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A 15 pound computer to inspire young programmers

Rory Cellan-Jones | 12:50 UK time, Thursday, 5 May 2011

It's not much bigger than your finger, it looks like a leftover from an electronics factory, but its makers believe their £15 computer could help a new generation discover programming.

The games developer David Braben and some colleagues came to the BBC this week to demonstrate something called Raspberry Pi. It's a whole computer on a tiny circuit board - not much more than an ARM processor, a USB port, and an HDMI connection. They plugged a keyboard into one end, and hooked the other into a TV they had brought with them.

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The result, a working computer running on a Linux operating system for very little, and a device that will, like the kit computers of the 1970s and 80s, encourage users to tinker around under the bonnet and learn a bit of programming. And it's a yearning to return to those days that is driving Braben and the other enthusiasts who are working to turn this sketchy prototype into a product that could be handed to every child in Britain.

They believe that what today's schoolchildren learn in ICT classes leaves them uninspired and ignorant about the way computers work. David Braben says the way the subject is taught today reminds him of typing lessons when he was at school - useful perhaps in preparing pupils for office jobs, but no way to encourage creativity.

Raspberry Pi is a non-profit venture, whose founders are mostly part of Cambridge's thriving technology sector. Their hope is that teachers, developers and the government will come together to get the device into the hands of children who may not have access to a computer at home or would not be allowed by parents to "muck about with it".

In some ways, the project resembles the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) scheme, which sought to create a laptop for children in the developing world at a cost of $100. OLPC was successful in promoting the idea of cheap computing, spawning lots of netbook imitators, but has struggled to get the price as low as they promised and to convince governments to back the idea.

There's a lot of work for Raspberry Pi to do. The volunteer team has to produce a better working prototype, has to show that it really can be manufactured for around £15, and then has to capture the imagination of the people in the educational establishment who will decide whether to give it the thumbs up.

So there is no guarantee that a new generation will discover that there's more to a computer than turning it on, updating your Facebook status, and making a Powerpoint presentation. But wouldn't it be great if an idea dreamed up by a group of Cambridge enthusiasts ended up inspiring young people here and perhaps across the world to engage with computers in a new way? I will keep you up to date here with how Raspberry Pi develops and my colleagues on the BBC's Click technology programme will also be taking a look at the project.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I like it a lot. Often in ICT you don't have the opportunity to explore into more interesting areas beyond office. In fact I know quite a few schools that only do ICT and not computing the difference between the two should be emphasized. This would also go along way to teaching kids to learn by tinkering which is a fun while your learning and quite often the theory will be learnt along with that tinkering.

  • Comment number 2.

    The incredible success of computing has created an immense gulf between programming and use. Any project that creates an understanding of these systems (perhaps, rather than the illusion of understanding) is worth encouraging. For those that enjoy programming, a taste of the real deal and an early start, will enrich both them and society in the long term. Arduino is an established project that achieves much of this; the difference being that here we have a full 32bit OS with graphics, keyboard etc, whereas arduino is a microcontroller, with electrical inputs and outputs, for switches, LEDs etc. There is a bit of convergence going on, but the two are different creatures, and there's much to learn from both. The two combined cover a broad spectrum of computing from the simplest 8-bit CPU to a 32-bit CPU with virtual memory & multi-tasking.

  • Comment number 3.

    Cool idea.

    Those ICT classes were boring. Didn't prepare me for anything as I am not focused on a career sitting in an office on a computer.

  • Comment number 4.

    Definitely a very good idea. Virtually all of the people studying with me at university in the disciplines of electronics, software and computer engineering got here in spite of our school education in ICT and physics, by tinkering with things like this in our spare time.

    Computers are a wonderful and powerful tool, and anything that can inspire young minds to wonder what they can do and how they work is an excellent idea, and will be required to ensure that this country can hold its own in the high-technology sector in the future.

  • Comment number 5.

    Raspberry Pi is certainly an innovative idea. Take a mobile phone, strip off the keypad, display and the RF and you also have a tiny Linux box.

    Be good to see this venture succeed, and prove that they can be sold for £15.

    My first computer cost me £30 in 1983 and sure taught me a lot about programming.

    We do however need to have a major rethink on what language we teach the future programmers - going back to basics gets my vote

    @monsonite

  • Comment number 6.

