The Raspberry Pi Foundation has opened its first retail store in Cambridge, UK. In addition to offering Apple some local competition in the critical tech-stores-named-after-tasty-fruit market, the store aims to introduce consumers who may not have heard of the RBP to the homebrew capabilities and custom computing options that the diminutive system is capable of.
The store, which you can see above, looks something like an Apple or Microsoft Store crossed with an old-fashioned Radio Shack. It’s easy to forget, given how long it has been, but the early homebrew computing kits and projects were themselves supported by a network of hobbyist retail chains and outlets. The best of these stores were the ones run by employees who actually knew something about the equipment they sold, and who could help you locate whatever hardware gadget or software solution you were looking for. Sometimes, if you got particularly lucky, you’d actually find an employee who knew the right BBS phone numbers for boards with people who had questions on particular topics.
Of course, for every story about the computer or electronics store employee who knew something to save your bacon, there’s probably ten stories about idiots who wouldn’t know a breadboard from a bread box or a serial port from a CD-ROM drive. So it goes. But there’s always been a value to physicality in computing, and to having locations one can visit that showcase both a product and what that product is capable of. That’s particularly true for RBP, where the decentralized nature of the product is part of its appeal, but also leads to a more fragmented space where it’s harder to keep track of all the cool things being done.
According to Gordon Hollingworth, Director of Software Engineering at Raspberry Pi, bringing more people into contact with the RBP ecosystem and showing them what the solution is capable of is the entire point of the new physical store.
“The concept is about trying to get closer to a less connected demographic, people who aren’t involved with technology, and show them that coding isn’t an inexplicable dark science reserved only for a few,” Hollingworth said. “Instead show them that it is possible, with the right instructions and an inquisitive nature, to learn about computers and coding.”
Hollingworth is right. I’ve never been a giant proponent of the “Learn to Code” philosophy as a guiding path to automatic employment, but there’s value in understanding the basics of how computers work. Introductory computer programming can be taught without requiring any specific reference language because programming is anchored in principles of logic. If this weren’t so, we never could’ve invented computing in the manner we did.
The store contains specific projects that visitors can experiment with. There are six booths in total to walk people through basic possibilities, including:
- Scratch GPIO control. Use Scratch to light up an LED.
- Get hands-on with coding. Use Python and buttons to control LEDs.
- Play with sensors. Use Python to control a Sense HAT.
- Make your home smarter. With a camera and distance sensor.
- Build an arcade machine. With a Picade console running PICO-8.
- Build an all-in-one multimedia center. A Kodi setup displaying how to create a media center with a Raspberry Pi.
Customers will be walked through the various projects by an RBP-powered touchscreen. Keyboard and mouse controls are already integrated, and the project can be reset to its base state with a single click.
“The idea is to give the user some confidence in their ability to follow the instructions,” Hollingworth stated. “Maybe just turn on an LED using Scratch, which will lead them to get the starter kit with the Raspberry Pi Beginner’s Guide and take their interest further.”
More information can be found at RaspberryPi.org. While this type of retail model probably won’t scale to rival Apple or even Microsoft, we’d love to see it take off in even a few locations worldwide. Creating an environment where people can experiment with computing and see the potential of what they can create for themselves sounds like a great way to hook people to us.
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