A UK firm has developed a credit card sized, bare bones computer that could potentially revolutionise IT training in schools. The first model went on sale today, and promptly sold out.
The Raspberry Pi computer has been developed by a group of volunteers from the UK technology industry and the IT educational sector, and is aimed at schools and the disadvantaged to get computer programming back on the agenda in UK schools.
The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer board that plugs into a TV, a keyboard and to broadband. It runs a miniature ARM processor and performs much as a basic desktop PC does, perfect for operating spreadsheets, word-processing and some low-end games. Amazingly, it also plays full 1080P high-definition video.
The hard drive is provided by SD cards, which users can then install open source software and operating systems on, such as Linux.
The main focus of the device will be to provide a low risk computing environment for children in schools to fiddle with the machine and practise programming. Given the low price of the device, it is emminently replaceable without users worrying about breaking a mainstream computer that may cost more than £500.
It also means computing is once again affordable for the masses. £22 means that students could potentially purchase the device for themselves and do as they please, much like the early days of computing where programmers earned their stripes pulling Amstrad's and ZX Spectrums to bits.
The Conservative government has made the tech industry a centrepiece of its business and educational reform, supporting the Silicon Roundabout and scrapping the IT curriculum in favour of a more 'hands-on' approach.
The Royal Society released disturbing research in January that showed that there has been a 60% decline since 2003 in students achieving A-level Computing. Just 4,002 students achieved the grade last year.
The Model Bs have seen such a large demand from the community that it crashed the Raspberry Pi website, forcing them to restore it in a static layout. The organisations technology partners, Premier Farnell and RS Components, have had similar pressures placed on their websites and the units are already sold out.
Both websites now have a waiting list until the production can be ramped up to meet demand. Batch orders will be available in a month or so, as well as bundle deals which will include mice, keyboards and other accessories.
This first launch is aimed at software and hardware enthusiasts, makers, teachers and others who want to build exciting things with the Raspberry Pi before the official educational launch, which will happen later in 2012.
The device, while not self powered, draws comparisons with the 'one laptop per child' program, the brainchild of MITs Nicholas Negroponte. While focused on driving computer technology education in the third world, the goals and aims are the same - to reduce the digital divide.
Full Spec sheet - Raspberry Pi SBC (Model B)
- Broadcom BCM2835 700MHz ARM1176JZFS processor with FPU and Videocore 4 GPU
- GPU provides Open GL ES 2.0, hardware-accelerated OpenVG, and 1080p30 H.264 high-profile decode
- GPU is capable of 1Gpixel/s, 1.5Gtexel/s or 24GFLOPs with texture filtering and DMA infrastructure
- 256MB RAM
- Boots from SD card, running the Fedora version of Linux
- 10/100 BaseT Ethernet socket
- HDMI socket
- USB 2.0 socket
- RCA video socket
- SD card socket
- Powered from microUSB socket
- 3.5mm audio out jack
- Header footprint for camera connection
- Size: 85.6 x 53.98 x 17mm