    It would be nice if this worked, but I suspect that it won't. A dedicated device for tinkering with is only going to wind up in front of people that already know they want to tinker (or have parents that want them to). The computers that a lot of us started on weren't there to be tinkered with; they were there to do normal things like word processing, or playing games. It was in the course of doing normal stuff that we found we could tweak things about.

    What we need is for the hordes of systems we already have, the phones, the games consoles, and indeed the desktop PCs, to be more hacker friendly so that people have a way in from their ordinary lives.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm sure I'm not the only American who was thinking "that's a heavy computer!" before reading the article.

  • Comment number 8.

    There is a great big yawning chasm between those that use software products, gamers perhaps, and those that program.
    Programmers, of course, now have a choice of high level languages and compilers etc with which to rapidly develop nice looking programs.
    But the ground level is slowly but surely being emptied of people that know what the ubiquitous micro can do at its simplest level. Bloatware is king.
    Micros are now blisteringly fast and cheap. Compilers are good. It is churlish to suggest that small and simple can be quick. Why bother when there is so much power available. And it is proven, certified as good and reliable. I wonder if programmers really understand what the micro can do however. Use this module to do this task. But what about really smart but different tasks? Are real programmers in danger of becoming extinct? Will they be missed? Have they had their day?

  • Comment number 9.

    you could try the STM32L-DISCOVERY from STMicroelectronics, it features a microcontroller with a 32bit ARM M3 Cortex core and LCD, Two user LEDs, Two pushbuttons, a touch sensing slider and four touch keys.
    It has an extension header for LQFP64 I/Os for quick connection to prototyping board and easy probing.
    You can get it for less than a tenner at Farnell and it is available now.
    (it will run uLinux too if you want it to :)

  • Comment number 10.

    Why not just buy a cheap repairable 500 mhz laptop on ebay remove the processor and replace with an 800 mhz from the same intel processor list on wiki and install linux 10.10 plus a wireless card which linux automatically detects , max 256 megabytes memmory required and then sit back and enjoy full screen bbc iplayer.

  • Comment number 11.

    I'm inclined to agree with SirLoinsaaalot. Although this is a GREAT idea, there is also the potential to achieve the same thing with second user gear. I've got a modestly powered small machine that cost me around £50 including a recent hard drive upgrade. http://bumblebee.homelinux.net

  • Comment number 12.

    Interesting device, but I think there are better ways to introduce kids to programming. MIT's "Scratch", for example.

    http://scratch.mit.edu/

    Or, if you want to get started on robotics and control systems, there is the excellent Basic Stamp or one of the PIC based starter kits.

    And if you want to learn about Linux, just look in the local ads for a cheap computer "for sale" site for under £50) and use that (found several on a local site, including a useful 2GHz Duron based box for £40).

    I agree with comments about "ICT" teaching in schools. Its more about teaching secretarial skills and contains very little real "computing" content. Calling this subject "Information and Communication Technology" is like calling driving lessons "Automotive and Engineering Technology".

  • Comment number 13.

    This type of initiative is long overdue.
    As part of a generation that were inspired to get involved in programming by the accessibility of products like the MK14, BBC Micro and Apple II, I have watched with sadness as ICT has replaced Computer Science.
    I'm not sure whether, in the age of the Ipod, PS3 and 3DTV, becoming a programmer gets a look-in compared with being a user but, if the downward trend continues, the UK software development industry will not survive against the huge growth of the programming centres in other parts of the world.
    So, instead of discussing the platform, "UK Software PLC" needs to support a single initiative which reverses the trend.

  • Comment number 14.

    Those that have the interest (i.e those above) will find a way to get ‘geekier’ (sorry guys) regardless; the rest (majority) will use Facebook or play games on their Xbox or Playstation with no interest in what goes on under the bonnet.

    There is a point to the fact that most ‘computer’ training nowadays, both in schools and adult education, is focused on using applications (ICT) in a work setting, not on computer science. This is driven by the demands of employers and supported by Govt. due to pressures to reduce unemployment. Unless that emphasis changes I doubt the overall situation regarding what is taught will change.

    It’s also worth pointing out that most ordinary users struggle with everyday applications; only a minority become highly proficient users of applications - or of the web.

  • Comment number 15.

    The team would be well advised to look at Gameduino, which should be in the hands of those who backed it on Kickstarter, in the next few days... It's a shield for Arduino, which has already been mentioned in comments. http://excamera.com/sphinx/gameduino/ . I'm all for this sort of initiative to bring back simple(ish) computing: learning to program on the Commodore 64, Spectrum or whatever was simple and actively encouraged. Nowadays, it's quite a lot more complex, and can be quite a lot more expensive...

