Why Learn Programming and Electronics?
It’s not hard to argue the correlation between the technology innovation being developed by a country and its short-term prosperity – the more innovative a nation is, the more it is likely to create jobs, increase exports, etc. With that in mind, it was an ominous trend in the United that between 1985 and 1999, enrollment into university Engineering programs in the United States dropped by over 15%. Luckily, with the Internet boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, technology enrollment rebounded to nearly the mid-1980s numbers – but this time, there was a significant shift from Engineering disciplines to the Computer Sciences.
This shift shouldn’t be surprising – with the advent of the Internet, there has been a sharp increase in the use of high-level programming languages, application interfaces (APIs), virtual machines and graphical/visual programming interfaces. Internet companies have an extraordinary demand for high-level software developers, and with that demand comes opportunity for Computer Science graduates to earn large compensation packages – it’s no wonder the recent generation of technology graduates has embraced a software-focused education.
But, while there is certainly nothing wrong with an increased focus on software, the fact is, the increased number of abstraction layers in our software means that fewer and fewer of our graduating technologists are familiar with how hardware works. When the brightest of the bright stop focusing on hardware development, we run the risk of technology stagnating; Moore’s Law – the observation that integrated circuit capacities tend to double about every two years – is predicated on the fact that each generation of hardware engineers is more innovative than the last. And with national prosperity at least somewhat tied to innovation, the lack of technologists focused on hardware brings the risk of a stagnating economy as well.
Back in the mid-2000s, some folks at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory started to notice this trend of new students having less hands-on hardware experience. The hobbyists and electronics geeks who made up the bulk of the incoming freshman engineering class in the 1990s had been replaced with students who had little hands-on experience, and practically no hardware familiarity at all. The Cambridge folks surmised that the high cost of computer hardware and the excess abstraction of the software that sat on top of it was a roadblock to the younger generation getting hands-on experience with hardware interfaces. So, they set out to fix that problem.
By 2008, they had designed and implemented what would become the Raspberry Pi™ – a low-cost, single board computer with as much computing power as an iPhone! With an ARM processor, 512MB of RAM, an Ethernet port, USB ports and plenty of general purpose I/O (GPIO) pins, the Raspberry Pi™ has taken the hobbyist and Maker communities by storm. And a whole new generation of future engineers now has the ability to afford a platform that can provide an entire computer infrastructure on a credit card sized board that costs between $25-35.
With over five million Raspberry Pi™ boards sold in the past several years, it’s safe to say that our newest generation of hobbyists and hackers – as well as some of us older Maker folks – are taking advantage of the opportunity to build robust electronics projects and products for a fraction of cost of buying a computer just a couple years ago. Thanks to the Raspberry Pi™ and other low-cost single board computers recently hitting the market, it’s possible that one day soon, we may once again see a young generation of hardware tinkerers. Additionally, we’ll likely see a whole slew of new low-cost products and tools built around the Raspberry Pi™ and similar devices, opening up entrepreneurial opportunities to both Makers and average folks alike.
While the Raspberry Pi™ is an amazing tool in and of itself, we are looking to leverage its functionality to build something even more educationally powerful. With that goal in mind, we created the Ready Set STEM™ CREATOR Kit – a Raspberry Pi™-based kit aimed at formalizing the teaching of electronics, hardware and programming skills to both kids and adults. The Ready Set STEM™ CREATOR Kit pairs the Raspberry Pi™ with customized hardware, an integrated software development environment, rich content, detailed curriculum and a large repository of projects.
In short, the Ready Set STEM™ CREATOR Kit offers a cutting-edge learning tool that is both fun and functional.