A British non-profit organization Raspberry Pi Foundation has the answer, in the form of a computer the size of a USB key priced at $25 – which could arguably be the cheapest computer on the block.
The computer is designed to plug into a TV or a touch screen. The USB sized computer runs on Linux and has a 700MHz ARM11 processor and 128 MB RAM. Other specifications include OpenGL ES 2.0, 1080p30 H.264 high-profile decode, Composite and HDMI video output, USB 2.0, SD/MMC/SDIO memory card slot, General-purpose I/O and Open software (Ubuntu, Iceweasel, KOffice, Python)
Basically, the computer is like a Linux box which offers video playback of 1080p via HDMI output and has a memory card slot for storage. It can be connected to any TV and keyboard or touch screen to have a fully functional computer.
A picture of the computer shows a 12 Megapixel camera fitted to the computer.
PCMagazine reported that the miniature computer has been created by game developer David Braben of Rollercoaster Tycoon fame.
The purpose of crafting an ultra-small and ultra-cheap computer is explained on the Raspberry Pi Foundation website: “We plan to develop, manufacture and distribute an ultra-low-cost computer, for use in teaching computer programming to children. We expect this computer to have many other applications both in the developed and the developing world.”
A post in Wired titled “The iPad Falls Short as a Creation Tool Without Coding Apps”, reporter Brian X. Chen argues that popular tablet like iPad does not offer a programming environment. Its touch screen interface bypasses the need for traditional coding and also the design of an iPad does not allow to “look under the hood of an iPad to understand how to create software.” He argues: “Without a proficient programming environment readily accessible on the iPad, Apple’s tablet paints a bleak portrait for the future of programming.”
He quotes Oliver Cameron, developer of the Friends iPhone app, who said: “I think the iPad generation is going to miss out on software programming. Kids don’t need Macs anymore.”
In such a scenario, the attempt by Raspberry Pi Foundation’s USB sized computer can certainly be a big draw for kids to programming. While the intentions of the foundation are right, the design of the computer itself is rather mundane. It looks like a silicon chip with ports. Thus, in an age of cool looking gadgets like iPhone and iPad, making the $25 computer aesthetically appealing would certainly go a long way in fulfilling the Foundation’s dream – to aid kids in learning computer programming skills.