    This

  • Comment number 16.

    This is an important advance that encourages a move away from the school ICT classes that tend to teach young people skills in "consuming computing" rather than being "creative" with computing.

    At the same time this development has the potential to meet a vital skills shortage identified in the recent Livingstone Hope Skills Review for the UK Video Game and VFX sectors (http://bit.ly/m16jR0%29 along with many other reports that show how many education systems are not nurturing relevant skills in STEM let alone computer science.

    David Braben gave an excellent talk on this subject at the Learning Without Frontiers Festival last January:

    http://bit.ly/lwftalk-dbr

  • Comment number 17.

    Hi there Rory :) I myself do know how to Program, at the age of 13 - surely it's not a matter of cost, but a matter of knowledge - whether or not you have it is different from whether you know it, IMO.

  • Comment number 18.

    @14 SheffTim

    Do not mock geeks, for it is written "Blessed are the Geeks: for they shall inherit the Earth".

    Seriously, though, while there is a place for IT training in schools, it is quite shocking that, in our computer dominated world, first-principles computer science education is so poorly provided for.

  • Comment number 19.

    Firstly, why is David Braben not working on his long overdue Elite sequel? Bad Man.

    Secondly, all children should be taught to program to some level. We live in a world dominated by computers and the ability to use Hotmail and Facebook does not equate to computer literacy. These people are going to grow up in an increasingly digital world, and the level of understanding and appreciation of how that world works is fundamentally lacking.

    In my office, there are people of 18-22 who should be far more integrated into technology than I am, even as a programmer (alright, I do VBA but it still counts!). It's frightening how many people are still afraid of Excel formulas when their jobs and lives could be made infinately easier just by understanding how the computer thinks.

    Still, a step in the right direction is always a good step.

    Now if only they could produce a £15 Smartphone...

  • Comment number 20.


    "There is a point to the fact that most ‘computer’ training nowadays, both in schools and adult education, is focused on using applications (ICT) in a work setting, not on computer science. This is driven by the demands of employers and supported by Govt. "

    And supported by companies like Microsoft to keep their monopoly.

  • Comment number 21.

    I'm not sure how the cheapness of the item will encourage people to program.

    To my mind there are two main things discouraging people from 'tinkering' with programming.

    1) The first is the complexity nowadays. Back in the 1980s, you didn't have multitasking, fancy graphical APIs, object oriented programming etc, you just had BASIC. Now, that scenario is not ideal for 'real' programming, but it's great for 'tinkering'. And 'tinkering' is what can lead to people having an interest and realising that all the rest of the stuff is really useful. If you dump everything onto someone at the start, all it does is discourage them before they have chance to get enthusiastic. There are programs (eg Alice) which can help with getting people enthused, but they're quite hard to find, and don't come with the computers (as BASIC did, way back when). So, people have to make a determined effort to 'tinker', rather than it being the natural thing to do with a computer.

    2) ICT lessons at schools teach children that computers are basic business tools, and give them very little, if any, insight into how truly amazing they are. As other organisations have started to dare to say, computing needs to be taught differently at schools, by teachers who are enthusiastic, and to the few kids who are really interested, and in a much more technical way. Excel/Word/email/Internet/etc should be taught in maths/science/English/history lessons, not in computer lessons.

  • Comment number 22.

    Bring back the BASIC programming language of the 1980s! Make it work with this thing! Thats how to get kids back into these things. They've gotta start off with toys then progress to more complex gadgets...

  • Comment number 23.

    #13 mrgazak wrote:

    'So, instead of discussing the platform, "UK Software PLC" needs to support a single initiative which reverses the trend.'

    The BBC microcomputer (models A & B) and associated programs kickstarted the UK software industry, if you ask the people at ARM (in Cambridge) they will all have had exposure to those machines.

    A new initiative based on C, Assembler and the ARM architecture (at least 3 ARM chips are in every smart phone), funded by Central Government, the BBC and private industry (perhaps you could StrongArm ARM themselves :) could give the software/hardware design industry a much needed influx of new blood.

    My kids use Scratch (referenced above), it is excellent for learning the basics of programming (sequence, selection and iteration).







  • Comment number 24.

