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'Inspiring' Raspberry Pi wins top UK engineering prize

Joseph Flaig

The Raspberry Pi (Credit: iStock/ pengpeng)
The Raspberry Pi (Credit: iStock/ pengpeng)

A microcomputer enabling everything from high-tech beer brewing to complex augmented reality systems has won the UK’s top engineering innovation prize.

The Cambridge-based Raspberry Pi team was awarded the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award last night, for revolutionising control systems and redefining how people engage with coding. The tiny, low-cost computer is programmable, letting everyone from primary school pupils to IBM inventors design their own applications.

The Pi beat Darktrace, a company creating an “immune system” to protect against cyber-attacks, and 3D camera-enabled radiotherapy pioneers Vision RT to win the prize. The team – Dr Eben Upton CBE, James Adams, Pete Lomas, Dom Cobley, Gordon Hollingworth and Liz Upton – received gold medals and a £50,000 prize at the awards in the Landmark London hotel. Director of engineering Lomas said he was “so pleased for the team and every member of our community that made it possible.”

The £30 microcomputer was launched in 2012 with the aim of increasing the number of computer science applicants to the University of Cambridge. The company has sold 14 million units since, with schools and increasingly industry using them. The Pi’s size, cost and adaptability means it is a popular choice for enabling Internet of Things (IoT) systems, which can collect data and trigger actions for vast numbers of everyday objects.

“What sets Raspberry Pi apart is the sheer quality of the innovation, which has allowed the computer to be used far beyond its original purpose,” said judging panel chairwoman Dame Sue Ion. “By blending old and new technology with innovative systems engineering and circuit board design, the team has created a computer that is cheap, robust, small and flexible. It is manufactured in the UK cheaper and at higher quality than elsewhere. Raspberry Pi’s original educational goal has actually resulted in a computer control system that can influence many different industries.”

"It has redefined home computing"

The team behind the Pi said its “apparent simplicity” relies on complex engineering. It is built in Wales by Sony, with printed circuit boards to stop them overheating and crashing. They also use a specialist microchip designed with Broadcom Ltd to limit power consumption while maintaining output.

The microcomputer has been used for everything from monitoring bees to augmented reality systems, automated farming to multi-room sound systems. The non-profit organisation uses money from a commercial arm to help teach coding at more than 10,000 “code clubs” around the world.

“With a team of engineers numbering in the tens, not hundreds or thousands, Raspberry Pi has redefined home computing for many thousands of people across the world, even taking 1% of the global PC market,” said judge Frances Saunders. “Their refusal to compromise on quality, price point or functionality has resulted in a highly innovative design that has taken the education and maker market by storm, and they have created a world-beating business in the process.”


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