back to article Elite coder readies £15 programming gadget for schools

The Raspberry Pi Foundation may sound like a school for aspiring bakers, but it aims to promote computer science by producing an inexpensive miniature PC called Raspberry Pi. Games developer David Braben, famous for titles such as Elite and Rollercoaster Tycoon, is the project lead. And he wants to bring a £15 USB Flash drive- …

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Silver badge

What !

Early 8-bit computers had 8K BASICs or smaller. My home-brew FORTH system will run a 4K FORTH system with ~8K RAM and 1.5MHz clock on a 6809.

8-bit PICS are quirky but plenty powerful enough and they are available in 0.1" pin packages that can still be easily hand-soldered.

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Def
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Happy

Re: Uncanny

Phew, glad to see I'm not the only one who grew up in the 80s spending more and more time messing around with computers.

Started with BBC BASIC first on the BBC, and later the Archimedes. Progressed to BBC BASIC V with inline ARM assembler. Messed around with an Amiga for a bit with AMOS. Got a job at Bullfrog off the back of an AMOS demo, been making games ever since.

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Problem with PICs is

The cost and hassle of the programming hardware and/or an I/O board to sit it on. It's more about the electronics than the programming.

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Picking up the programming back again?

Python! It fills the whole left by BBC BASIC when I left RiscOS. It's a great scripting language with bindings for nearly everything, cross platform and really useful to knock quick one offs in. To reignite computers in general, Linux and the command line. Get your computer back!

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Who says history doesn't repeat itself?

Seriously though, fifteen quid for a 700MHz Linux box with USB, HDMI, what appears to be a little camera, and OpenGL-ES? I'd buy one just to have something "unusual" to play with...

Programming is a great skill to learn -- especially for dealing with those mindless, repetitive tasks that computers do well. Far too many kids are leaving school knowing how to type a document and put together a quick spreadsheet, but not knowing how the computer can really help them...

I really can't see a downside to this. You go, David!

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Happy

CPU speed

I would say highly efficient programming is needed now more than ever. Just imagine how fast processors would be if the code written to run on them was as streamlined as a 1K chess program!

However I'm guilty of being an 8-bit child, even wrote a commercial game called Bladedancer for the BBC micro. However the skills learnt back then are not wasted and translate directly to PIC/Atmel programming... hell Ieven refered back to Acorn user yellow pages to create SIN and COS on the little 8bit buggers.

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Gold badge

Laziness and profit

Nobody sees it though, they want portability to minimise dev time and maximise profit. Hence awful flash to app convertors.

Android runs with a VM, Windows Phone 7 does similar.

It's all about VMs and hardware abstraction now.

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True

I'm guilty of it myself, cobbling together a mishmash of bash & perl to get a job done rather than writing an efficient C program.

I did enjoy my microcontroller programming course at Uni though, done ALL in assembler. It really taught you how things were structured at an underlying level, and gave me a sense of efficiency in code.

Unfortunately, I kinda missed out on the ZX81/C64 etc. age. My first computer was an Amiga (incidentally, a cousing got me interested in both Maths and Programming on that, writing a BASIC programme which drew spirograph-type pictures), and I played with my fathers x86 AutoCAD station*, but I think that uC course did a lot to help me understand efficient programming.

* Untill I stopped it working and cost him a days work.

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L.B
Headmaster

And who writes those VM's...

...plus just about every product being made today that plugs into a power socket or has batteries has some king of computer in it.

Programming those little bits of kit in you washing machine, fridge, vacuum cleaner, radio, hubs/routers, etc... are all jobs that could be done in the UK, none of those will be done using VMs until you get into the larger boxes (like that bloody expensive and slow BlueRay Player reviewed by the Reg the other day that used Java).

The real problem I see with this device is that there are almost zero people in education who would have a clue where to start with this device.

Most people in education cannot even use word and excel properly (and that include the so called ICT teachers), but then again I have said for years that ICT should be renamed: "Basic Secretarial Studies".

If a school can find someone able to use this kit; putting something like this into secondary education would not only give kids an idea of what is behind the devices they use everyday, but might actually encourage them to do something remotely useful at Uni later on.