    It used to be joked that younger people were better with computers than the old. But successive governments focus on sending everyone to university and destroying the value of a university education has turned students away from harder courses like computer science. As a country we will be hitting a skills shortage in years to come unless computing is taught properly in schools.

  • Comment number 25.

    I think it's a great idea that will certainly help prepare our next generation of computer technicians and programmers. But don't think it will encourage any more than would normally have been interested: the cheapness or ubiquity of any device isn't usually a factor in people's interest in looking under the hood. Most people prefer to be just users of technology. After all, almost every home has a TV, but how many people are capable of fixing one if it goes wrong, or even know precisely how it works? Ditto cars. It's more down to a natural interest in how stuff works, and many people, particularly women, simply don't have it.

  • Comment number 26.

    The teaching of computing in schools is the same as teaching basic science, or perhaps that is being generous. It is perhaps more like "life skills" classes, and yet we still have Physics, Biology and Chemistry which are much more difficult than "Life Skills" or "Computing". Dare I suggest that a real "Computer Science" course would be much more useful to students these days than Biology or even Physics?

    There are quite a few IT people who, in this difficult economy, who could re-train and teach Computer Science in schools and I think with some effort the standards could be raised sufficiently that we could do away with useless University courses like "Business Information Technology" because even GCSE graduates could have the same level of technology knowledge if they were sufficiently driven.

    Dare I suggest? Lets make Britain a world leader by actually having GCSE Computer Studies become Computer Science!

  • Comment number 27.

    I have to agree that nowadays, in my school at least, ICT is focused on teaching pupils how to use micro$oft applications- the operating system, the office package even the web browser is micro$oft, but I suppose this is how they make their empire- we recently had all our machines 'updated' to windows 7, considering that they used to struggle with xp but no- windows seven is newer and has lots of prety GUI add-ons that consume the processors, making them paperweights that crash every 5 seconds. As a linux user I'm heavily biased however as my 1.6 ghz netbook is far faster than any of the schools 'new' computers that the government have spent a lot of money on, so that they are 'compatible' with other micro$oft applications, even though they are. Personaly I blame micro$oft and maybe even apple, for the mass consumerisation of computers making people think little more than pushing a button, waiting, clicking on the 'little button to the internet' (the internet explorer icon) and going onto facebook through witchever search engine micro$oft make them (bing). Apsolutly no thought goes into the computer itself, as I recently found out when my mother actually asked where "microsoft word" was on my Linux desktop. Personaly I see little reason why they don't stop wasting so much money on mico$ofts corrupted kernel and install free- open-sourced alternatives, but that would be sensible.

  • Comment number 28.

    I don't understand. Why, because the computer is cheap, will it necessarily encourage its owner to learn how to program?

  • Comment number 29.

    @Porygon#27 Microsoft and particularly Apple both make good products for a consumer desktop computer. There is more available skills in the market to support these platforms in an education environment and there is not necessarily a problem with closed source software. Although I do think that the government should invest in and contribute development resources to open sourced software projects.

    I think that there needs to be a split in the teaching of computing to school pupils which sees basic computer skils, software application use and the responsible use of the internet be taught in one class: Perhaps Business Studies. These skills are needed by all, and are as important as Maths, English and science.

    A second class called computing should focus on technology, logic, computer architecture, software development and introductions to other subjects that would be found on an undergraduate computer science course.

  • Comment number 30.

    An ethernet port (not USB) alternative would be of more use. Like being able to access remotely, and have lots networked in a system.

  • Comment number 31.

    From what I remember about ICT in schools (~10 years ago and no doubt things have changed) but the lessons were uninspiring; the focus should be on the sheer possibilities that computers pose, as well as programming more as an art form rather than a dry set of procedures.

    Cheers,
    Matt

  • Comment number 32.

    @AndrewWood#27 If the money spent by government on purchasing MS Word was instead invested in the continuing development of an open source alternative, two things would happen: 1) Huge sums of money could be saved, and 2) the alternative would become the industry standard.

    When a government minister responsible for IT has concerns that open source software can be hacked more easily (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12905303 paragraph #17), clearly it's not just school kids who could benefit from being better educated. Here's Whitfield Diffie on security through obscurity:

    http://www.zdnet.com/news/risky-business-keeping-security-a-secret/127072

    The only way to get a general grasp of the underlying aspects of computing is by building and experiment and fun.

