Braben offers taste of 10 Raspberry Pi computer

Johnny Minkley
GamesIndustry.biz

January 19, 2011

Can the "spiritual successor of BBC Micro" rekindle the spirit of Britsoft?

It will cost between 10-15, it's the width of a 20p coin and its creators hope it can create a new generation of British gaming greats - David Braben has this week revealed fresh details on the ultra-portable computer, designed in Cambridge, that could be the answer to the UK's development woes.

Speaking exclusively to GamesIndustry.biz, Braben, chairman of Frontier Developments, explained that the project – announced last week during a talk at the Learning Without Frontiers conference – grew out of frustration  [ http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2011-01-11-braben-every-kid-i-talk-to-says-ict-is-dull ] with the education system.

"The number of applicants for computer science courses at university has fallen precipitously – by more than a factor of two," he said. Braben blames this largely on the influence of Information and Communication Technology, or ICT, which "is not teaching computing, it's teaching how to switch a computer on," he added.

"The problem with that is it leaves a sort of hatred, an assumption of boredom in the kids' minds, which was never the case in my day." Braben, who made his name in the '80s as co-creator of Elite, is now seeking to redress this with his latest project.

"A group of us formed a charity here in Cambridge called Raspberry Pi, with a view to creating the spiritual successor of the BBC Micro, to provide a way to motivate people to realise that computer science, maths, STEM subjects actually are not deathly dull – because that is the message a lot of kids seem to have picked up," he said.

So what is Raspberry Pi? "We've come up with a design and made early prototypes of a machine which is really, really small and allows people who don't have access to a PC at home - which is true of a lot of kids – but do have a TV to have a device where they can browse the web, do email, YouTube, watch video very easily and cheaply," Braben explained.

The device is a self-contained computer which can be plugged into a display via an HDMI output, capable of outputting in 1080p. Each unit, despite its small size, will be encased in material that should effectively make it "indestructible".

It is expected to support numerous programming standards. Braben revealed: "It can have some very simple scripting language programming – which might even be something like BASIC - so even though it doesn't satisfy the gamut of all the objective oriented learning and so on, that's very easy to pick up once you've got the general principals of how a computer works, what it does, how it does it".

Based on advanced ARM mobile phone technology and running the Linux operating system, Braben said the hardware – a prototype of which is expected to be the size of a USB connector - could cost as little as 10-15 per unit, making it an attractive prospect for the education sector.

Discussions are now underway to find suitable partners to take the project forward, though details are under wraps for now. "We can't talk about anything yet," said Braben. "We're looking at things now; we hope to be able to do a trial sometime soon, but watch this space".

The charity's case is likely to be bolstered by the publication of the Livingstone-Hope Review on February 1st, the highly anticipated report into skills in the games sector commissioned by the Government, with data released in advance ostensibly supporting Braben's fears [ http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2010-12-13-parents-teachers-and-pupils-alarmingly-ignorant-of-games-skills ].

So are we on the verge of a creative renaissance in British games development? "This is started as a charity," said Braben. "I just think it'll be great to have something out there that's open so other people can make them if they want."

He added: "It's really trying to redress the balance a bit so kids coming up now do have at least a chance, and hopefully it'll be someone like me ranting on in 20, 30 years about how that was a great opportunity for them. You never know!"

Copyright 2011