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Raspberry Pi Could Open Doors to Computer Science

Have you heard of Raspberry Pi?

Not the dessert, but rather a small computer that’s been on the market a few years.

Raspberry Pi is about the size of a credit card – and it’s green, not red, as you might expect because of its name. It actually looks like a small circuit board.

The lack of frills – such as a casing, make it cheap – about $35, yet it operates as do some larger computers.

“It has ports and interfaces so that you can hook it up to a computer monitor or TV, so that you can hook it up to the network and add a keybord and a mouse,” Berna says.

Eric Berna is a software engineer by trade, but in his spare time, he’s a Raspberry Pi enthusiast. I found him working on it, at Milwaukee Makerspace in Bay View – an old warehouse hobbyists use.

Berna is trying to get his Raspberry Pi to interface with a GPS system, in hopes of creating what he envisions as a roving mascot.

“The thought is that we would make a device that people can take with them when they go travelling somewhere, whether it’s to Paris or to Mukwonago. And it would record where it’s gone and take a picture of where it’s been, and then report back to a website that we’d maintain at the Makerspace,” Berna says.

Berna says he’s still very early in the development and isn’t sure what the finished product will look like.

“I’m thinking something that will look a little cute and unthreatening so that we can travel with it and it doesn’t scare the TSA agents,” Berna says.

Berna says Raspberry Pi allows him to design things without a lot of expense. He claims the tiny machine has more capacity than the space capsule that landed on the moon in 1968.

Marquette University Computer Science Professor Dennis Brylow is also impressed.

“As these computers become ever smaller and ever more powerful, and ever cheaper all at the same time, I think a lot of what’s next, entails us realizing applications of where we can use computers now.

Brylow says even five years ago, today’s digital possibilities were unthinkable because of the cost of computers - and their limitations.

Today, his students are building their own small operating system for Raspberry Pi to replace the one it usually runs on - Linux.

Brylow calls the operating system the foundational layer of the machine, than enables its parts to communicate. Then people can use it create programs, or games or apps. The professor says the students’ system can also serve as a teaching tool because of its simplicity.   

“We have a small educational operating system that’s much, much smaller than Linux or Windows or ORS10 that is very useful for teaching courses on how these types of software systems work. So we’ve been working on transferring our existing system, because we think other colleges and high schools that want to use our curriculum materials and our software will be much more able to do that with a Raspberry Pi,” Brylow says.

What Raspberry Pi does, according to Brylow, is removes the intimidation factor for students. He hopes the low-cost gadget enables schools to turn out more qualified computer science graduates

Back at Milwaukee Makerspace, it’s clear that Raspberry Pi does not daunt Eric Berna’s son. Ten-year-old Damien says he loves almost everything about his.

“Actually, it’s pretty good if you don’t care about the speed of it or anything like that. It’s kind of slow, but for the operating system, it’s pretty optimized,” Damien says.

Who knows, maybe Damien will one day come up with a use for Raspberry Pi that changes lives.  Until then, he says he’s busy learning the ins and outs of computer programming.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.