  • Comment number 33.

    Well done Rory, for getting out of your Twitter/Facebook/Google/Apple comfort zone and giving us some real tech for a change.

    You have highlighted a problem that needs addressing, how to inspire young programmers. Kids in a peer group who like to tinker with computers will do so regardless of what's on offer in the classroom. To widen the appeal of programming then classes need to teach this, rather than classes which only teach how to use MS Office.

    Is this Raspberry Pi device going to help? I don't think so. It's certainly seems impressive for its size, maybe not that impressive given the advances in integrated circuit technology. However it is possible to pick up a second hand PC, say 3 years old, which will have a much better spec and comparable price to this device. Install Linux and away you go. Schools could also extend the life of PCs by installing Linux.

    Now before you all say 'Linux is only for geeks', it's the new generation of geeks that we are talking about! Plus with Linux you can 'get under the bonnet'.

    Linux distros have repositories of free and open source software where you can find compilers for C, C++, Basic, Java, Pascal. There are also IDEs like Anjuta, Bluefish, Gambas, NetBeans. There are programming tools and debuggers. All free and open source. Microsoft, Apple and other closed source are NOT suitable here, they are too locked down to tinker with.

    Rory, I understand from your blog that you are going to keep an eye on the Raspberry Pi, bear in mind that this project depends on free and open source software in general and Linux in particular.

  • Comment number 34.

    #8 In the minds of old foggies like me, anyone who goes around using APIs is not a *REAL* programmer. If anyone who can address the chip directly and write code in a handful of bytes (max) is a real programmer. Therefore, your assertion is quite right. Real programmers are getting very thin on the ground and everyday another one bites the dust and that's another one less !!

    Where will the next generation come from ??

  • Comment number 35.

    #21>>Back in the 1980s, you didn't have multitasking, fancy graphical APIs, object oriented programming etc, you just had BASIC.

    Err...I seem to remember that there was a plethora of "microprocessor" based unix(es), the most common of which was SCO Unix. Having worked with them and having written a couple of device drivers for one of them, I think I can quite safely say that they were rather multi-tasking !!

    Admittedly, there were no fancy graphics but there was OO programing in the form of C++ from Stroustrup. And you could actually compile them using the GNU compilers !!

    And before BASIC existed, there were things like Algol and Fortran which worked quite well. Pascal came out about that time, too. And if you wanted to go a bit lower-level, there's always C ! Or get deep down and dirty with Assembler !!

    I'd like to say that I fully support the idea of re-igniting the love of learning by "tinkering" but I'd like to add that one possible avenue is to take a tried and tested, and fully debugged program source code from the Open Source lot and go through it line by line and figuring out what it does and *WHY* it does them like that.

    Finally, as a fully paid-up member of good standing of the Boring Old Farts, I'd like to say *they don't make kiddies like they used to* !!

  • Comment number 36.

    The price point is interesting. There are similar albeit higher priciest (and rather more capable alternatives).

    I for instance have 2 Guruplugs (superceeded by the dream plug)

    http://www.newit.co.uk/shop/products.php?cat=21

    These are good testbeds but also suffer (in my opinion) the same way the solution being mooted above does. The ARM processor is basically only so useful (and yes I knew Arm Assembler on my old Archimedes). It's big advantage is it's Watts to mips ratio. It draws very little juice, but it is truly gutless compared to modern X86 desktops. In order to work efficiently you have to build a cross compiler environment. I hate doing this with a passion it never works properly and all sorts of rubbish crawls out the wood work. I prefer my small target to be binary compatible with my big build system. A system with the power draw of an ARM but with an X86(-64) instruction set would be a killer. Maybe the Atom will get there one day.

  • Comment number 37.

    Where will the next generation come from ?? #34

    I know some UK companies that already head-hunt Indian IT graduates, programmers in particular.

    US companies also head-hunt east Asian and Indian computer grad's each year.

    Japan, Taiwan, S. Korea, India (and now China) etc. have good university systems, often backed by established technology industries; their best graduates are highly skilled.

    The UK is already well behind some other countries in technology and unless some initiative is made to keep interest in 'high level' computing alive in UK schools and universities then, yet again, the UK will see itself completely sidelined in an important sector.

  • Comment number 38.

