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Raspberry PI Credit Card Sized Computer  

by Matt Hawkins, 12/01/2012
Categories : Multimedia : Raspberry PI

The Raspberry PI is a credit card sized computer that will sell for between $25-$35 (£16-£25). It is being developed and distributed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK registered charity.

The objective is to produce a small, low cost programmable device that will re-introduce children to the fun of programming. The longer term goal is to boost the number of young people with creative programming skills entering the workforce.

The device will be cheap enough to ensure as many people as possible can own one. The operating system is likely to be a flavour of Linux and will run on a single SD memory card. The beauty of this is that the memory card can be replaced or re-written ensuring experimentation will not leave the device unusable.

The PI will be available in two models : Model A & Model B. The main difference being that the Model A device will have 128MB of memory (RAM) and the Model B will have 256MB. The Model B will also provide a standard ethernet network socket and an additional USB port.

The Specifications :

Micro USB power port (5V)
SD card slot (SDHC)
HDMI connector
RCA video connector
3.5mm audio output jack
USB 2.0 (x2 for Model B)
Ethernet port (Model B only)

Broadcom BCM2385
High Definition 1080p Embedded Multimedia Applications Processor (700MHz)

128MB RAM (Model A)
256MB RAM (Model B)

Dimensions : 85.60mm x 53.98mm x 17mm
Weight : 45g

The PI has everything you need to connect up a monitor (either via RCA or HDMI), a mouse and a keyboard. The USB port ensures you can add a wide range of existing peripherals. A number of general purposes input/output pins are provided on the circuit board which allows the device to control external devices such as relays, servos, LEDs etc.

So why is this such a big deal?

In the 1980s a whole generation of British kids/teenagers grew up with skills they developed messing about with Amstrads, ZX80s,ZX81s, Commadore 64s, BBC Micros, Vic 20s etc. This army of bedroom programmers entered the workforce and some of them used their talent for technology to create great software and other products.

These days many kids spend their time downloading ringtones or fiddling with the settings on their iPod. Some people have been tricked into thinking that this generation is "tech savvy" or "good with computers". This is an illusion. All it means is that they are good at consuming foreign electronics and using an interface without needing to read the whole user manual.

Schools are currently teaching "ICT" which strengthens the illusion. This is nothing more than secretarial skills and should be described as such. Useful skills but little to do with teaching kids logic, programming, design or creative skills that you need to master computer technology.

The Raspberry PI aims to give kids a device they can actually control with free software. As the functionality will be contained on a single, cheap memory card pupils can simply exchange memory card to setup the PI for a different task. They can create a robot at school while using the device as a media centre at home.

It is crazy to teach school kids how to use Microsoft Word (even ignoring the fact they should be using OpenOffice). Let them create something and they will pick up how to use a word processor when they document their robot project. Office tools are just tools. Put them back in the tool box and teach them how to think.

No one taught me how to use Word, Powerpoint or Excel. I picked up what I needed while doing something more constructive. Teachers should teach the skill and leave the button pressing to user manuals and Google.

But can't they just use a PC?

Yes, but a PC ...

- is bigger
- runs hotter and usually requires fans
- is 10 times more expensive
- is 100 times heavier
- requires mains electricity
- has no general purposes outputs
- requires re-installing the operating system of reimaging the hard drive if anything goes wrong

Just try building an autonomous robot with an iPod, laptop or a desktop PC. If you want your kids to be able to compete with millions of keen, intelligent programmers around the World you need to delete Powerpoint and iTunes and buy them a Raspberry PI.

Other potential uses include :

- teaching and education projects
- home automation
- media centres
- internet enabling TVs
- building robots
- in-car entertainment

The aim is to help kids but the PI is going to be popular with adults as well. I suspect the first batch of devices will be sold out within minutes ... assuming the webshop can take the load.

Author : Matt Hawkins  Last Edit By : Matt Hawkins
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