What would you say to a $35 computer?
Sorry, for that bit of geek humor. But there really is a new, very low cost computer on the market called Raspberry Pi. It’s not a replacement, by itself, for your desktop, laptop, or tablet computer, but it is one of the most exciting things I’ve heard about in a while.
I know I’m not normal. And in another life I was a professional teacher. Mostly I taught tech subjects like electronics and drafting, so a product like this is more likely to excite me than most people in my online community. First, let me be more clear about what the Raspberry Pi is and is not. From their FAQ page:
The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video. We want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming.
But, OK, for $35 you don’t get a monitor or keyboard, you don’t get the power supply or a case, you don’t even get the operating system. So why am I excited by a cheap computer that doesn’t seem to be able to do anything? Because it has incredible potential and it looks like they might reach that goal of seeing it used by kids all over the world to learn not just programming, but hardware projects too. And those other parts to the system are also relatively cheap. You can use almost any TV for the monitor. The computer is built with a chip used in mobile devices so a cell phone charger can power it. The Linux OS is stored on an SD card [also not provided with the Pi] and can be downloaded for free.
Does that sound like a lot of work to get the darn thing to do anything? Well, that’s sort of the point. Using it is intended to be a learning experience. I don’t have one in my hands yet, but it quickly raced to the top of my wish list of new projects to get into. [When things settle down in my life, but that's another story.] More important [and this is part of what got me so excited] it went to the top of a lot of wish lists.
The developers originally thought they would sell a few thousand units. After spending a few years getting it ready for production the buzz had increased to the point they expected to produce some tens of thousands. The day it was released they sold 100,000 of them and there was suddenly a 2-month wait. [The current backorder wait appears to be a few days as I write this.] Orders continue to roll in and they will likely sell a million by the end of the year. A million!
I have no idea how many are getting into the hands of kids yet, but the hobbyist market has certainly embraced it. And it’s priced intentionally to be cheap enough that many kids can buy one [or more] of their own. [The original design has no Ethernet and is priced at $25, but the demand for it is so small it has been temporarily shelved.] Tutorials and projects are popping up all over the interwebs. Cool projects like streaming media, home automation, and robotics.
The little chunk of circuitry is an engineering marvel in itself. But there is so much potential in what can be made from it that it boggles my mind. So you don’t want to build your own computer? This probably isn’t for you. You have no interest in programming? This probably isn’t for you. Robots are scarier than vampires, werewolves, and zombies? This probably isn’t for you. I wish I had a couple of them [and the time] to play with.
If you’re still reading [thanks!] you might like this interview with Eben Upton [one of the lead designers] on Twit TV.