first release, with alpha and beta devices during this year
  • January 2012: The first 10 Raspberry devices are sold on eBay (£3500 for the first one)
  • 29 February 2012: Official release of the first Raspberry for the public, the Pi B
  • 4 February 2013: Release of the Raspberry Pi A
  • November 2014: Release of the Raspberry Pi A+
  • 2 February 2015: Release of the Raspberry Pi 2 B
  • 26 November 2015: Release of the Raspberry Pi Zero
  • 29 February 2016: Release of the Raspberry Pi 3 B
  • 28 February 2017: Release of the Raspberry Pi Zero W
  • 15 January 2018: Release of the Raspberry Pi Zero WH
  • 14 March 2018: Release of the Raspberry 3 B+
  • November 2018: Release of the Raspberry 3 A+

Raspberry Pi today

We already saw the amazing story of Eben Upton and the Raspberry Pi Foundation, starting from 0 to 20 million sales in six years
But before ending this article, let’s take a moment to see how much space the Raspberry Pi took in our everyday lives, internationally (and beyond ^^)

Raspberry Pi at school

The main goal of the Raspberry Pi creation was to bring back computing at school, for education of young people
Was it a success? Probably
Is it measurable? Not sure

We know that there were donations, like the 15,000 units I wrote about before
We know that many teachers have bought Raspberry Pi for their classes
Either way, Eben Upton should be proud of his work, helping many people worldwide learning how computers work and discovering programming thanks to him

Raspberry Pi at work

There are many applications at work for a Raspberry Pi
Many companies can use it to collect data, display things or monitor something
I can even imagine a backup VPN server, a customer counter in a store or a monitoring node on a small remote site
You don’t need a $500 computer or server for this kind of projects, just something stable with a network connection and Linux on it

For example, where I work, I put a Raspberry Pi somewhere to control the real Wi-Fi connection speed available for users
No server could have been used for this, wirelessly connected at the exact place I wanted it

More info: 5 projects idea for business

Raspberry Pi in movies

Recently, the Raspberry Pi appeared in movies like Big Hero or TV shows like Mr. Robot

In Mr. Robot for example, the main character is a hacker and uses the Raspberry Pi small size to introduce it in a company he wants to hack

It’s really close to what security companies are making nowadays.
Raspberry Pi is a great tool in pen testing for example.
If they manage to put a Pi Zero on the target network, it could be hard to find for the target company, and the best option for the hacker to get control of the network

Raspberry Pi in space

There are also Raspberry Pi in space, inside the International Space Station (ISS)
Scientists can use them for various projects

For example, in 2018, the Raspberry Pi foundation allowed schools to run their code in space, aboard the ISS
You  can find all details in this blog post

Raspberry Pi community

I think that today, the first strength of the Raspberry Pi is its community
With the Internet democratization and the social networks, the fame of this product spread naturally

Each day you can find new websites, posts, tweets or pins about the Raspberry Pi
Each day you can find new projects ideas easily by browsing this pages

When the Retropie system was revealed to the public, everyone wanted a retro-gaming computer for less than $50 at home, and they bought a Raspberry Pi
When Michael Teeux published his “Magic Mirror” concept, the buzz created with his project must have created a peak in the Raspberry Pi sales
Everything is possible and any new idea with a Raspberry Pi helps the Foundation to sell devices, and then lead various projects

Conclusion

And that’s it, you know everything you need to know about the Raspberry Pi story
I hope I detailed this post enough for you, without being too dense or boring
If you have suggestions about this topic, or some anecdotes about the Raspberry Pi evolution, feel free to leave a comment here

As this is a big subject, and I simplified the content of this article, I’ll give you some links if you need more details
Here are interesting pages about Raspberry Pi:

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