Lake views from the Milwaukee innovation labs

Ryan Furness

Senior Engineer, Northwestern Mutual

3.14: How Our Pi (and Pie) Day Fair Sparks Creativity

Topics: Home.

Here at Northwestern Mutual, March 14th (3.14) has taken on a whole new meaning over the last couple of years as we've begun to celebrate Pi Day with something we call the "Raspberry Pi Day Fair." Essentially, we invite employees to showcase projects they've worked on that involve the use of inexpensive Raspberry Pi computers.

It started out three years ago, when one of my colleagues set up a little table outside the lunch room to show off his arcade game, and it grew from there. This year, the fair moved to our Cream City Labs space, where 15 people set up booths (like a science fair) to show off their work – mostly projects they've worked on at home that involve hardware, electronics and sensors to control lighting and other things.

A few hundred of our fellow employees came by to see what we were up to. Here's a sampling:

  • I demonstrated a magic mirror. When you walk up to it a sensor turns on, fires up some widgets and shows you your day: The weather in one corner and your calendar or news in the other.
  • One person showed off a RetroPie, which is basically a video game emulator. You can put Nintendo games on it, build little arcade cabinets and you recreate the nostalgia of being in an arcade in the 70s or 80s.
  • And then there was the guy who had an Alexa-powered, full-size Coke machine. Just say, "Hey Alexa, give me a Coke" and the machine would literally dispense a soda. It was incredible. He won the contest, by the way, and his prize? A Raspberry Pi.

So, how does all of this apply to Northwestern Mutual? Maybe someday we'll make it possible for people to ask, "Alexa, what's the current balance on my investment account?" or something along those lines. And maybe it will be developed by someone who attended our Pi Day Fair, got excited about what's possible, and started thinking about the new ways to use technology to benefit our company, our financial advisors and, most importantly, our clients.

That's the hope.

I actually saw it start to happen this year with one new, young employee who was straight out of school and seemed a little timid and reserved. He attended our Pi Day Fair and the very next day, came to one of our ideation workshops loaded with ideas! That's what it's all about – encouraging creativity.

And, of course, there was pie. A contest for the best-tasting pie and a free slice (or two) for anyone who attended.

All in all, I think our third Pi Day Fair was a success and I'm sure the tradition will continue. We're also thinking about hosting a bigger Maker's Fair here that's not just limited to Pi Day and the use of Raspberry Pi computers. So, if you're a maker – stay tuned!


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