Raspberry Pi Contest Unlocks Coding Delights
Frazer Bennett had a ball as 40 schoolkids showed PA Consulting their Raspberry Pi skills
“PA Consulting’s Cambridge labs is normally a very exciting place to work,” says Frazer Bennett. “But on the day of the Raspberry Pi Competition it became a lot more fun.”
The Pi-making competition challenged schoolchildren in three age groups to “make the world a better place” using the Raspberry Pi computer and their coding and electronics skills.
The result was “a delight”, says Bennett, a technology expert at PA’s labs.
Fun with a Raspberry Pi
PA Consulting had 100 entries to its contest and on the day of the prize-giving, forty children showed up from 14 schools, each of which had built a Raspberry Pi project that made the list of 14 finalists.
Most of the projects emerged from schools’ computing clubs and robotics clubs. There were also adults, who entered the “open” category.
It wasn’t just a prize-giving day, says Bennett. The visitors put on an exhibition of their work, and had the run of PA’s labs, including rapid prototyping facilities and creative spaces.
The day also included plenty of “raspberry-themed food”, including cakes and fizzy drinks.
The judges spent time with each group before deciding on the overall winners. In many ways it was a bit like cult TV show Robot Wars, said Bennett, “but without the combat.”
The result was “a wake-up call for software and hardware engineers everywhere”, said Bennett. “The quality of what we saw produced was outstanding.”
Engineers and customers of the future
This was more than play. “In every case, what we saw was a demonstration of the idea, and the critical functions of what could become a product,” he said. “That is a very important step towards building a product.”
At least one of the projects will be taken on to the next steps of what could become a real-world product, he confided.
The winning entries all had serious intent – and there was a strong theme of using automation to make living easier and more efficient for people who are elderly, ill or forgetful. That might have been inspired by the goal of “making the world better”, but Bennett thinks what emerged shows a little more – perhaps showing that people have an instinct to use technology in helpful ways.
“There was quite a wide range of entries, and some had more to do with entertainment,” he said. “Usefulness wasn’t a criterion. We looked for groups that were creative and innovative, and worked as a team.” Even so, the most inspired projects all fulfilled a worthy purpose.
It was also not just about building things – it was about having the ideas of what could be built.
“Our motivation at PA was a concern for the next generation of both customers and employees,” he said. “Setting up a competition like this helps to inspire the next gen of people who will work for PA or be customers.”
And working with people this young means the competition has an eye on the future: “Some of the kids in this competition will graduate from University in 2025 – and I have no idea what the world is going to be like in 2025,” he said. “All I can guarantee is it is going to be very very different.”
The future of the competition itself is also in the air. It has obvious potential for television, of could expand into an international award.
“This year’s winners went away awarded and inspired,” said Bennett. “We are now planning future competitions.”
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