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A closeup of the marvelous mini-computer, that's the size of a USB stick -- and almost as cheap as one.  (Source: p Raspberry Pi Foundation)

With a mouse, keyboard, and monitor/HDMI-compatible TV, a child is set to play on the device.  (Source: p Raspberry Pi Foundation)
Forget OLPC, just give kids one of these things

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project was an ambitious and forward-looking plan.  Unfortunately for all its ambition, it might have been a bit poorly executed.  The initial target cost of $100 ballooned to $188 per laptop.

However, a software great in Britain has devised [video] what could be the salvation of OLPC and similar future programs -- a fully functional computer that's as small as a USB stick and costs only $25 USD (£15) to make.

The tiny computer -- dubbed "Raspberry Pi" -- looks somewhat like a standard USB memory stick, as a USB 2.0 connector juts out of it.  But on the side it packs a SD/MMC/SDIO card reader to provide Flash storage (of course buying said storage might bump the price $10-$20).  And on the side opposite to the USB port an HDMI connector sits, capable of piping out 1080p video to a monitor/TV.

The little board has smartphone-esque hardware, with a 700MHz ARM11 processor and 128 MB of SDRAM packed in.  Specifics on the processor, including the manufacturer were not yet revealed.  The GPU also was not revealed, but it is said to be capable of handling OpenGL ES 2.0 (hence the 1080p output).

Mice/keyboards can be plugged in via the USB slot.  The computer runs a version of popular open-source Linux distribution Ubuntu 9 and comes with a variety of open source software tools (Iceweasel, KOffice, Python).

An expansion port allows for additional hardware models.  For example, a 12 MP camera module was shown off.

A full spec sheet and overview is available here.

The inventor David Braben is the founder of development studio Frontier Developments and co-developer of the game Elite.  His game studio has offered such hot-selling titles as the Rollercoaster Tycoon series, ThrillvilleLost Winds, and most recently Kinectimals.

Lately Mr. Braben has been driven to try to inspire the next generation to success in the field of Information and Communications Technology (ICT).  He is looking to deploy the mini-computer as a device packed with courses for children that teach them about the basics of computer hardware and programming software.

He has launched a UK registered charity dubbed the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

He states that children will be able to "use [the device] as a computer to learn program, to be able to run Twitter, Facebook, whatever.  But also to be able to understand the whole process of programming.  A lot of things have been obfuscated these days in the sense that you can't get at them.  There's so much between you and doing something interesting or creative that it gets in the way.  And hopefully this device will be one of the pieces that helps change that."

The Raspberry Pi foundation plans to distribute the tiny PC to children in the UK, as well as third world children, though no solid release date has been announced yet.



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So...
By aliasfox on 5/9/2011 4:01:54 PM , Rating: 2
I don't see what's so special about this. This is really just the modern incarnation of the "plug into TV" style computers of the 80s. There are plenty of devices like these in China that are built into the bottom of a keyboard and plug into a standard TV. Sure, not hugely useful beyond text editing or playing a Nintendo emulator, but the concept's been around for ages.

I also don't see how this breaks any new frontiers on price - Apple sells the AppleTV for $100 with a fat profit margin - strip away the profit margin and add an input device, and you still have a basic computer for ~$60-70, storage, ethernet, and wifi included. Samsung and LG have unsubsidized Android phones for less than $200 - strip away the battery, the LCD screen, and the cellular radio and I'm sure you're pretty close on price as well.

Lastly, this type of ultra-cheap computer isn't designed for villages in the Serengeti - it's designed for towns in China, India, and Brazil where basic infrastructure's already in place (including water, electricity, and roads), but where even a $250 netbook may be a prohibitive expense. These families already have TVs to plug a tiny box like this into, and if they don't, they know someone who does.

Just think - parents have a combined income of $2-5k a year, you're in an apartment/house in a town where you have roads and a school you go to. After dinner, you plug a $50 USB-stick style computer like this into the back of the family TV so you can write your paper and play a few games on. If you have internet at home, you can use it to check Facebook and watch a few youtube videos. Once you're done, you unplug the stick computer and put it back in a drawer.

Heck, marketing last year's smartphone technology as basic HTPC technology in the US seems like a no brainer - an HDMI port, 8 GB of storage, an ARM A8, and a wifi chipset would be more than adequate to turn any HDTV into a "smart" TV...




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