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Born in the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory, Raspberry Pi has taken the tech world by storm. Since its release earlier this year, this $35 credit card-sized Linux computer has been in short supply, leaving makers waiting for weeks (sometimes even months) for their orders to be fulfilled. Besides the price, what is it about the Raspberry Pi that tests the patience of a board-hungry group of hackers? Before we get to that, let’s delve into the Raspberry Pi’s intended audience.

Eben Upton and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge noticed that today’s students applying to study computer science don’t have the skills that they did in the 1990’s. They attribute this to—among other factors—the “rise of the home PC and games console to replace the Amigas, BBC Micros, Spectrum ZX and Commodore 64 machines that people of an earlier generation learned to program on.” Since the computer has become important for every member of the household, it may discourage younger members from tinkering around and possibly putting such a critical tool out of commission for the family. But recently mobile phone and tablet processors have become less expensive while getting more powerful, clearing the path for the Raspberry Pi’s leap into the world of ultra-cheap-yet-serviceable computer boards. As the founder of Linux, Linus Torvalds, said in an interview with BBC News, Raspberry Pi makes it possible to “afford failure.”

Not only that, but makers, tinkerers, and hackers have also latched onto the platform because of its price and capabilities. And with the enormous Linux community available for support, the pains of working with a new platform have been minimal. Since its release, we’ve seen a deluge of incredible projects that use the Raspberry Pi in creative and inventive ways and we’re only just getting started. It’s for these reasons that we’ve nominated Raspberry Pi, the $35 Linux computer, for a Makey in the category Most Hackable Gadget.

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Matt Richardson

Matt Richardson

Matt Richardson is a San Francisco-based creative technologist and Contributing Editor at MAKE. He’s the co-author of Getting Started with Raspberry Pi and the author of Getting Started with BeagleBone.


  • Lacer

    No matter how many add-on boards or fun uses Pi owners develop, there’s still the matter that the Raspberry pi is a closed-source device. At the time of writing there are no gerbers/BOMs/editable schematics available for the board and on top of that, the drivers needed to access (the oft lauded) GPU features are only available as a precompiled binary. Now, I admit that the latter is more of a fault with the chip manufactures then anything but we still have quite a ways before this device can really be called “most hackable gadget”. Thankfully there are projects (http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=MTE0MDA) and the Pi foundation’s personal efforts (http://www.cnx-software.com/2012/04/20/raspberry-pi-schematics-model-b-are-available/) to allow users to fully access and improve their device but we still have much longer to wait.

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