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Children finding even more uses for Raspberry Pi

[Date: 2013-01-10]

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Academics from the University of Manchester's School of Computer Science in the United Kingdom organised a series of workshops with the aim of inspiring children with the near limitless potential of computer science - and in turn were themselves astounded by the fresh ideas the youth presented. All this was made possible thanks to the inexpensive single-board computer Raspberry Pi and an add-on, PiFace. According to the university, these two devices have put the fun back into computing: they hope this can influence and change the way schools and society view computer science.

Since its introduction in 2012, the Raspberry Pi - a small computer roughly the size of a credit card, has taken the computing world by storm. This diminutive device was originally created with the intention of inspiring children in the field of computer science - in much the same way that computers and electronics inspired people like Stephen Wozniak, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates decades ago.

The Raspberry Pi, combined with the PiFace (a device that sits on top of the Raspberry Pi and can power motors, control robots, trigger cameras and use sensor networks) have a vast range of potential applications that the team hoped would get young people fired up about computing. The university helped youngsters make bird boxes that tweet and photograph birds, control Scalextric cars and build interactive toys that react to the weather. The workshops also piqued the interest of the London Zoo, who wanted to record animal movements.

The team also devised a unique deterrent for those intent on raiding the pantry: a talking, tweeting chicken guarding kitchen cupboards to shame hungry dieters into abstaining. This Raspberry Pi computerised 'chicken' not only barks out orders to sneaky snackers, but also tweets using the dieter's Twitter account, to publicly shame him or her.

Dr David Rydeheard, from the School of Computer Science, spoke about how the Raspberry Pi has inspired children: 'This is an exciting development, taking computing out of its box and allowing schoolchildren to play with the science of computing. Schools have physics, chemistry and biology laboratories to teach these subjects. The combination of Raspberry Pi and PiFace creates a cheap personal laboratory for computer science that every child can own.'

What inspired the academics themselves was the discovery that when schoolchildren enter university, they have a much lower level of technical knowledge than in previous years. For their part, the government is keen to improve how computing is taught in schools, using a scientific approach to the subject.

This in turn led to the creation of the Raspberry Pi, which was developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation with the specific aim of improving teaching of basic computer science in schools.

'The future wealth of our country depends crucially on our expertise in the science and technology of computing. At the moment, schools fail to teach their students computing: how to design and build computing systems. Raspberry Pi and PiFace are ideal for schools to use to teach this key subject,' added Dr David Rydeheard.

Workshops for teachers using Raspberry Pi and PiFace have attracted more than 50 school teachers per session; more recently, the university and the Stem Team at Manchester Museum of Science and Technology (MOSI) have run workshops with children.

Dr Andrew Robinson was amazed by the children's response. He said: 'It really fired their imagination. After seeing what Raspberry Pi and PiFace could do, we had suggestions including an automated insulin monitor that can dial 999, and another that automatically reorders food when it detects the cupboard is bare.

'One child even came up with a design for a device that politely reminds you to put the toilet seat down after use. I was really blown away with what they came up with.'

The team are also launching the Raspberry Pi Bake Off, an international competition for schools and hobbyists, challenging entrants to create useful gadgets to change the world using Raspberry Pi computers.

The Raspberry Pi in conjunction with PiFace give users all the capabilities of a computer, but is more flexible and can be embedded in the real world - and it costs as little as GBP 40 per kit.

For more information, please visit:
Video of children using PiFace with the Scalextric and bird box during the Manchester Science Festival

University of Manchester, School of Computer Science

Related stories: 35280

Category: Miscellaneous
Data Source Provider: University of Manchester
Document Reference: Based on information from the University of Manchester
Subject Index: Automation; Coordination, Cooperation; Education, Training; Electronics, Microelectronics; Information and communication technology applications

RCN: 35423