The Raspberry Pi booth at this year's Maker Faire New York was thronged by so many young fans it looked as though One Direction might reunite behind the display table and sign autographs.
But this was a gathering of wannabe programmers, not die-hard Directioners, so it wasn't Harry Styles' flesh the kids were straining to get their hands on, it was the U.K.-based tech company's new postcard-sized touch screens.
"The people who are going to use this are the people who are going to want to add a display functionality to maker projects," said company founder and CEO Eben Upton, who developed the $25 Raspberry Pi a few years ago as the cornerstone of an educational nonprofit and has gone on to sell more than 5 million of the gizmos to kids keen on using the guts of simple computers to develop their own games and robots.
The new 7-inch touchscreen adds a world of possibilities to the tinkersphere. A sharp 800 x 480 pixel display with a 10-point capacitive touch membrane enables users to eliminate keyboards and mice in favor of a touchscreen interface that can scroll and zoom images.
The screen kit consists of a panel and driver board that connects to a Raspberry Pi board (sold separately) using a ribbon cable connected to the DSI port. Sale price: $60.
In a further move to advance his mission to transform kids from passive consumers to active hackers, Upton has also developed the Sense HAT, a sensor board that will be sent into orbit as part of the Astro Pi Programming Competition, in which schoolchildren will write software to be run on the International Space Station by Britain's first-ever astronaut, who heads to space in December for a 6-month stay.
"At the start of this year, we got an opportunity to design an expansion board that we could send up to the International Space Station with U.K. astronaut Tim Peake," said a truly stoked Upton, who is, by his own admission, a real space cadet. "This is kind of basically the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me in my entire life!"
The Sense HAT (Hardware Attached on Top) board consists of a circuit board with 64 RGB LEDs for display output, a joystick, a temperature/pressure/humidity sensor, and a 9-axis motion sensor consisting of a gyroscope, accelerometer and compass. Sale price: $30.
"Schoolkids can buy the exact same electronics that will be flown on the Space Station and use them ... to replicate the experiments that Peake will be conducting in space," said Upton, with the enthusiasm of a guy whose wildly popular earth-bound units are headed for the stratosphere.