Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hacking into the next big thing

You can read this in the MIT Technology Review as a story of tremendous innovation and renewal, or stupendous price deflation - or both. A computer PhD in Cambridge, England was frustrated there was no cheap hardware for kids to mess around with so they could understand the guts of computers. When he interviewed candidates for the computer science department, he found they had never really tinkered with hardware, as he had with basic 1980s computers. It was all Warcraft and Facebook instead.

So he has just launched a basic computer, the Raspberry Pi. It is about the size of an Altoids box, lacks a case, but has plenty of output ports, including HDMI, USB and Ethernet.

It was intended for kids, but hackers of all ages wanted it, and so did budding computer scientists in poor countries. Almost the instant the Raspberry Pi went on sale, orders crashed the websites of its two vendors, RS Components and Premier Farnell. The companies reported that they were taking in orders fast enough to tear through the entire initial stock of 10,000 computers in minutes.

The real kicker? It sells for $25. Most of the functions have been put on a single chip, which can be stamped out very cheaply. Ubiquitous computing is on the way.


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