$35 Raspberry Pi: tiny device, big goals

After six years of planning and development, the $35 Raspberry Pi computer sold out within hours of its Leap Day launch, crashing its distributors’ websites in the process.

It’s not surprising that the single-board computer, with its unprecedented low price, brought techies to the site in droves. While it appears to be little more than a credit-card sized circuit board, the Raspberry Pi has an Ethernet connection, two USB ports, and an SD card port. It can plug into any TV and can power 3D graphics and Blu-ray video playback.

The Raspberry Pi runs a free, open-source Linux operating system, and it’s powered by a standard USB mobile charger. It doesn’t come with a keyboard or a monitor. Unlike most computers, it’s not meant to stand on its own — just the opposite.

Evan Upton and Robert Mullins, co-founders of the British-based Raspberry Pi Foundation, began working on the project when a group of Cambridge-based computer programmers noticed that fewer and less-qualified students were applying for computer science courses at Cambridge University — Upton told CNN that many applicants hadn’t done more than build a webpage.

Inspired by 1980s computers like the BBC Micro and the Commodore 64, Mullins, Upton, and a group of engineers embarked on a mission to build a new programmable machine for a new generation.

“The primary goal was to build a low cost computer that every child could own, and one where programming was the natural thing to do with it,” Mullins told CNN.

The first version of the Raspberry Pi will soon ship to developers, with the hope that they’ll create software that will allow children to design their own computer programs.

In the next few weeks, the Raspberry Pi Foundation will start working on an even cheaper version of the computer — a $25 model.

In the long term, Upon told CNN he hopes the computer will generate 1,000 additional engineers in the UK annually.

“Anyone who expresses a desire to get into designing software should have a platform to do it,” he said.