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Science

Five reasons why DIY is the future of computing and will get kids into coding

Call it a counter movement, call it what you will. But kids - and adults - want to make things, including computers. Falling prices for components and a need for coding skills herald the advent of DIY.

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Learn how to code with DIY computer kits

Whether you're a school kid who is into electronics, a budding programmer, or a parent keen to bridge the gap between gaming and education this Christmas, there's still time to get something blinky and bleepy under the tree.

Computers have always made great, if extravagant, Christmas presents for kids.

My parents clearly had more money than sense (it didn't last) when they asked me whether I wanted a computer or a saxophone one year. It was no contest. I could have been a wicked jazz man, but I jumped at the computer.

And sure enough on Christmas day, there under the tree, were two huge boxes. An Atari 1040 ST was within my greedy reach. Problem was, when I set it up and plugged it in, the monitor didn't work. Oh, how I sulked. If only I'd been more of a hacker or a maker, I would have whipped out my tools and had it running by Boxing Day.

DIY Computer Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi: a pioneer in DIY computer kits

A lot has changed since then (although I'm still prone to sulk). For a start, kids can now learn about the components and inner workings of computers right out of the box.

Here's five reasons why DIY computer kits are the go.

1) DIY computer kits are relatively cheap

Raspberry Pi Zero

The Zero Pi: basically, a give away

The Raspberry Pi was one of the first low-cost DIY computer kits. It was the ultimate in "barebones" computing as all you got was an exposed motherboard with a few ports.... and endless possibilities.

It was followed by the Raspberry Pi 2 and, as with the original, was priced at around $35.

This year the Raspberry Pi Foundation released the Pi Zero. The registered charity had considered launching a more expensive and more powerful model. But Google's chairman, Eric Schmidt, advised the Raspberry Pi founder, Eben Upton, against the idea. Schmidt told him the future was cheap.

And you can't beat a $5 price tag on a computer. Or their ambition.

British astronaut Tim Peake will work with two Raspberry Pi computers at the International Space Station, as part of Mission Principia and the

Astro Pi Mission

.

2) DIY computer kits will get you into coding

Kano DIY Computer

Kano: coding for kids, right out of the box

The

Kano computer

also comes as a kit. It's priced a fair bit higher at $99 - and perhaps it was Kano's emergence on the market that motivated Upton to seek greater cash returns. But, then, the Kano comes with a bright orange keyboard and now also a portable monitor.

Kano DIY Computer

Kano's new screen makes it an all-in-one option for kids who want to code

Most Raspberry Pi users plug theirs into a TV. And you can do that with the Kano as well, especially if you don't want to fork out the extra hundred or so for the screen.

But the makers of both say their primary aim is to get kids into coding.

3) Build your own, code your own

Blackboard Coding is the new Literacy

Coding is the new literacy

Coding is "the new literacy." Too true. Organizations such as code.org have been pushing the agenda for coding in schools for years. They want computer science to be part of core curriculum. It stands to reason. Our futures are being shaped by the code we write today.

In fact, our lives today are shaped by code, which in some cases, was written decades ago - and not all of it great. We can trace back bugs and loopholes in encryption and other digital models to code written at a time when we didn't know better - or it was well written code, but only for standards back then. It's all the more reason for us to understand how computers work and how we program them.

Hopscotch Coding for kids

The Hopscotch app lets you learn the building blocks of code before you code for real

If you don't fancy buying the hardware, you can start learning to code with the mobile app Hopscotch or online, with my favorite, Codecademy.

4) DIY computing is your fast track into robotics

DIY Computer Rapiro Raspberry Pi

Shota Ishiwatari and his humanoid robot "Rapiro" which works with a Raspberry Pi

All it takes is a Raspberry Pi, an Arduino robot and a little knowledge of the Python programming language, and away you go! Well, it may take more than just an afternoon to master the skills. But the point is, it has become relatively easy to learn how to program instructions for robots. And the best part is the community aspect. So many people generously post their discoveries and inventions online for you to recreate.

Computer DIY littleBits

LittleBits: click together with magnets

My newest fancy is

littleBits

- they're perfect for people like me who haven't held a soldering iron since electronics club at school. The little bits click together with magnets. But the result is the same: you can quickly learn how the various components work together, and build your own robots, synthesizers, and more.

5) Building your own computer cuts down on e-Waste

e-Waste accounts for a significant amount of global landfill. Much of that comes from unwanted computers - some of which still work or house components that could be salvaged and reused.

All you need is inspiration.

Computer CPU

A truly personal computer is one you've built yourself

There's a strong tradition in building your own computer, not least Raspberry Pis and Kanos. Serious gamers would rather labor for months acquiring the best parts to build a custom tower than buy one off the peg.

Doing it yourself is - or should be - the very essence of what we mean when we speak of the personal computer and personalized gadgets. But all too often, the best we get are devices that billions of other people have also got. We're told a custom cover for our phones will let us express our individuality. But that's not true. If you really want to express yourself, build something that no one else has even dreamt of.

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