The biggest advantage though would be all those kids who can barely read or count, but will have three or four GCSE's in ICT might also learn that they are not going to get jobs in IT.

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The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

>> (like that bloody expensive and slow BlueRay Player reviewed by the Reg the

>> other day that used Java)

Java is part of the Bluray standard to run menus and interactive bits. Not a lot the player manufacturers can do other than support it.

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Nice little device

Looks good for building distributed control applications like a multi-zone landscape sprinkler or separate thermostats for each room in the house or intelligent antenna-switching devices for HAM radio operators or model railroad track layout controll or..... Doesn't even have to be a distributed system - some applications can be done with one Pi acting as the "mainframe" that runs its own little world.

Set it up so if it detects the keyboard and TV it goes into development/debug mode, otherwise it jumps to the runtime program.

I wonder who will be the first to add a 1 TB disk to the bloody thing and build a DVR?

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Sorry to be a negative nelly

Sorry to be a negative nelly but we seem to read about this kinda thing all the time and then by the time it's released it will be $100-$200, it will only be available to schools (not private geeks) and wil probably be much weaker.

I want to dream and believe it's possible but I don't think so. I can't see myself ever being able to get one of these for 15 quid. If I could, I would take a couple.

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Exactly what is needed

Particularly *without* a Basic interpeter.

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It looks really cool

But I did see in another article the line "Braben hopes to distribute it within 12 months".

If ever a man had a motto...

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Me want

That's all.

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Sounds realy constructive and useful so they wont get a lottery grant then :\

This is great news and does hold alot of promise. Alas the ability to intereact electronicly and add/modify things your looking at kit thats already out there in some ways.

Programming whilst useful and handy to learn how computers work is somewhat lacking today and with the trend towards point/click/drag/drop connector type visual programming, things will only change further.

I liked my old PSION which had OPL, that was fun, so why not something like say a calculator that has some form of basic language built in, that would cover the basics more than say a cheap £15 computer that then needs a HDMI display, hardly thought thru that.

A computer they can build, now that would be educational, even is its at lego level, oh wait they are already thesedays lol.

Either way I fully commend and wish these efforts the best of luck, but a introduction to java for mobile phones may garner more interest from students thesedays, especialy if you show them how to make there own ringtones, sad yeah I know but thats the audience you haev to work with.

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FAIL

space dredgers

did anyone ever find one of these ? Or Generation ships ?

spent years looking for one once my MKIII was fully kitted out.

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Coat

required

Probably not. AFAIR they were not actually implemented in most versions, just rumours to add atmosphere. I'd have to look up if any version actually had them, though.

Those were the days, weren't they? I still find elite, prince of Persia or oxyd (for example) a lot more fascinating than most modern games... And I don't even work in a profession even remotely concerned with computing.

Mine's the starched white one with twelve removable buttons, thank you.

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Happy

Forth Lisp Pascal and perhaps BAsic (GOTO donot collect £200)

FFS This is incredible .. this has either gone up to £25 or come down in price by a tenner?

Yes a good basic interpreter would be the ideal thing for this .. especially if you had access to the USB port. Make the modern little B'stards learn FORTH. that would really screw their Brains up.

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Silver badge

Forth

Not such a bad little language, IMO. If you really wanted some twisted teens, you'd teach them brainfuck or INTERCAL. Befunge would be a slightly more practical language.

Actually, scratch that entirely. If you want to destroy them completely, go ahead and put BASIC on it.

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Yes please

I want one...

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look at the mbed

heres what i am messing about with http://mbed.org/handbook/mbed-NXP-LPC1768

arm,96 mhz, built in ethernet phy-just add a magjack. this is about £45 at the moment.

£15 for this seems damn cheap for so much extra performance.

play with the mbed though its good fun. if you are looking to create a game, have a look at http://www.arduino.cc/ with the gameduino shield http://excamera.com/sphinx/gameduino/

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Anonymous Coward

Pffft...

Don't even need a MagJack for Ethernet on the Mbed..

