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Summary:

The latest blockbuster Kickstarter project is an unlikely one: an open source computer science education kit with Raspberry Pi. This one is targeted at kids, and it’s finding fans.

KanoKit

When the Raspberry Pi was developed, founder Eben Upton envisioned that the low-cost computer would do its finest work in the classroom, teaching kids about computing. But as more units sold, Raspberry Pi developed a strong, distinctive niche among adult makers, a fruitful group that nonetheless doesn’t really have much in common with a younger age bracket that can be hard to reach.

Alex Klein thinks his company’s project, the Raspberry Pi-based Kano, can reinvigorate Upton’s vision and bring the Raspberry Pi (Upton is an adviser to the Kano team) back to the classroom. “We have this nimble, hackable piece of cheap tech” in the Raspberry Pi, said Klein, Kano’s co-founder and CTO. “But it’s not catalyzing the interest of beginners and kids like it should.”

KanoPi

The Kano is an open-source Raspberry Pi kit with two immediate goals: to make setting up the Raspberry Pi as easy as putting together a Lego set, and to use that computer to engage kids in fun and easy Computer Science lessons that can be conducted in a classroom or at home. After the Kickstarter campaign launched on November 19, things escalated very quickly: The project hit its initial goal in 18 hours, and as of this writing, has surpassed its funding goals more than seven times over, selling out all $99 Kano kits and on pace to clear the coveted Kickstarter million-dollar mark by the time the fundraiser ends next month.

“The Kickstarter launch, which has blown away our expectations, has had feedback of all ages, all around the world expressing their excitement over making a computer,” Klein said. “I think there’s a real latent hunger for this.”

But for all the success, Klein seems very confident that the team can deliver on the promises that it has made to the nearly 7,000 backers that have already supported the project. The Kano has been a year in the making, as Klein and co-founder Yonatan Raz-Fridman traveled the world with 200 prototype kits this summer, and selling them all by August.

Check out this video below, taken from an interactive lesson with a Kano prototype:

In working with kids, the company was able to refine the hardware from a large, brown kit to a smaller, clearer case system that was more portable and friendly. In addition, the company also worked on refining the software of Kano, which comes on a small SD card with every kit. The main piece to this is Kano Blocks — a coding environment that takes advantage of block programming to break big coding concepts down for the under-12 set.

“The construction of the kit gives an entry point, but we launch them into these projects that can go for dozens of hours and are infinitely scalable,” Klein explained. “Any project you could accomplish with Python or Javascript can be translated into these Kano Blocks and be easily built.”

Because of its testing experience, Klein said that he believes the team has a firm handle on the logistics that often trip up so many wildly successful Kickstarter hardware projects — manufacturing woes, contracting red tape, and other small things that add up to push a project from its intended date to much, much later. Raz-Fridman agreed in an email:

“From day one of starting Kano, we’ve developed a DNA of execution, detailed planning, and managing expectations, others’ and ours. It helped us design, make and ship 200 prototypes within 4 months from an apartment in London. We’ve learned to execute fast and deliver. We’ve worked hard on designing Kano’s supply chain, building relationships with the right partners, and most importantly, we are passionate about making people happy – and it starts with fulfilling their expectations.”

And the team hopes more money will pour in: Klein was able to confirm exclusively to Gigaom that the fundraiser will have new stretch goals:

  • $1,000,000 will allow the company to bring Kano Blocks and the Pong Lesson to the web.
  • $1,500,000 will bring Kano Blocks to iOS and Android
  • $2,000,000 will help furnish an add-on robotics kit, to be available by Thanksgiving 2014.

Klein said that in his lofty dreams, the Kano will become a tool not only for educating the next generation of kids about how to create with computers, but something that could change communities around the world. He already has his eye on expansion kits that build on what Kano already does — including robotics and telecommunications — to bring even more tools to the table. That kind of open education, utilizing what Raspberry Pi was meant to do, is the way Klein believes we should solve our STEM problem.

“We do see this being apart of an ecosystem,” Klein said. “What’s very lucky about being an open source company is that we don’t have to build it all ourselves to give a sense of play and accessibility.”

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  1. Abhor the abuse of the word ‘love’ all over this campaign.

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