Time travel to the 1980s, when leg warmers were cool, the mullet was attractive, everyone was doing the ‘Thriller’ dance, and most importantly, kids were into programming. Now skip to 2012, leg warmers only get an outing at 80s discos, mullets are a no-no and well, we all know what happened to poor ol’ MJ...
Fear not, the 80s will make a come back, as the Raspberry Pi Foundation is planning to change the way we think about our modern-day computers by taking us right back to the roots of modifying, programming and generally messing around with technology.
Raspberry Pi wants to see a return to the level of interest and engagement in programming in kids that was seen twenty-odd years ago. It plans to do this by manufacturing a pocket-sized personal computer for under £20.
Liz Upton, Raspberry Pi spokesperson, tells PCR why she thinks people have lost interest in programming: “One of the things that has made programming so inaccessible to kids is the absence of a platform that they can be let loose on. The family PC is where Mum and Dad keep their work documents and do their banking. It’s an expensive piece of kit and it’s essential for the running of the family, so in many homes a kid can only use it in a very supervised way.”
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS THE RASPBERRY PI?
The Raspberry Pi is a credit card sized PC with an ARM GNU/Linux box, which can be plugged into a TV and keyboard. Its system-on-chip is a Broadcom BCM2835. Powered by a 5v micro USB lead or four AA batteries, the Raspberry Pi has the ability to handle spreadsheets, word-processing, games and Blu-ray quality video playback.
The Raspberry Pi stores data on an SD card, which makes it impossible to ‘break’ – if something goes wrong, all you need to do is reflash your SD card.
“We feel the price point encourages experimentation. You can power the Raspberry Pi with your phone charger, plug it into your television to use as a monitor, and use the SD card that came with your camera. So with that little overhead, parents are much more relaxed about letting their kids do what they want with a machine,” explains Upton.
The foundation has made sure that the PC has excellent multimedia capabilities, meaning it may become desirable as a very cheap way of getting yourself a media centre. “We hope this means that a lot of kids who aren’t necessarily attracted by programming will want to own one. Once it’s in their hands, we know that some of them will get sucked into doing a bit of coding on it too,” comments Upton.
The Raspberry Pi’s initial goal was to target the UK with the idea that computers should be affordable and easy for every single person. The attractiveness of the price along with the endless modifying possibilities has attracted some surprise attention, Upton tells us: “The press interest has been worldwide, and we’ve had a huge amount of correspondence from the developing world, where NGOs, universities, schools and businesses are asking us about using the Raspberry Pi as a desktop replacement machine.”
There are currently two models available: Model A costs around £20 and Model B, which comes with Ethernet, more memory and one extra USB port, costs under £30. The foundation is currently in negotiations with regards to the PC becoming available to retailers and resellers in the UK. PCR recommends keeping an eye on www.raspberrypi.org for any further developments.