Lovely little gadget only issue is the compiler is either online or the price of a top end laptop.

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Silver badge

Great toy but

Can't exactly see the educational point of this

If the idea is one computer/kid to learn programming - they are still going to need monitors/storage etc. Not sure this saves much on just using simple old PCs with linux.

If the idea is how do computers work, then something like Arduino/Stamp and reading key presses, making LEDs flash seems better.

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I love this!

Don't teach it as primary learning - the majority of plebs will still need those Excel skills - but keep it around the labs, and let people know it's there. The nerdy kids will attend to the rest.

We had Win98 machines at school, and it was still the old BBCs I loved to code on. If this had been sat in the corner of the lab, I'd have certainly had a play.

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Anonymous Coward

It's not about programming

If you want kids to learn to program, there's a lot of easier ways to teach it.

This is about teaching kids to have some idea of how a *computer* works: what all the major parts are, how they fit together, in a system small enough to hold in your head at one go, and cheap enough that every kid in a class can mess around with one on a project bench. This is tech's equivalent of the biology class dissecting a frog.

But better than frogs, systems of this kind of power will be in everything by the time these kids are in the workforce, and the payoff will be lots of kids capable of creating inventions on top of them.

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Anonymous Coward

Ethernet

@Pawel1 @Silver check the Rasberry Pi link.

The red lead is ethernet, from a USB to ethernet dongle. It's running a Mozilla web browser.

Also no power supply - power comes from USB.

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nice little bit of kit...

That looks like a bloody awesome device for the money. As other have said chuck an ethernet port on it, and or a cojuple more usb sockets and you have a base for all sorts of interesting projects. Makes the debian running pogoplug i have seem seriously oversized by comparision.

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You could use a usb hub

and ethernet/wifi dongle.

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This post has been deleted by its author

Pint

Cease the No Network Bleating...

Follow the raspberrypi link and all becomes clear... It has 1 USB port - add a USB hub and a USB2Ethernet...

>> The cause of, and solution to, all life's problems...

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Coat

Badda ba ba pa baa, badda ba da ba baa--

David Braben wasn't behind Rollercoaster Tycoon - that was Scottish programmer Chris Sawyer, who also wrote the peerless Transport Tycoon. According to Wikipedia, the closest Braben got to Rollercoaster Tycoon was his company writing Rollercoaster Tycoon 3.

Please all join me in a cheesy MIDI chorus of the Transport Tycoon theme music.

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Transport Tycoon

One of the games that helped me ruin my A-level results

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Happy

re a-levels

Funny, Elite was one of the games that helped ruin mine!

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Oh come on - what about the arduino?

basic module assembled from that well known bargain basement store "Radio Spares" (to show my age) for about £20

http://uk.rs-online.com/web/search/searchBrowseAction.html?method=searchProducts&searchTerm=7154081

or you can start by making the PCB: http://arduino.cc/en/Main/ArduinoBoardSerialSingleSided3

or you can redesign the hardware: http://arduino.cc/en/Main/Hardware

there's probably a website where the first line says "take a teaspoonful of sand" :)

<Reminiscing>

For my final year project I developed a mini control system based on a third party 32K memory buffer for an Epson FX- 80: 6502 based, with IEEE-488 interface and 6522 PIA brought out to the PCB mounted 32ish pin plug

They cost about £90 in the day and were about £200 cheaper than a proper job.

</Reminiscing>

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Shame on you Tony.....

...didn't you used to write for acorn user? you should remember that Elite was revolutionary in its say especially the graphics mode switching and getting the tape version to fit in memory.

I agree completely with David in what he says about UK IT education and this is the reason that the best low level coders today that are under 40 are not English..

All those people who say game dev hasn't suffered are forgetting that the game engine is typically coded in assembler rather than a complied language.

So yes, I will be buying one for my kids and they may even get to have a go, "in a bit. Daddy's just needs to check it's set up right"

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Coffee/keyboard

The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

'The UK's well-established videogames industry certainly hasn't suffered from this shift away from how we mucked about with computers as lads...."

Yes it has. It really has.

