£15 USB PC creator David Braben in talks with government

Well known for developing games like the famous Rollercoaster Tycoon, David Braben has taken action to stop the drop in interest in computer science with the roll out of a £15 USB computer.

Braben told TechEye that the computer system will be aimed at secondary school children. in a bid to affect that sea of change in the lack of computer science teaching, which has caused a worrying drop in application at higher education level.

The Frontier Developments boss has produced a tiny PC housed on a USB stick which has an HDMI port for input to an LCD TV and a USB port for connectivity to a keyboard. It will help enable youngsters get involved in, and excited about programming again, it is hoped.

According to Braben, the curriculum in the UK has veered away from the teaching of computer sciences at a young age, instead focusing on ICT teaching.

“Although it is well meaning, ICT teaching has killed off interest in computing and computer sciences,” Braben told TechEye.

“Of course ICT skills are very useful, but they are more of a life skill or a skill that is generally used in the office, learning about Word or PowerPoint and so on. And in fact many students are much more advanced than their teachers which leads to a great demotivation in the classroom.”

Braben believes that by providing a cheap way of allowing kids access to programming skills, it will be possible to “create motivation and excitement, and to embrace the desire in kids to be creative”.

With a fifty percent reduction in the number of applicants to computer sciences according to government statistics sited by Braben, he believes it is a problem that needs addressing. It is very much a problem in the UK, something that IEEE president Moshe Kam agreed to TechEye not long ago.

He believes that a “huge cohort of kids” who do not have access to a computer could be targeted with a plan which would see the PC handed out as a trial to secondary school students. It runs on a version of Linux and will have full internet connectivity.

“I would ideally like to see it rolled out to a single year group, possibly in the first year of secondary school,” Braben said. “This would be likely to cost between £10 -£15million.”

Braben told us that the product, produced by Raspberry Pi, will be undergoing a 12 month trial while looking for investment partners and trying to get the USB PC to commercial production, with a dialogue having already begun with government figures.

The full stats, which gives TechEye’s dusty old office computer a run for its money, are below:

  • 700MHz ARM11
  • 128MB of SDRAM
  • OpenGL ES 2.0
  • 1080p30 H.264 high-profile decode
  • Composite and HDMI video output
  • USB 2.0
  • SD/MMC/SDIO memory card slot
  • General-purpose I/O
  • Open software (Ubuntu, Iceweasel, KOffice, Python)