Charity Develops Tiny £15 Computer For Kids

A UK charity is working on a tiny computer that costs just £15 as an IT teaching aid for school kids

A charity in the UK is developing an ultra small computer that can be used to teach children computer programming skills, both in the developed and developing worlds.

The idea is the brainchild of David Braben of Frontier Developments.

Braben is an industry veteran games developer, and is perhaps best known for co-developing the classic space-based trading computer game Elite back in the mid 1980s. More recently he developed games such as Rollercoaster Tycoon and Wallace and Gromit’s The Curse of the WereRabbit.

But Braben is also the man behind a charity known as The Raspberry Pi Foundation, and it is this charity that is working on a computer, not much bigger than a 20 pence piece.

Fun Programming Tool

“The charity exists to promote the study of computer science and related topics, especially at school level, and to put the fun back into learning computing. We plan to develop, manufacture and distribute an ultra-low-cost computer, for use in teaching computer programming to children,” says the charity’s website.

“We expect this computer to have many other applications both in the developed and the developing world,” it added.

So what does the user get for the modest sum of $25 (£15)? Well as you expect, there are no cutting edge components, but the micro PC provisionally comes with a 700MHz ARM11 processor; 128MB of SDRAM; 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 finally open source software, namely Ubuntu, Iceweasel, KOffice, and Python.

Effectively the entire computer is housed on a tiny USB stick. Think of it as something akin to a thin client, but which is in reality much much smaller. The HDMI port is used to connect to an LCD TV screen, and the USB port is used to hook up a keyboard.

In an interview with TechEye, Braben said that he felt that the curriculum in the UK has diverted away from teaching computer sciences at a young age, to instead focusing on generic teaching of ICT (information and communications technology).

Funding Shortfall?

“Although it is well meaning, ICT teaching has killed off interest in computing and computer sciences,” Braben told TechEye. “Of course ICT skills are very useful, but they are more of a life skill or a skill that is generally used in the office, learning about Word or PowerPoint and so on. And in fact many students are much more advanced than their teachers which leads to a great demotivation in the classroom.”

Back in January 2010, a study from Intel revealed over half of teachers believe that using technology in the classroom helps improves academic performance, but they often lacked the necessary funding.

Braben is hoping that this cheap computer, which is undergoing a 12 month trial, will give more kids the chance to develop their programming skills.

Meanwhile it seems that the Raspberry Pi charity is in talks with government personnel, but it is looking for investment partners as it seeks to bring the tiny PC into commercial production.