Or were you being sarcastic -- I miss that sometimes.

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Happy

Read the website

Looks like its got a usb ethernet adaptor connected and can run ubuntu. There is also mention of general purpose io. I expect you can hook up a usb to serial or parallel adaptor if you so wish.

Wonder if you could attach a wifi dongle and run it from a battery?

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David Braben...

... now that name is a blast from the past :)

Did anyone ever become Elite status?

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Anonymous Coward

My dad

He made it to Elite. I don't know if he did it twice. I know he was Deadly a few times. He was never a big action guy, but is happy to grind his way through a game. (He also completed Boulderdash. Several times.)

I was a teen with a C64 but didn't have enough patience to make it all the way. I don't know if I even made it to Deadly.

My dad will be 69 this year.

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Did anyone ever become Elite status?

I did - at least 3 times, maybe more. It was a long time ago. But I played the Amstrad version which was, from what I gathered, much easier than the BBC Micro original or the Spectrum version.

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Great for projects not learning

This looks great for integrating into projects as long as its possible to get some serial or USB output and should be a bit more powerful than the usual diy micro kits, but as a learning device it doesn't seem that great.

Schools and homes are now kitted out with endless PC's and it would be more of an inconvenience to plug it into a TV - especially when an internet browser is so important nowadays when learning to program something.

My advice, add a little cheap touch-screen to it and it becomes a self contained toy to play without the bother of finding a screen.

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wat?

You don't learn from projects?

Perhaps you mean "Great for projects not *schools*". And in that case I'm inclined to agree. Even for home use, HDMI does seem like a slightly strange choice. It does have the advantage of a small connector, but it seems like something a bit lower on the tech tree might have been more appropriate for the stated goals here, even analog composite video (sometimes called RCA, because of the connector).

Or for very basic text-only display, an interesting option would be connecting it to a computer and having it impersonate a USB keyboard.

I don't really like the idea of a built-in screen, but if they made a little screen as an accessory that would be handy.

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Headmaster

Nice ideal

@Old Handle: Well, with HDMI you have a digital colour video interface which is well established, can be attached to any DVI monitor or domestic TV. If this is to be used in schools and homes then I think they have the right balance here. It would be nice to see this exploit DirectFB but I don't know if there is realistically RAM for that. Time to leave horrible composite behind, it had its time and should now be quietly forgotten.

I look forward to seeing this, I will probably get one, even if I don't think I have the time to do anything with it. David should be able to get the commodity cost with the basic demand from both enthusiasts and education. The one thing he should note from the "mbed" system, which makes it successful is that it doesn't need any fiddling to get started and the code is simple to upload. Embedded Linux isn't very difficult to use but once you understand what is going on, but you need to overcome the first learning curve.

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Nice concept but

It kind of defeats the purpose to produce a tiny device that needs a tangle of wires emanating to make it do anything.

I hope there is a version of Raspberry Pi, perhaps housed in a little box like an Apple TV which has a network jack or wifi and a couple of USB ports. This could probably get sold for a tenner more and still be an attractive device.

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Silver badge

In a box...

Already exists, the Beagle Board, but at ten times the price: http://forums.epicentertech.com/files/b7842af6f0e9e0052582e3f4907a543c-8.html

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Silver badge

Good luck David

I'm part of a project to design and release a small piece of educational hardware which is just about to go into mass production. I'll be very impressed if the RP can be built and shipped for just £15 unless they can make them in batches of tens of thousands at a time.

If they can, then there is no reason why every kid can't have one for their GCSE project and have ridiculous amounts of fun. Just so long as us grown us are allowed to have them too.

But one thing they must do before going any further is burn Elite into the ROM.

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Agree

Will buy. Many.

Mass manufacture it. Yesterday!

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ace

Swap the HDMI out for VGA/Composite and wack a wifi chip + aerial on there and lets send these to Africa, it could be possible to get a mesh network up and running pretty quickly over there with these babies :)

Furthermore, I want one for my boat! 5w/10w is pretty low power consumption and would make a neat little controller for all the systems I plan on adding :)

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