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Erik passed along this story from the NY Times about a mini computer that outgrew its original purpose of teaching computer science students. Goes to show that it’s customers who tell inventors what the market for an invention is.

“The story of the Raspberry Pi begins in 2006,” writes John Biggs, “when Eben Upton and other faculty members at the University of Cambridge in Britain found that their incoming computer science students were ill-prepared for a high-tech education. While many students in the previous decade were experienced electronics hobbyists by the time they got to college, these freshmen were little more than skilled Web designers. …

“The Raspberry Pi — about 3 inches by 2 inches and less than an inch high — was intended to replace the expensive computers in school science labs. For less than the price of a new keyboard, a teacher could plug in the Pi and connect it to older peripherals that might be lying around. But because Pi initially ran only Linux, a free operating system popular with programmers and hobbyists, students would have a learning curve.

“The Raspberry Pi Foundation began selling the computers in February of last year. They soon could not keep them in stock.

“ ‘We honestly were thinking of this as a 1,000- to 5,000-unit opportunity,’ Mr. Upton said. ‘The thing we didn’t anticipate was this whole other market of technically competent adults who wanted to use it. We’re selling to hobbyists.’

“One Pi owner, Dave Akerman, of Brightwalton, England, even sent a Raspberry Pi to the upper atmosphere, floating it 40,000 meters up using a weather balloon.

“There he was able to take live video, photos and measurements.

“ ‘Now every primary school in the world can take pictures from near space,’ Mr. Upton said. ‘You give people access to this tool and they do great things.’ ”

More.

Photograph: Adafruit.
A Raspberry Pi computer, which is about the size of a credit card, was created to teach computer science students.

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