The Raspberry Pi at the OAD

Today we speak about the Raspberry Pi. In the Computing world the Raspberry Pi has been the talk of the town for a while – actually for the last year or so. What is it? The Raspberry Pi is definitely not a piece of cake but a small credit card size fully functional computer which works at low power (like your smartphone) and is very cheap. The Raspberry Pi foundation’s idea was to create a product that enables teaching of basic computer science at school levels.

For us at the OAD, we are always excited to find new tools or technology to enhance basic understanding of science. But what was even better with the Raspberry Pi, is the fact that it is relatively cheap and therefore makes it accessible to poorer regions of South Africa, Africa or any place in the world where people do not have basic access to computers.

The raspberry Pi comes only with a very basic hardware and a simple operating system (OS), which is both a big strength and weakness. The fact that the OS is basic means that you can change it to suit your needs and lots of people around have used the Pi to do various projects like: weather balloons, data loggers, small-scale supercomputers, media centres, automating house electronic appliances, etc. At the same time the fact that the OS is basic means that people with very basic understanding of computer will not find the PI very friendly to use for daily tasks.

Carolina got the idea of using the Pi locally as a teaching and research tool and we set off to add more software on the OS so as to make this possible. For learners in high school we added an office suite application and kstars which can be used to teach or introduce astronomy, while for more advanced people who might be involved in research we added the entire scientific python libraries and mathematica both which are strong programming tools.

After presenting the project at a British High Commission event in Cape Town, we have now reached the last stage of our project: Testing. We intend to send a small amount of Raspberry Pis around to university students and school teachers for them to use and then to give us some feedback on the usability and new ideas on what could be added on the software aspect of this exciting project.

Watch this space…

(this blog was written by OAD intern Rajin Ramphul who has been leading the RPi@OAD project)