How Raspberry Pi is changing the game for creatives and clients

Imagination_Shell_Eco-marathon (18)Since its release in 2012, the Raspberry Pi has become a Great British innovation success story, selling over million units in its first 12 months, and even sitting alongside the likes of Sir Ranulph Fiennes and as a cover star on Wired magazine.

But this uber-flexible mini computer, originally intended as a simple computer to get kids into computer science, is fast becoming an innovation tool of choice for the creative industry too – helping to reshape the creative process, with knock-on commercial benefits for clients.

In a nutshell the Raspberry Pi is a very simple, flexible, cheap computer. About the size of two KitKats, and selling for around £20, it bristles with ports that allow you to connect anything from a monitor and keyboard to motion sensors and any other input devices and output device you like, as well as an SD card (that acts as the hard drive) and ethernet port to connect to a network.

Where previous ‘bigger is better’ generations might have scoffed at its simplicity, in this highly creative but resource-constrained era the Raspberry Pi is that rare thing: a digital device that is perfectly specc’ed for the job.

To give an example from a recent piece of work – when we created the Shell Energy Lab in Rotterdam (pictured), we wanted it to be a completely networked experience – where visitors could collect digital content throughout a huge exhibition space, and use RFID cards to vote in polls, submit opinions and create personalised souvenirs.

The Shell Energy Lab is an immersive experience that encourages families to see the world in 2050, to grapple with the challenges that we will face as a planet – from the food, water and energy that a growing population will require, through to examples of innovative approaches to mobility and energy generation.

To create this totally connected experience, we needed to effectively create an ecosystem, synchronising dozens of digital interaction points that were embedded into walls and attached to physical objects, feeding data out into the cloud and up to big screens.

In the past, this would have required a serious amount of Mac Minis or other similar full-scale computers. With the Pi, our development teams could not only make major savings in terms of hardware, but also efficiencies in weight and energy consumption – the solution became part of the story.

Breaking down the barriers to innovation
The beauty of the Pi comes down to three key areas – power, size and cost.

First: Power. The Raspberry Pi is the physical embodiment of Moore’s Law – for a small box it packs a serious amount of power, it’s designed for networking and its graphics card is surprisingly good, so a single box can support realtime rendering, pushing feeds out across a network to any screen with minimal hassle.

That power becomes even more significant when you consider the size – the fact that it is barely bigger than a smartphone means that suddenly anything can become connected and responsive. Where before you needed bulky boxes, now we can embed processing power and interactivity into architecture, products and wearables – it bridges the gap between the digital and physical worlds.

And perhaps the best thing from a client point of view is that all this creativity comes in at a fraction of the cost of what it might have previously. The savings in terms of hardware, logistics and energy consumption are considerable – meaning that creativity and ROI really do come hand in hand.

Narrowing the gap between ‘cool’ and ‘feasible
But it’s not just ROI that Raspberry Pi has improved; it’s also changing the creative process.

Because it’s open source, and designed to be hacked, it is an incredibly good innovation tool.

As Matt Jakob, our Lead Creative Technologist puts it: “Raspberry Pi is like clay – we can customise it, we can mould the technology as if it is a creative resource. We can build things that meet our needs right now that are designed with the experience in mind.

Jack Chalkley, another one of our creative technologists describes how in concepting he would think about “what would be cool, then what would be feasible” the Pi narrows the gap between cool and feasible.

And once an idea has been concepted, the time to prototype is significantly lower.

The result – we’re finding that this remarkable little device is not only changing the brand experiences that we create, it is changing the way that we create them, resulting in better, smarter and more innovative ROI for our clients.

Tom Gray is Senior Creative Strategist at Imagination.