Billed as "the computer anyone can make," the US$99 Kano kit supplies a Raspberry Pi computer board with the various accouterments (save for a display) required to make it into a complete computer. The Kano programming language uses graphic code blocks to implement a simple but powerful language reminiscent of BASIC.
Most people have developed a certain facility at operating pre-packaged smartphones and computer programs designed to delight, but haven't the slightest idea what the hardware and software are actually doing. This is the problem that Kano is designed to address.
Frankly, the ability to build a Kano computer isn't all that impressive, as most of the components simply plug together like peripherals. It is accomplished in 107 seconds in this video, which suggests that very little learning takes place during the process. It is, however, convenient to have all the pieces in one place.
What Kano does provide is a simple-to-use tool to learn the basics of programming a computer to solve problems. These would include breaking a problem down into a logical sequence of operations, converting that sequence into instructions in a computer language, and verifying the operation of the resulting program.
The Kano programming language, which sits upon a foundation including Python and Linux, allows a newbie to learn the intellectual principles of programming without having to bother with the complexities of coding for a particular machine, or within a complex syntax.
The code blocks, which implement various commands, programming structures, and interface functions, are completely transparent. Programming the Kano is accomplished by arranging appropriate code block graphics on a graphics screen in interlocking structures.
As an educational tool, the Kano is directed at the logical and structural aspects of programming; nothing to speak of is learned about hardware at this level. Remember, however, that underneath the Kano programming is a reasonably capable Linux machine, which provides an excellent platform on which later to learn about memory structures, registers, I/O interfaces, and the like, which make up the upper level structures of the electronic circuitry.
The delightful thing about the Kano system is that the language is so simple, and so easy to change, that a user can enter the program and change parameters and logic just to see what happens. This sort of play usually carries with it the deepest and most lasting learning.
A Kickstarter campaign to bring Kano to market has resulted in the project netting pledges for over six times its $100,000 goal in the first five days online. Pledges for the Kano computer will be accepted until December 19, with delivery expected in the (Northern Hemisphere) summer of 2014.
The Kano Kickstarter pitch can be seen in the video below.
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