There's a delicious new treat in the digital world.
It's the size of a credit card, costs just $25 and may be starting a quiet revolution in how people work with computers.
It's called Raspberry Pi — a micro-sized computer that's making some serious waves among educators, businesses and geeks alike.
Originally conceived by computer developers in the U.K., it's been built with the intention of inspiring kids to learn computer science. The Pi is a very bare bones computer — it's basically a stripped-down motherboard when you get down to the core of it — but has a surprising number of features that most modern computers have, including an HDMI port, USB ports, video and audio output and can be connected to a TV or laptop (among other things).
Here's how it's laid out:
So far, the Pi has been making waves with schools in Britain, Europe and the Middle East that want kids to learn how to program. Yet with such a cheap cost and surprising amounts of power for such a small device, there's been a lot of interest among developers and programmers to use the Pi for other purposes. There's been so much interest that, since the Pi's launch in February 2012, over one million units have been sold worldwide.
Here's a few reasons why you should pay attention to the Pi and why it's important for more than just computer geeks.
It's giving rise to a new wave of cheap, exciting digital experimentation
One of the best things about the digital era we live in is the fact ordinary people with a passion and the technical know-how can create a million different uses for hardware originally built for a single purpose, like modding the Xbox Kinect for interactive art shows instead of just for gaming.
The Pi is no different. There's a million possible ways to use it.
After being released in 2012, the Pi has been used to create hundreds of new, do-it-yourself projects, ranging from powering a pyrotechnics show, a music player, games, a coffeemaker, a digital photo frame and dozens more.
After years of computer experiments being limited to a small number of applications, the Pi's remarkable power and utility is giving people a chance to experiment with digital technology in a variety of new ways. We don't know yet how it will all pan out, but it's leading the way for people to get more comfortable with computers and being connected to the Internet everywhere, all the time.
Some people have even gone so far as to automate their entire homes using the Pi, linking Apple's Siri software to the Pi.
It might just be a great way to balance computers with the environment
One of the big complaints about the digital era has been how it's creating a massive long-term headache for the environment. All the computers we use are contributing in some way to growing landfills, atmospheric emissions and toxins seeping into the ground.
While there's no immediate solution to this problem, the Pi may just be a more environmentally-friendly way to go digital. It's small, easily recyclable and has even been powering a solar panel that generates real energy. The Pi's proof that you don't always need more power to be an effective machine.
The Pi is making computer science — not computer use — fun and relevant again
Let's be honest: as much as we all love our iPads, laptops and smartphones, very few of us actually understand how these devices work 'under the hood.' That's often due to a knowledge gap from older generations that don't know computers well, but it's also because there's computer cost concerns, a lack of knowledgeable teachers and a less-than-friendly attitude towards technology in some schools.
The Pi changes all that. It's not going to be easy, though. As the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones wrote in covering the Pi's release to the U.K.:
"The real task, however, is not about getting the Raspberry Pi out to that impatient crowd of enthusiasts. What matters is the kind of reception the device gets when it arrives in schools.”
It's a device that's not only cheap, but many kids can figure out how to use the Pi before many adults can. It's going to inspire an entire generation of children to experiment, explore and learn through experience, all of which are vital for learning.
The Pi is going to make computer science an even more worthwhile (and more widespread) career option for not just Developed World students, but those in countries looking for a leg-up with computing.
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