Inspired by Lego, fuelled by creativity: Linux-based Kano kit wants to get kids hacking again

Inspired by Lego, fuelled by creativity: Linux-based Kano kit wants to get kids hacking again

Summary: With the Raspberry Pi and its modular programming language at its heart, Kano is hoping to inspire kids to get involved with programming.

The Kano kit will be shipping soon. Image: Kano

Today's PCs aren't hugely friendly towards hardware hackers and tinkerers.

Both OS X and Windows 8 are fairly closed operating systems, merely allowing coders to run commands and pulling a veil over the internals of the software powering the machine. The same goes for hardware: all-in-ones, laptops, and tablets alike aren't easy for curious types to take apart and see what's inside.

It's a situation that's creating a generation of individuals that merely use their PCs, instead of using them to create.

A small British company with an Israeli founder, Yonatan Raz-Fridman, and strong Israeli ties, is trying to change that. Kano is offering a 'do it yourself' computer kit based on the popular Raspberry Pi $35 Linux PC, and designed to encourage users of all ages to explore and create with technology.

"In the past, it was customary for you to handle the command line yourself. But for people who create software and hardware [today], it's easier if users don't mess with it. So much of this knowledge nowadays is locked away in labs in London or Silicon Valley. But if you trust the user a little bit, they can do more," said Alex Klein, one of Kano's founders.

The original idea for Kano came from Klein's seven-year-old cousin, who wanted to build a computer — and wondered if it could be simple as playing with Lego blocks.

"Most of us don't know how a computer works," Klein said. "So we thought, 'Let's make a computer for children, make it colourful and base the experience on movies and images'."

The Kano package includes the Raspberry Pi Model B, a custom case with several colourful covers, a wireless keyboard with trackpad, HDMI and MicroUSB cables for display and power, a USB wi-fi dongle, power sockets, and a 8GB SD card carrying Kano OS.

The Kano kit is priced at $129, and aimed at the education sector where it can be used to assist children in developing their computer skills and creativity.

"It's an excellent way to learn how to code, but we wanted to create a new computing experience. It's playful and speaks the language of games and mobile, and it gives kids of all ages a way to express themselves without reading things online or from a thick book," Klein said.

Aside from its extremely cute hardware, Kano is hoping to make the original Raspberry Pi computing experience more accessible for children.

Much like OLPC's Sugar environment, Kano OS is colourful and funny, and allows children to "get comfortable" with the computer that they've just assembled.

"We are trying to create a layer above the Pi, and make it go mainstream," Klein said, where young users "don't have to fiddle with stuff — we want them to do stuff".

Klein also gives an example straight out of the Kano OS environment: a programming language, similar to the age-old Logo. Called Kano Blocks, the language essentially lets kids draw with code.

"Most of the known programming languages are represented in our device," he said. "The programming language we developed, Kano Blocks, allows you to drag and drop blocks into the code window, and that creates Python or JavaScript code. Even if you've never coded before, suddenly you can create things in Minecraft.

"The best way to make people get into it is through drawings and images... With our OS, they break the rules, share their creations with friends. We say — don't start from scratch, start with these things that we offer, and make them yours. That's the essence of hacking."

Following a successful crowdfunding campaign which saw Kano surpass its original $100,000 goal by well over $1m, Kano will start shipping the more than 13,000 pre-ordered kits next month.

"Our focus is on creation and invention, and to steer a little chaos — instead of clicking on Facebook, scroll, scroll, scroll, click on YouTube, scroll, scroll, scroll… If we make children create technology and not just use it, we will also be able to revive our economies," he said.

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Topics: Hardware, Emerging Tech, Education, Innovation

Niv Lilien

About Niv Lilien

Niv Lilien is a senior technology writer, and the former technology section editor for ynetnews. Currently, Niv writes regularly for several of Israel's most prominent media outlets.

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  • Nice!

    Cool stuff. A bit expensive, though... When priced below $ 100,-- , say $ 99,-- , it would be more attractive.
  • Definitely getting this

    Heck, I paid good money for the Linux kit for the PlayStation 2 back in the day, but this looks a whole lot better.
  • Open source agenda at work - nothing more

    "Both OS X and Windows 8 are fairly closed operating systems, merely allowing coders to run commands and pulling a veil over the internals of the software powering the machine"

    Really? You plant a few multicolored plastic trinkets on the desk and think a 10 year old is going to start (or want to) hacking an open source kernel. Give us a break.

