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Monday, 22 July 2013

Raspberry Pi has no screen, no keyboard, but the $25 computer is hot

It's a single circuit board the size of a credit card with no screen or keyboard - a far cry from the smooth tablets that dominate the technology market. But the world's cheapest computer, costing just $US25 ($27.20), has astonished its British creators by selling almost 1.5 million units in 18 months.
The Raspberry Pi is now powering robots in Japan and warehouse doors in Malawi, photographing astral bodies from the US and helping to dodge censorship in China.
''We're closing in on 1.5 million [sales] for something that we thought would sell a thousand,'' said Eben Upton, executive director of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. ''We've sold many more to children than we expected to sell, but even more to adults. They're using it like Lego to connect things up.''
The device, which runs the open-source Linux operating system, was designed as an educational tool for children to
learn coding. But its potential for almost infinite tinkering and customisation has fired up the imaginations of inventors around the world.
Mr Upton and his colleagues first thought of creating a cheap computer suited to programming when they were teaching computer science at Cambridge University.
In 2012, when the Pi was launched, demand was so high that the websites of its distributors crashed.
User groups called Raspberry Jams now meet monthly in cities from Manchester to Singapore to share ideas.
A Raspberry Jam brought together the team behind a Pi camera that will photograph rhinoceroses and other endangered animals in east Africa, generating data on their habits and on poaching.
The Instant Wild system, backed by the Zoological Society of London, already operates in several countries, beaming images via satellite to park rangers and to an app that crowdsources identifications of animals.
However, by replacing expensive purpose-built equipment with cheaper Raspberry Pis, Instant Wild hopes to vastly expand its work. A grid of 100 Pi cameras will be set up in 2015 on a Kenyan ranch, while another Pi will make its way to Antarctica to record penguin behaviour.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation is non-profit and the design freely available, so Mr Upton and his team will not be retiring on the proceeds of their success.
Instead they are working on software to make the Pi more accessible for children without expert help, and Mr Upton remains intent on improving computer education.



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