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The Pi’s the limit


Students devise space experiments on electronics designed by Cambridge Judge EMBA participant.

School students across the UK are being given a chance to devise experiments in outer space with the Raspberry Pi computer, thanks in part to a slightly older student – a member of the current Executive MBA cohort at Cambridge Judge Business School.

 James Adams
James Adams

British astronaut Tim Peake will in November carry a special Astro Pi unit to the International Space Station, 400 kilometres above the earth’s surface. The Astro Pi electronics was designed by James Adams, director of hardware engineering at pioneering computer company Raspberry Pi and a member of the 2014 EMBA class at Cambridge Judge.

“It’s a little add-on board for the Raspberry Pi which has a bunch of sensors that interact with the outside world,” says James. “It has a gyroscope and magnetometer, plus sensors to measure things like humidity, temperature and pressure.”

Young programmers at schools across the UK are competing for the chance to run their own experiments on the Astro Pi when it goes into orbit at nearly 16,000 miles per hour. The competition kicked off in January, and the deadline is 3 April for the primary school competition and for secondary school teams to submit their concepts; the final deadline for secondary school teams to submit their full entries and computer code is 29 June.

Astro Pi
Astro Pi

“We’re making the hardware available free to schools within the competition, so they can use the exact same hardware that’s going into space,” says James. “In the longer term, we want to make it an official Raspberry Pi product, and we plan to make it available as widely and cheaply as we can.”

James became one of the original employees of Raspberry Pi after meeting founder Eben Upton (himself an EMBA alumnus) at the semiconductor company Broadcom. The Raspberry Pi is a low-cost computer the size of a credit card, which plugs into a computer monitor or television and uses a standard keyboard and mouse.

In 2013, a soft teddy bear toy named Babbage, controlled by a Raspberry Pi computer, leapt from a height of almost 24 miles high, after ascending beneath a hydrogen-filled balloon. The Astro Pi will take the Raspberry Pi project to commanding new heights.