Kano, the Coolest DIY Computer Kit, Now Lets You Build It a Screen
When Kano launched in 2013, we called it a “drool-worthy kit that lets kids build their own computers.” Of course, it was a computer in the most basic sense of the word, an impeccably designed kit with a keyboard, wiring and a Raspberry Pi to power a variety of learn-to-code activities. But it was missing one thing: a screen.
At the time, Kano users didn’t necessarily need a dedicated screen. An HDMI cable let you plug it into a monitor or TV. This kept costs down—a computer for $100!—and, more importantly, kept the kit simple. But people really wanted a Kano screen. “It’s been our most requested feature,” says Kano co-founder Alex Klein. So the company’s decided to give people a 10.1-inch LCD screen that hooks up to the Kano’s Raspberry Pi.
The screen looks like a tablet you’d find at Best Buy, but it was designed to be a learning tool. The Kano team realized encouraging users to plug the Kano into a monitor deprived kids of the educational experience of piecing together their own display. “We think when you build the whole system around the premise of looking inside, taking control remixing making and playing, you’ve got them in a different kind of walled garden, one that expands outside the wall,” Klein says. The screen was the last barrier to creating a complete system out of the modular Kano parts. “Unless you can create a complete system, the kid is always going to experience this through the lens of a closed piece of technology,” Klein says. “They’ll use their iPad to learn to code project, but how sticky is that experience going to be? They’re going to drag around some blocks and then leave it and go play Angry Birds.”
The display kit was designed to be modular, which lets kids do some basic assembly. They’re shown how to attach wafer cables and button boards to the driver board. They can zoom in on the screen’s pixels with a magnifying glass and learn about how the screen has more pixels than they can possibly count by reading a booklet that walks them through the process. “We can’t actually have a kid place a million pixels but we can have a kid bring it to life with a bit of a narrative,” Klein explains.
Klein and his team believe demystifying code, which Kano’s operating system is designed to do, is only the beginning of getting kids to understand technology on a deeper level. Letting kids play around with hardware makes the process of coding a little less abstract; it removes one more layer of the black box magic of computing. “Most kids are more interested in something more fundamental, which is, how do you make a computer?” Klein says. “That to me is much more of a human question than what’s the best programming language to build a responsive website?”
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