Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Raspberry Pi

If you don't know what the Raspberry Pi (RPi) is - read it up here

The RPi is indeed an excellent and exciting development in the computing field. To me it seems that, many of the references to RPi, take a very narrow view of what the RPi actually is and what it can do. IMO, this can limit the authors' and the readers' understanding of RPi in the context of the extended journey of learning with the RPi.

To understand the profound impact RPi can have on computing, we need to understand the different meanings the word computer can take as well as the role the RPi it can play in nurturing a step by step exploration and understanding of computing.

For many, a 'computer' is a device that has a keyboard, a monitor, a CPU, a mouse and an operating system (mostly Windows). Within this context, you can use the computer to play games, browse the internet, connect with friends over email, IM and FB,

The RPi partially falls into this category.  You can connect a keyboard, a mouse and a monitor to the RPi, it has an OS with a GUI and it can be used to play games and write simple programs. If connected to the network (cable/WiFi), it can also be used to browse the Internet. Using sites may be dependent on the capability of the installed browser. .

My watch is also a computer. It can tell me the atmospheric pressure, altutide, my location using the GPS and change the time based on the country I am in. This is also a computer.  The washer-dryer at home can also be classified as a computing device (it does a lot of work!). I have another computer with me - sitting on my desktop, a small car which can be controlled from your smartphone. This is also a computing device - albeit a very small one.

The RPi, is also not any ordinary computer.  It is a computing device with phenomenal power and flexibility.

For the 9-11 year old, it is a device on which he/she can work on Scratch - one of the favourite tools used by kids to create 'cool'  programs. This child can also watch videos on it.  The device with all the circuits visible - also lends itself to the 'cool' factor of using something and being able to see what it is made up of - unlike a computer or a PS3 or an XBOX.

For the 12 to 15 year old, it a device on which he she/can use to program using languages such as Python and create applications that solve some real-world problems.

It is beyond this domain that the RPi 'computer' takes on a totally different meaning. It becomes a computing device/a computing board which can do things as per your command and wish. Attach external devices such as motors, sensors, cameras and suddenly this simple 'computer' can be transformed into a programmable toy. Just like the Lego Mindstorms ( I could never afford one!), this board can also interface with different devices,  - which can transform my commands and wishes into actionable. It will not be long before someone creates a robot out of this and we have an RPi robot contest ... and other events associated with the RPi. This will only be limited by people's imagination (and of course the processing power and the accessories available/developed for the RPi).

It has a slice for everyone, for the cool one, for the nerdy one, for the simple one, and that is what makes the RPi different. and most importantly - at £30 - it is mighty affordable. I already have an old monitor, keyboard and mouse lying around the house (I am sure may people have that), and that makes it very affordable.

The delivery date for my RPi is 30/04 - a long wait ... but I am sure that, in the meanwhile, we should hear a lot of information from the people who recieve the first and the second lot of RPi's

It may not be right to compare it to the BBC Micro/Spectrum etc. They spawned a different generation of programmers at a different  time - with its own constraints. Now, this is a different time and the RPi, provides the right tool for this new generation of learners - for those who want to but were not allowed to tinker with the home computer for fear of breaking a £400 'computer'.

Here's a +1 for the new computing revolution.

PS: Some of this is unvalidated information and is based on available news. I will have to wait till 30/04 for my piece of the pie - to satiate my hunger!

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