Kano Computer Review

The Kano is, on the simplest level, a DIY kit computer. Like the kit computers of 30 years ago, It is an exercise in construction as much as a finished product. It teaches the user how computers are physically constructed, as well as teaching them basic coding and programming skills.

The Kano has become famous for the success of its Kickstarter campaign. In November and December of last year, Kano successfully crowdfunded mass production of the unit, which is set to begin this summer. The campaign needed to raise $100,000 to succeed. They did that within the first 18 hours.

The campaign raised over one and a half million US dollars, with more than 13 thousand backers, many of them buying $99 pre-ordered machines. This was Kickstarter’s most successful campaign for a design or learning product. Apple’s Steve Wozniak and Kickstarter’s own Yancy Strickler gave the campaign a little star power.

The Kano project

was started by Alex Klein, designer and writer, his cousin Saul Klein, venture capitalist, and Yonatan Raz-Fridman, a former soldier. The name Kano comes from Kanō Jigorō, who created judo. He was known as an extremely dedicated teacher, and the creators decided that is what their product should be.

The three asked themselves what the next generation of computers would be like. They considered what could be done to make the old idea of a computer kit modern, and make it fun enough to hold a child’s attention long enough to teach them something useful. The idea eventually evolved into a way to bring both inexpensive, open source hardware, computer literacy and coding ability to economically disadvantaged people all over the world.

As we find our feet after the economic crises that marked the beginning of this new century, it has become clear that the developing world needs investment in knowledge and infrastructure if it is going to thrive in a sustainable, stable way. The Kano program is a way to deliver both key hardware and the ability to use it creatively to the people who need it most.

Development

The real work of development started in the beginning of 2013. The three sat down with the stated goal of making the existing open source Raspberry Pi computing platform more accessible. They worked closely with Codeacademy, self-taught engineer Kelvin Doe and Eben Upton (founder of Raspberry Pi) as well as parents, children and teachers from all over the world. The creators focused on good design, useful hardware add-ons and a true plug-and-play architecture, facilitated by a bespoke Raspberry Pi operating system.

 

 

The device was given a limited experimental run in London, South Africa, Kenya and Sierra Leone, where school children in low income areas took to the device with enthusiasm.

 

 

Technical specifications

The kit contains everything the user will need to make a working computer except a screen. It comes with the Raspberry Pi unit itself, a case, cables, a Wi-Fi connection dongle, a speaker and a wireless keyboard/mouse combo.  The guide shows how to construct the unit from the parts in a way reminiscent of Lego instructions, as inspired by Saul Klein’s then six year old son Micah.

 

The Kano runs on Kano OS, which is a customised and simplified version of Debian Linux. Programming is accomplished using Kano Blocks, which is a visual programming language that is interoperable with both Python and Javascript, as well as other languages. Users can learn to code games, compose music, and operate a word processor. The device is capable of web browsing and email of course, and is expected to put these capabilities into the hands of millions of those who could not afford a computer, especially in the developing world.

 

 

Reception so far

 

The Kano is getting rave reviews for both its design and philosophy. It is heralded as a major breakthrough in bringing technology and the ability to use it to the people who need it most.

 

Wired magazine has praised its ability to turn “just about anyone into a computer maker.” Business Insider called it “as easy to build as Lego.”

 

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