Raspberry Pi USB-PC to Inspire

The head of games house Frontier Developments, David Braben (Elite, Rollercoaster Tycoon, Lost Winds) is attempting to inspire a new generation of computer scientists by launching a micro-PC-on-a-chip for would-be technologists, entrepreneurs and hackers (in the best sense).

Braben has developed a USB-stick-sized PC that has an HDMI port at one end and a USB port at the other. Plug it into a HDMI socket, connect a USB keyboard and you a fully functioning machine running a version of Linux. Price? $25 or £15…

Under the charitable Raspberry PI Foundation, Braben is trying to reverse the decline of programming and machine-learning back into schools. Braben argues that education has turned too far toward ICT, which is not to diminish useful skills such as word-processing documents and creating presentations, at the expense of computer science skills such as programming and architectures and hardware. The answer? The creation of an ultra-low cost, open-platform, micro-micro computer which can be used in courses to promote the study of computer science and related topics, especially at school level, and to put the fun back into learning computing.

Raspberry plans to develop, manufacture and distribute this ultra-low-cost computer, not only for use in teaching computer programming to children but for many other applications both in the developed and the developing world.

Plug the ‘Raspberry Pi’ into a TV and a USB hub for a fully functioning computer or attach a touch screen for a low cost tablet. Able to run a variety of Linux operating systems for free, it remains to be seen if this device will inspire users to tinker with hardware and learn a bit of programming, , like the kit computers of the 1980’s. The Foundation hopes that teachers, developers and the government will put the device into the hands of children who may not have access to a computer at home, or not one they can mess with for the sake of learning.

There is even an appeal on the Foundation’s web-site: “how would you use an ultra-low-cost computer? Do you have open-source educational software we can use? Contact us at info@raspberrypi.org. ”

With a low-power consumption 700MHz ARM11 processor and 128MB of RAM, thePi runs OpenGL ES 2.0 allowing for decent graphics performance with 1080p output. With an SD card slot for storage it’s more than equivalent to a base level netbook. It is being demonstrated with additional modules attached such as a 12MP camera, likely to tap into the Arduino hardware-hacking space.

I don’t wish to sound like a sceptic, but we’ve seen initiatives like this before. One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) anyone? When will the Raspberry Pi device will become available? Braben says he hopes to be distributing it within the next 12 months. This sounds like such a fantastic and ground-breaking idea, I hope it succeeds. AJS

Provisional specification:

700MHz ARM11
128MB of SDRAM
OpenGL ES 2.0
1080p30 H.264 high-profile decode
Composite and HDMI video output
USB 2.0
SD/MMC/SDIO memory card slot
General-purpose I/O
Open software (Ubuntu, Iceweasel, KOffice, Python)

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