What’s boxy, green, and can fit in the palm of your hand? The Raspberry Pi, a computer the size of a credit card that looks more like a standard circuit board than a PC.
After years of development and several manufacturing delays, these $35 mini-computers were open for sale to consumers last week -- but they sold out within minutes, crashing the Raspberry Pi website.
The creators of Raspberry Pi designed these computers with a purpose: to have just enough memory to run basic software to teach students without computer access how to program. The idea came to Eben Upton, one of the founders of the UK charity the Raspberry Pi Foundation, when he was a computer scientist lecturer at Cambridge University in 2006:
Eben had noticed a distinct drop in the skills levels of the A Level students applying to read Computer Science in each academic year when he came to interview them. From a situation in the 1990s where most of the kids applying were coming to interview as hobbyist programmers, the landscape in the 2000s was very different; a typical applicant now had experience only with web design, and sometimes not even with that. Fewer people were applying to the course every year. Something had changed the way kids were interacting with computers.
Upon gathering a team of trustees including video game developers, hardware designers, business angels and (surprise!) computer scientists, Eben began developing a prototype.
The basic model for $25 is a circuit board that runs Linux with 256MB of RAM, and has various jacks including USB and HDMI, and SD card slots for data storage. And the $35 model additionally includes an Ethernet hookup.
Despite its educational goals, computer developers are envisioning many uses for the cheap, tiny computers. According to IT World:
[T]echnology enthusiasts also see opportunities to use Raspberry Pi. Developers began writing media center, educational and multimedia streaming applications for the PC after it was announced in May.
There are some limitations to that, though. Raspberry Pi can't run WINE, an emulator that allows Linux users to run Windows programs. Keeping limitations in mind, some hobbyists are looking to use the Pi as a more powerful version of boards such as Arduino for applications like robotics.
However, the whole point is to ensure that anyone, despite money or background, has a basic tool for practicing how to program computers. “We want to break the paradigm where without spending hundreds of pounds on a PC, families can’t use the internet,” says the Raspberry Pi website. “We want owning a truly personal computer to be normal for children.”
The educational version, available in the fall, "will come with a kid-targeted software stack, a heap of written support materials, and a standard case."
Photo: Flickr/Jared Smith