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Raspberry Pi: Rise of the $25 computer

British group Raspberry Pi aims to inspire young programmers with a computer so inexpensive that schools could hand them out to students free of charge.

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David Braben, member of British nonprofit Raspberry Pi, holds up an unfinished prototype of an inexpensive desktop computer in Cambridge, England.

Edmond Terakopian/Special to the Christian Science Monitor

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David Braben has a big idea crammed into a tiny frame. He and fellow members of the British nonprofit Raspberry Pi have designed a rugged computer powerful enough to perhaps inspire a generation of future programmers, yet cheap enough that schools can hand them out free of charge.

The machine isn't much to look at. It's little more than chips on a stick. But Mr. Braben says that by next year, this ugly duckling of a prototype could grow into $25 computers tailored to students across Britain.

"Raspberry Pi came from a seemingly unrelated problem," says Braben, who's also chairman of Frontier Developments, a video-game company in Britain. He felt that the number of qualified computer science graduates had declined over the years. Curious, he consulted teachers and grew concerned about what he found.

Since the 1990s, he says, school computers have been little more than office tools. Students learn to write letters, produce spreadsheets, and generally operate Windows software.

"It's a useful skill for almost everybody, but the problem is that that can backfire," he says. "A lot of kids are already quite computer literate and [such lessons] come over as being very dull. Meanwhile, teaching computer science in schools – I mean programming and using the computer creatively – has all but gone away."

The creative spirit is there, he says. Just look at pop culture. Video games such as the blockbuster Halo: Reach, fan favorite Little Big Planet, and The Sims series have made millions by letting players design and craft their own worlds. Yet this is low-level programming. There's a gulf between the accessible but limited tools offered by popular games and the complex but expensive software used by the professionals who programmed them.

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