View Full Version : Raspberry Pi: Rise of the $25 computer

08-28-2011, 11:53 AM
British group Raspberry Pi aims to inspire young programmers with a computer so inexpensive that schools could hand them out to students free of charge.

David Braben has a big idea crammed into a tiny frame. He and fellow members of the British nonprofit Raspberry Pi have designed a rugged computer powerful enough to perhaps inspire a generation of future programmers, yet cheap enough that schools can hand them out free of charge.The machine isn't much to look at. It's little more than chips on a stick. But Mr. Braben says that by next year, this ugly duckling of a prototype could grow into $25 computers tailored to students across Britain.

"Raspberry Pi came from a seemingly unrelated problem," says Braben, who's also chairman of Frontier Developments, a video-game company in Britain. He felt that the number of qualified computer science graduates had declined over the years. Curious, he consulted teachers and grew concerned about what he found.

Since the 1990s, he says, school computers have been little more than office tools. Students learn to write letters, produce spreadsheets, and generally operate Windows software.

"It's a useful skill for almost everybody, but the problem is that that can backfire," he says. "A lot of kids are already quite computer literate and [such lessons] come over as being very dull. Meanwhile, teaching computer science in schools I mean programming and using the computer creatively has all but gone away."

The creative spirit is there, he says. Just look at pop culture. Video games such as the blockbuster Halo:Reach, fan favorite Little Big Planet, and The Sims series have made millions by letting players design and craft their own worlds. Yet this is low-level programming. There's a gulf between the accessible but limited tools offered by popular games and the complex but expensive software used by the professionals who programmed them.

There was once a middle ground, remembers Braben. The Apple II, Acorn Electron, and BBC, Micro from the early 1980s required a little programming to make the most of them. If that peek behind the curtain interested kids, they were free to explore everything else the computers could do. Raspberry Pi hopes its machine can fill this role and renew interest in creative programming, especially among low-income families that couldn't afford a computer otherwise