When I was a lad my elder brother and father were busy tinkering with the internals of a ZX Spectrum. Unfortunately I was a little too young to be allowed into the same room as these amateur hackers (I would probably have done the annoying little brother thing of grabbing some ZX internals and running off to flush it down the loo). The hackers enjoyed copying endless pages of code from magazines to perform tasks that only a hardened techie would get excited about.
I am now considerably older and only slightly more grown up, however I feel that I missed a key part of my computing education by not being able to fiddle in the fundamentals of a computer. (The first hacking I did started on a 286 PC running DOS).
However all is not lost because a project based in Cambridge, UK is building a cheap and small computer that is designed for people to fiddle, furtle and poke it. The project is run by the Raspberry Pi foundation and the stated aim is to:
“…see cheap, accessible, programmable computers everywhere; we actively encourage other companies to clone what we’re doing. We want to break the paradigm where without spending hundreds of pounds on a PC, families can’t use the internet. We want owning a truly personal computer to be normal for children.”
So the aim of the project was to instil the enthusiasm for computing in the “up and coming“ generation. There has been a huge hoo-ha here in the UK recently with people questioning the value of ICT lessons in schools. The main issue being that the curriculum is too focused on using Office products rather than the fundamentals of computer science.
The hardware consists of the basic board (about the size of a credit card) with the chip (with RAM stacked on the top), SD slot for storage and OS, USB, HDMI, Power connector, RJ45 network port, Audio jack and a few connector ports. The aim is that enthusiasts build add-on boards that link to the basic board to extend the functionality. One of the Raspberry Pi team has already developed a board for operating motors. (http://www.raspberrypi.org/archives/500)
So what would you use it for?
Well other than it being fun to play with you could use it for a tiny media PC. There is an example of the Pi being used as an AirPlay receiver! (http://www.raspberrypi.org/archives/564). If you were doing the honourable education thing then it should become the core of some interesting school computing projects. But make the projects interesting, some examples are:
– Parent warning system (pressure sensors in the landing carpet)
– Bedroom alarm system for unauthorised access to off limit areas
– Smelly breath detector for preventing those awkward discotheque moments
– Mobile DJ rig
But can I afford to have this toy?
So when I went home one evening and told my wife that I knew what my next gadget purchase would be, she rolled her eyes and imagined a 6 month delay to the kitchen re-fit. However when I told her the price she smiled in a “whatever makes you happy” way. The price is a staggeringly low $25 for the 128MB RAM model and $35 for the 256MB model!
So hats off to the Cambridge boffins… go and get a slice of the Pi and support a good educational cause!
check out – http://www.raspberrypi.org/