“Search for the white rabbit,” Kano challenges me, providing clues as to where the animal might be. Mere minutes ago, the sleek, orange-fringed computer was a collection of flat-packed components in a box, but with minimal fuss it has been bought to life, taught to recognize its owner, and now it wants to play.
Built around the Raspberry Pi – a no-frills computer on a single circuit board – the Kano promises to make us all creative technologists. It is the product of a London computing start-up of the same name, and a challenge from company founder Alex Klein’s cousin Micah, aged 7, who wanted computer design to be “like Lego.” The final product can be pieced together in 107 seconds, costs $99, and has generated enough excitement to crowd-fund almost treble the original target of $100,000 within 48 hours, with backers including Apple inventor Steve Wozniak.
“There has been a tension between the specialists and users,” says Kano coder Matt Keegan, playing a simple game he has just built on the device. “We want to lower the barrier to entry and empower children.”
The machine can serve many functions of a regular laptop – web browsing, correspondence – but the main appeal lies in teaching non-experts how computers work “under the hood.” Users can code and design software, aided by a child-friendly guidebook that explains every step.
Keegan and other ambassadors have been touring schools worldwide helping kids get started, ahead of coding being added to the UK national curriculum. “It’s been fantastic – we hear kids saying ‘I want to be a developer’ and the teachers say they learn almost as much.”
The Raspberry Pi is also versatile, it can be used to power everything from cameras to motion sensors. This helps users to understand computing process, and has also raised the Kano’s international appeal. Bulk orders have been dispatched to Thailand and Sierra Leone for use in infrastructure projects, and there is ongoing work to make it available in many more languages.
“The ‘maker movement’ is growing and the way forward is accessibility,” says Keegan. “There are increasing numbers of designers, teachers and parents trying to make things cheaper and more widely available.”
Other groups have also sought to broaden the appeal of computing, but former British government advisor for technology Rohan Silva thinks that Kano is a major breakthrough. “It’s the best computer designed with the majority of the world in mind,” he told Metro. “Past ‘maker’ innovations have focused on the West, but for the first time this makes tools available wherever you are born. It’s a revolutionary moment for computing.”
The first kits will be delivered in summer 2014, but Kano will not stop there. As the crowd-fund shoots up, they are exploring next generation designs including robots and wearable features.