    There is already enough programming related resources available for free for anyone interested to get started in programming - on Windows or Linux. Given that most people have a computer, it's not the cheapness that's the issue. Rather it's inspiration that is missing. We don't have any inspirational technology figures being lauded that children want to emulate - and the criticism has to go to the media as well as people in general as they are there but technology seems to be completely faceless. There aren't the technology programs on TV to inspire - what there are tend to be gadget oriented. There are a few children who are keen to start off in programming but they don't seem to be always given the necessary advice to start them off - and their parents don't know what to suggest either. Computer technology - not just programming but a wider range of skills - definitely needs to be brought back into the classroom. These days it isn't that difficult to learn how to use specific applications, and I would argue that most of these are better taught in a Business Studies class anyway. There are good things about the ICT classes - they do focus on design which is a major part of any task these days - but when you consider that in the 70's children were being taught to program from the age of 14 you have to wonder why that has changed.
    Bit of a ramble but in a world where computer skills are going to be key to any occupation, it's inconceivable that it is focussing on use and isn't being taught along the same lines of Physics, Chemistry, and Biology.

  • Comment number 39.

    It's an interesting device, but in terms of getting people into programming I don't think it is particularly effective. Teaching kids "BASIC" would not be a good idea as very little of the techniques would be transferable to modern languages that are actually used. Microsoft's development tools are practically free to schools as it is, so the expense that businesses have is not really a relevant factor. With such good tools almost free, the opportunity to get people into programming is already there.

    As for the usual "M$" nonsense that is spouted on here with people going on and on about how bad everything Microsoft make is…what can say…ask 77 million PlayStation users what they think of the alternatives :) (that's when they've finished cancelling their credit cards and changing all their passwords)

  • Comment number 40.

    I think one of the most likely reasons for the take-up was because this was an original story that wasn't covered anywhere else. I follow you on twitter, but still ended up watching this video through a link on the Slashdot article http://tech.slashdot.org/story/11/05/06/122233/A-25-PC-On-a-USB-Stick which linked to your youtube video.

  • Comment number 41.

    #25: It's more down to a natural interest in how stuff works, and many people, particularly women, simply don't have it.

    I'm a woman, I have a computer science degree, and I work as an IT technician. I suspect that being brought up to ask "what does that do?" had far more of an influence on my career choice than my gender did. I also suspect that the low proportion of women working in IT is related to being exposed to sexism during childhood, rather than through any intrinsic tendencies.

  • Comment number 42.

    As many people have already said, I doubt the cheapness of the device in question is the real selling point. A computer running Linux can be put together or recycled from an older windows PC for very little as it is.

    The real problem is how computers are perceived by children these days, and how computing is taught/available in schools. Computers are perceived as a consumer items, because they are, unlike in the eighties where computers were only really becoming used in schools, and they were therefore novel and interesting. Equally home computers only became available/affordable then and again it was all new and we wanted to learn more about it. It was how I got into IT, then Uni, and ended up as a .NET programmer (via BASIC, Pascal, C, C++, Unix Admin, various databases and 4GLs...)

    We need to be deliberately teaching children that they can be programmers, that it can be fun, that it needn't be difficult or complicated (at least not to start with).

    A computing summer class I went to (computer science was rubbish in my school too) used a very simple language I cant remember the name of, but it involved controlling a small robotic device with three or four coloured pens, and the program you came up with basically just drew a picture on a piece of paper. Everyone loved it. Surely we can come up with better these days?

  • Comment number 43.

    @9 An STM32 will not run Linux it doesn't have a MMU. It might run uCLinux...dog slowly!

  • Comment number 44.

    I have been an IT professional for over 20 years. Like many of my contemporaries, my first faltering steps into the world of programming began on a BBC Micro in the early '80s. Those early microcomputers were designed to be programmed and all of them had a programming language built in - usually BASIC. With modern computers, the graphic interface is designed specifically to appeal to the average person, and to avoid being tarnished with the geek brush. BUT it is still possible to go 'under the bonnet' with a PC. Programming basics can be learned with languages such as PHP or LUA, and it will take any kid with an interest minutes to find out about these on the internet.. All the same, a £15 computer running LINUX is a fascinating prospect, and, if successful, is bound to have an impact not just on education, but on the industry in general.

  • Comment number 45.

    A little computer that attaches to a monitor device (HDMI) that will still require a keyboard. Cost, 15 bucks. Nope! It cost more. It fails to use legacy hardware. It is useless by itself and most kids that do not have computers are far more clever that you think.

