This is the wildcard entry in naming the big innovation trends of 2012. But like all wildcards, if the risks of success are high, then so are the rewards.
The prize is to get us and our kids interested once more in the joys of learning computer programming.
In the 1980s things were straightforward. We plugged our basic computer into the TV set and learnt how to code in, er, BASIC. This spawned a whole generation of programmers and kick-started the UK's world-class computer games industry. But then computers got complicated and we became elegant consumers of software rather than elegant coders of it.
This is where Raspberry Pi comes in. It is a single-board computer that has minimal memory, no disk drives a very cheap processor and is operated by plugging it into a TV and a keyboard (not included). It runs on an ARM-based open-source GNU/Linux operating system and can operate basic programming languages when loaded on via an SD card. This streamlined device allows it to go on sale with a target price of £22 (or £16 for a model with no Ethernet port). The full-spec is here.
The people behind the device, mostly from Cambridge's thriving technology sector, (including Dave Braben - inventor of 1980s BBC Micro classic 'Elite'), hope that such a cheap computer, easy to plug in and focused on developing coding, will inspire our kids to begin crafting code. As well as a form of BBC Basic, the Raspberry Pi will run Python and other easy to learn computer languages, such as QT.
The developers, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, are following a 'build it and they will come' model and this will need to be backed up by support from schools and perhaps even a new curriculum. But whether or not the device encourages children to become developers, the act of shoe-horning technical specs onto single chips to get the cost of computing down to a minimal consumer price revolutionises the idea that computers should always be increasing their capacity.
I wonder whether the development of the Raspberry Pi signals a growing trend of 'just enough' technology. What I mean by this is technology that does just enough to be programmable, without having to cram expensive add-ons into the package. This would have a huge impact on the ownership, use and development of ubiquitous computing for the 21st century.
And so whether or not our children take a byte of Raspberry Pi, the rise of the cheap, programmable computer is my prediction for 2012.
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