Have toolkits such as the Raspberry Pi and the Arduino democratised ubicomp?

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This insight piece was penned by our co-founder Dylan McKee, and first written for Newcastle University’s Open Lab.

I think that without a doubt toolkits such as the Raspberry Pi and Arduino have helped to democratise the development of Ubicomp experiences by bringing down the financial and technical barrier to entry – as explained by this article from Gavin Walker of the Cambridge Design Partnership. In this post, I will be focusing on the proliferation of the Raspberry Pi to allow for creation, development and testing of modern ubicomp experiences.

The cost of entry to ubicomp research and development at all levels – from hobbyist to university researcher – has been brought down across the world: as this article in Electronics Weekly proves, detailing the use of the Pi in Prague, Czech Republic, to democratise electronics take up and project usage.

In addition to cost of entry being brought down by the Pi, the knowledge and skill required to enter the ubicomp development world has also been brought down – a prime example of this is the uptake of the Scratch graphical programming environment in schools, and the use of the Pi’s GPIO to incorporate real world sensors into Scratch programmes written on the Pi – as this article from the Raspberry Pi Foundation details. Clearly, 10 years ago, in an age before the Raspberry Pi, this simple would not have been the case, as significantly more electronics and programming knowledge would be required to achieve the same result.

Of course, this low barrier to entry only really benefits hobbyists, enthusiasts, and those in education – the vast majority of consumers could not care less about the opportunities offered by the Pi (no matter how useful they’d find the outcomes), simply because the mass-market consumer does not care about the implementation of ubicomp experiences – and indeed probably doesn’t even know they exist – they just enjoy the benefits of smart context-aware computing seamlessly in the pre-setup ‘off the shelf’ products they buy from large electronics manufacturers like Apple and Samsung – so in that respect, the democratisation is irrelevant and certainly has not happened simply because even the Pi requires some level of enthusiasm to want to learn to overcome the low barrier to entry.

To conclude, whilst the Raspberry Pi and Arduino have not democratised ubicomp as such for consumers as of yet, they have certainly helped to democratise and bring down the barrier to entry for ubicomp research and development by hobbyists and in education, and indeed to the implementation of ubicomp experiences by hobbyists. Additionally, they’ve certainly helped to bring ubicomp experiences more into the mainstream in education particularly – with the Pi’s uptake in primary schools for example, as discussed in this BBC article. Surely this can only be a good thing in terms of getting more people interested in the creation, research and development, and indeed even use of ubicomp experiences.

Interested in learning more about Raspberry Pi hack opportunities? Check out the Campus North based Tech for Life initiative…

Dylan McKee
Dylan McKee
Dylan McKee is the co-founder & CEO of Nebula Labs. He's a passionate technologist, excited app developer, and enthusiastic tea drinker. Dylan has a vast experience of mobile app development, developing his first iOS app - myAltitude - at the age of 13, which went on to achieve over 1 million downloads worldwide. Since then, Dylan has worked on countless apps over multiple mobile and web platforms for a variety of clients ranging from solo entrepreneurs and venture-backed startups to established SMEs and local government organisations. Dylan studied Computer Science BSc at Newcastle University, and is also an alumni of the Ignite Accelerator Programme, completing their Summer 2014 programme and working with many of their portfolio companies on mobile apps.

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