Scottish firm Curious Chip has launched Pip, “the playful handheld device you program yourself.” Pip has been launched on Kickstarter, with a modest £50,000 target.
A £150 pledge bags you a Pip, while a £200 pledge nets you a Pip, Camera and Maker Pack.
With final-version prototypes to play with, Raspberry Pi co-founder Eben Upton has given his backing: ‘I’m super-excited about this! I’m really, really looking forward to seeing what people do [with a Pip].’
Pip’s D-Pad and buttons are mounted on two detachable, USB controllers – however, Jason Frame, co-founder and technical lead for Pip, told us ‘we came up with the removable controller idea… a full two weeks before’ a certain handheld game console was announced. Two shoulder buttons are housed in the main body.
Pip also includes a row of eight RGB LEDs and a 40-pin GPIO ribbon cable connector either side of its 4in, 800×480 pixel touchscreen. There’s a speaker, microphone, accelerometer and compass as well as two USB ports, HDMI out, wireless and an optional 5mp camera. Pip is powered by a Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 Lite.
Pip might look like a portable games console, and indeed it comes pre-loaded with ‘a number of open-source remakes of popular games like Pacman and Super Bomberman,’ according to Jason.
However, Jason added, ‘what we really want is for kids – and adults! – to go beyond that: make stuff and share it with the world. Games, apps, physical stuff, everywhere and anywhere.’ Pip was made with making in mind. ‘All we wanted to do’, Jason added, ‘was make a portable device that you could have your own code running on in less than five minutes.’
To this end Pip has its own IDE, called Curiosity. ‘It’s hosted on Pip itself,’ Jason told us, ‘so there’s nothing to install.’ You can create software for Pip on any machine with a web browser.
You can emulate your code in the browser, and ‘it’s just one click’ to send your code to Pip wirelessly. For young coders, there’s a visual coding app called Livewire. Jason confirmed that ‘we’ve been iterating [Livewire] for five years now’.
Unusually, Pip uses a Compute Module 3 (CM3) rather than a Raspberry Pi 3. But Curious Chip didn’t what would power Pip in the early days of development. ‘The CM3 Lite edition (with SD card support) was announced shortly before Pip v1 debuted at Bett 2017 [a trade show for education technology] and immediately we gave it a serious look’, Jason told us.
You can see the resultant motherboard below, with the CM3 slot (which the Raspberry Pi Foundation borrowed from laptop SODIMM memory) in the centre.
Asked whether the use of CM3 gave Pip a possible upgrade option, Jason told us, ‘size was the main concern… The smaller a device is, the more likely you are to take it with you and the more to can do with it…’ Jason added that, ‘Pip should have enough juice for our expected use-cases for a good while to come. Isn’t a quad-core, credit-card sized SoC with 1GB RAM enough for anybody?’