A British nonprofit has a novel idea for getting kids interested in computer programming--a computer that fits in a pocket and costs less than the latest video game.
It's called Raspberry Pi, and the prototype isn't pretty--it looks like a leftover scrap from electronics recycling day. But it's a working computer that game developer David Braben and his Cambridge-connected colleagues expect to make available for only $25 for a fully configured system.
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.
In May 2011 David Braben introduced a new prototype computer intended to stimulate the teaching of basic computer science in schools. Called Raspberry Pi, the computer is mounted in a package the same size as a USB memory stick, and has a USB plug on one end with a HDMI monitor socket on the other, and provides a ARM processor running Linux for an estimated price of about £15 GBP for a configured system, cheap enough to give to a child to do whatever he or she wants with it.  The prototype is part of a venture by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a charity whose aim is to "promote the study of computer science and related topics, especially at school level, and to put the fun back into learning computing."
With a 16GB SD card, a USB hub connecting a mouse and keyboard, and any monitor that connects to composite or HDMI, you’ve got a fully functional PC that probably outperforms desktops from a few years back. It’ll run what you put on it, as long as it’s ARM-compatible — right now it’s shown running Ubuntu 9, but there are a number of options, all offering complete modern web browsing, office tools, printing, maps, and all the other usual suspects.
The team behind the Raspberry Pi hope that device will be rolled out in “12 months” time. The success of this timeframe hinges on creating a better prototype as well as making sure it can be manufactured at the price point promised.