A few months ago PA Consulting Group ran a competition that challenged young people to make the world a better place using a Raspberry Pi. Last Wednesday I went along to help judge the 14 teams who made it to the final.
Walking into the presentation room there was a real creative buzz as the contestants set up their projects and carried out last minute tweaks. They were excited and nervous and proud to have made something both cool and useful. The room was suffused by the Essence of Awesome that I’d love to put in an atomiser and spray on people who proudly tell me that they don’t see the point of the Raspberry Pi.
It was also great to see mixed and all-girl teams well represented and something that we need to see more of. The creative side of computing often gets overlooked but was very evident here. As well as writing code, the contestants had built mini wired-up houses; roving robots; prototypes from Lego; hacked an energy monitor; hooked up RFID sensors to time races and built lots of other practical computing stuff that we think is a powerful hook to get people into computing.
Despite what Hollywood would have us believe, computing isn’t about millions of lines of scrolling, arcane code: it’s about concepts and ideas and it’s about solving problems. The fun bit for me is in taking an idea and making it real. What was once only in your head is now alive and kicking in the real world. Better still, you can easily share your creation with the rest of the world via the Net. It doesn’t get much better than that if you like making things. What all of the entries had in common was a useful idea plus a level of creativity that the Raspberry Pi always seems to encourage.
8-11 years The Richard Pate School who designed a system to help elderly or disabled people answer the door. A great idea that was well thought out and we were impressed by the teamwork.
12-16 years: Dalriada School with their web-controlled pill dispenser. We were impressed with the professional level of research and prototyping as well as the clever idea.
16-18 years: Team Meteoros from Westminster School, whose AirPi gathers air quality data and provides a web interface for monitoring and analysis. The judges loved the teamwork, passion and the potential (each AirPi will feed information to a central server). It was my personal favourite: I’ll be making one with my son to stick in our garden and will blog about this as we put it together. Full build instructions and how to get involved are on their site.
Open category: UNOP who reverse-engineered the communication protocol of an off the shelf electricity monitor to make better use of the data. I loved the hacker ethos: “this doesn’t do what I want it to so I’m going to make it better.”
These projects were a taster of exactly what the Raspberry Pi Foundation set out to do and we look forward to see more and more of this as people get a chance to mess about on an open and accessible platform. We want what was happening in that room to start happening in schools and clubs and homes everywhere.
So congratulations to the winners, thanks again to PA Consulting for running a quite brilliant competition and a special thanks to all of the young people who showed us yet again that given the opportunity and a Raspberry Pi they will surprise us with their ideas, creativity and tech skills. It was a pleasure to be there.
N.B. I have used the words ‘creative’ and ‘creativity’ a lot. I make no apologies. Get a Raspberry Pi. Get creating. I’m off to pitch Essence of Awesome™ to Chanel.