The BBC Micro and Raspberry Pi

We love this video featuring BBC Micro co-designer Dr Sophie Wilson CBE and our own Eben Upton, both alumni of the University of Cambridge.

Eben owned a BBC Micro as a kid, and as an adult he set about designing Raspberry Pi to do what the BBC Micro had done for him: inspire widespread interest in computer programming.

The University of Cambridge Department of Computer Science and Technology has its own YouTube channel

Today, Sophie is a research fellow at Broadcom, where she designs microprocessors. Her list of titles and achievements is pretty impressive: as well as the BBC Micro, she designed Acorn Assembler and BBC BASIC. Together with colleague Steve Furber, she designed the first ARM processor, which originally powered Acorn’s computers and is now the core of virtually every mobile phone and tablet in the world. Sophie is a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the British Computer Society, and the Women’s Engineering Society, and is an honorary Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge. She has an honorary doctorate of science from the University of Cambridge, and a CBE.

Phew.

bbc micro computer
The BBC Micro computer

Sophie describes how failing her university maths degree led to undertaking a one-year computer science course while working at what became Acorn Computers. Our favourite tidbits from Sophie’s half of the video are that the prototype for the BBC Micro was made in just one week, and although the initial order was for 12,000 machines, they went on to sell more than one and a half million.

In Eben’s half of the video, he explains that Raspberry Pi is the coming together of two strands of his life: his interest in building low-cost hardware, and his time as a Director of Studies for computer science at Cambridge University. As a Director of Studies, he noticed a decline in the number of students applying to study computer science, and had an idea: he thought that if he could get affordable hardware into the hands of young people at the right point, it could spark an interest in taking computing further. To date, we’ve shipped out about 40 million Raspberry Pis.

Give it a watch! And remember to follow the YouTube channel of the Cambridge Department of Computer Science and Technology — aka Cambridge Computer Lab — for videos of the department’s research presentations, lectures, and seminars.

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Those were the days!
I remember booking myself onto one of the first 4 day Acorn dealers courses in about 1983 – I was 17 (at school supposed to be doing A Levels). I was the youngest person there, at the front asking all the questions. The course was quite expensive. To their huge credit I was never invoiced for that course by Acorn. I’ll never be totally sure but I’m sure John Coll ensured I didn’t pay. I remain grateful to this day!

Reply to Andrew Jones

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!boot if I recall correctly.

Reply to Old_skool

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BBC Micro in its day was very expensive, for some it was a month’s salary and despite the million and a half figure, actually few people had them. This is why Raspberry Pi is not the modern successor. Raspberry Pi is priced to be well within reach, BBC Micro, particularly Model B, was mostly aspirational.

Reply to Anders

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I would just like to remind readers that the BBC Micro was a development of the Acorn Atom and its Acorn predecessors. The Atom is not given the credit it deserves !

Reply to William H B Mawhinney

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Two great interviews ! I had read before that Sophie Wilson’s parents were teachers. I had no idea she grew up “in a house were my parents had made virtually everything”, what a brilliant environment for young engineer to grow up in.

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