    Right now, thousands of laptops and computers are filling up wastelands that could be recycled. The requirements are there. Linux and open source technology has allowed us to reuse computers that won't run Microsoft or a specific application. Hence they are told to buy a new one while dumping a perfectly usable computer. This kind of wasteful thinking has to stop.

    In Japan, thousands of cell phones are being recycled by techies in order to get online - cell phones that currently have wifi and bluetooth still runs.
    These devices are attached to old black and white RFCs tvs. As for PSP, Nintendo Game Boy or Sega- using a usb wireless is enough to get them online.
    That can do far more that this device without having to get a monitor and keyboard.

    Want kids to be creative, make it cool, make it cheap and make it strong enough to allow LAN programming or game play. Now charge 15 bucks.

  • Comment number 46.

    In case nobody had noticed, there are an awful lot of casual programmers around these days. Most of them are writing for small but hideously expensive computers designed by Apple.

    This explosion suggests that anyone who's sufficiently motivated can learn to program in a short period of time. What you can't teach so easily - and what projects like this ignore completely - is design and quality control. Neither hardware nor software resemble what was around in the 1970's, so one should not expect to apply the same teaching methods any more either.

  • Comment number 47.

    Even after allowing for the Rasberry team talking up their product, I just don't see any real basis for the claims being made. To me this is a little like suggesting we give children a microphone and tape recorder on the basis that this will: help a new generation discover music.

    I remember the total disbelief of a management consultant when I told him that the Excel formula and macros he wrote to create a spreadsheet model of a business was a form of programming. I think the team behind the Rasberry have a similarly constrained view of what 'programming' is.

    Yes there is a need to make computing, maths, science and engineering more attractive so that more school children are motivated to develop their initial interest into something more substantive. I think the Rasberry team need to look more closely at the real needs of education and not their rose-tinted memories of their youth.

  • Comment number 48.

    Well I think this is a great idea, with the real value being in the opportunity it provides to experiment with real-world uses for the device rather than learning a particular programming language.

    Sounds a bit racey for the national curriculum though. Perhaps it's better if everyone sticks to powerpoint - there's less chance of some pupils being left behind that way.

  • Comment number 49.

    @ #23 BobRockett: at ARM you'll find more than just BBC Micro users, you should find at least a couple of the guys who designed the thing! The ARM technology is based on the risc chips that Acorn developed for the less-successful BBC successor, the Archimedes.

  • Comment number 50.

    Wow Rory, apart from Android phones, this is the closest you've got to Linux in over 18 months! Well done.

    Couldn't quite manage the dreaded U word though for the distro that's on this machine, just called it Linux instead.

    Still no revisit to Ubuntu. Perhaps you're waiting for the next version, 11.10 due in October, to celebrate the second anniversary of your promise.........

  • Comment number 51.

    Colinc42(at Post#42- sweet) said "controlling a small robotic device with three or four coloured pens, and the program you came up with basically just drew a picture on a piece of paper." ... Sounds like Logo on the BBC-B. Awesome program - especially when you did a series of commands in a row and set it off running - and then you'd typed a FWD command with the wrong distance and messed up your entire drawing :) Apparently still doing it (must of ported to Windows then) - http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/ict/measurecontrol/1logocontrolrev1.shtml

    Like most of the 'more seasoned' programmers I was brought up with a form of BASIC (can't believe so many posts put it as single language - why do you think 'Input' mag had separate listings for Vic20, C64, Spectrum, Dragon & Archamedes? - although none for Amstrad... guess which one I had? Lol). Okay not great for modern programming, but gets you learning about the difference between FOR...NEXT, REAPEAT...UNTIL, & WHILE...WEND. 

    That thought process of breaking down a task into simple steps, and then coding each piece _is_ key to any programming, and the BASIC languages was a gentle introduction to that. Those skills are transferrable, although I haven't used them since - oh yeah, VBA code this afternoon.

    Britain has lost it's edge from the late 80s/early 90s when we where to go-to guys for software development (particularly the firms that sprung from nowhere round Cambridge), and whilst part of that is the influx of good quality, cheap outsourcing to developing markets in Asia, a lot also sits at our own feet for abandoning the Computer Studies courses in favour of ICT. 

    It's like producing loads of drivers, but no mechanics, and if a USBstick PC helps buck the trend then I'm all for it ... Plus I'm enough of a geek to just really want one myself ;)

 

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