    When I was the target age, I was disassembling my parents electric weed whacker, I was playing with relays, etc. I would guess today I'd want to write programs and control physical devices, and you can do that on any platform, including the PC (; just plug in some USB devices and sensors and start writing code in a freely available language.
    • *rolleyes*

      Excellent frothing to illustrate that you know nothing about the interaction of OS and hardware architecture, nor do you know anything about coding if you think that all you need is Windows, a keyboard and some USB devices and BAM! You magically have code flowing from the tips of your fingers and Skynet is about to be born.
    • I don't think that's the point

      I seriously doubt that the point of this is to teach kids to develop by having them start with developing device drivers (shudder). This uses a visual language Kano Blocks, which is probably unsuitable for the task. Anyway, until you've actually developed an application, trivializing buy saying it's no more than running commands shows that you probably haven't done any development yourself. There is a place in this world for both lower level OS related development and application development...thank you.
  • lol .. frothing

    1) Interaction of OS and hardware. Not sure a 10 year old needs to know this. Kids have a limited attention span, and they focus on actions/reactions. In short, cool things need to happen (especially for boys).

    2) nor do you know anything about coding if you think that all you need is Windows, a keyboard and some USB devices and BAM. Err... yes, all you need is a PC and Windows or Linux, and yes, you can start coding.

    3) I never implied anything about skynet... not sure what even prompted that comment.

    At the end of the day I guess I'm saying you can have just as much fun or learning using an old laptop and some USB devices and sensors, and you sure don't need Raspberry PI for any of it.
  • cute idea but there are a few issues

    For the purposes we are using USD
    Wireless keyboard and trackpad around $15
    Raspberry Pi around $40
    Case speaker around $5
    Cables and power supply tops, $10
    Plastic casing at MOST $8
    for a grand total of $78
    The final price should be $99 which makes it very attractive, that is 101.4% markup which is price gouging. Especially for an educational product! That isn't even considering the fact that these people buy it in bulk so they get massive discounts. Sorry this is a pill that is hard to swallow.

    Next issue, the Raspberry Pi is too slow for anyone to do anything with, not to mention it's ARM. Slow old outdated ARM processor with too little ram for any real usage. Kids will want to install Windows onto it and fail miserably and forget it and end up at the bottom of their toybox with the 99 thousand Lego he never touches because the Xbox is over there.

    It doesn't speak any language, it doesn't even do well at mobile computing. Kids will hate this, and it is a piss poor way to learn to code. If you want someone to learn to code, give them a reason to code on a computer powerful enough.

    You bash the most mainstream OSes and in the very same article you want to go mainstream with a niche OS like Linux and an even more niche product, the R-Pi...

    THEN you go onto bash the most popular social aspect of kid's lives, Facebook and Youtube. You aren't going to stir up anything but angry nerds creating a fire. Your marketing strategy really needs to be worked on. This sounds like some out of touch 40 something, trying to make money, who will probably stop supporting the product HOPING the open source community will just take over.

    Mentioning Minecraft is a joke. The underlying goal is completely mocking mainstream, hoping to be mainstream. Way to be "hip" and "with it" and "bucking the system" with a toy nobody wants or cares about.

    Oh and this gets me, "most of us don't know how a computer works" who the hell is "us"? Not me, not anyone in open source computing. Knowing ARM != all computers. Also, how do you make the connection to children? Seems like you are selling this to open source dads who think they will get their kids interested in open source, when the PS4 is calling, or facebook and their friends...

    When you come back to reality let me know. Pitiful really... Especially considering there are MUCH more powerful ARM dev boards out there...
    • More power, more power, more power ...

      I think you may have missed the point. The concept is to engage children and show them that they can simply and easily create something of their own just by pulling together some pre organised operations ... doing this does not require moster power machines.

      What children do not have access to currently is a simple starting point and this is what this is trying to achieve ... it's trying to be the ZX81 of it's day and hopefully there will also be other startups trying to do the same creating TRS80's, Acorns, BBC-B's and Spectrums ... It's what the Pi was intended for in the first place.

      I could give this to my 5 year old and he may get really hooked into the "Look what I made it do Daddy" thing or it could end up gathering dust but the important factor here is that if i give him a tablet or a PC he'll only be accessing the installed applications to play or surf or whatever and never "Create"!

      Not every child is destined to be a future developer and neither should they but this looks like a good place to start if you think that they might get some enjoyment or satisfaction from having the opportunity to try it.
    • Misleading

      I think your prices are a bit misleading.

      8gb sd card, about $10 for a good one
      wifi dongle, again about $10
      the books is comes with will be around $2-3
      stickers, $1
      decent size keyboard + trackpad $25, and that's not even with bluetooth
      packaging, $4

      So if we use your numbers, the kit costs about $116 to make - leaving just $13 of profit.

      Paints a different picture now doesn't it?
  • Not $129 but free ...

    IMPORTANT: This should have been mentioned in the article!

    You can already get the O/S as a download on their site along with a specific burner routine to get it onto an existing SD card and get the books (in PDF format) that would have come in the box.

    If you already have a Pi kicking about (and the accessories in use or gathering dust) then you can try Kano for free and the great part is that whatever you had that Pi doing before can be got back to just by putting the previous SD card back in.

    What have you got to lose ... at worst an hour or two of your time.

    NB: I want to make it quite transparent that I am not involved with this company or project in any way but many people commenting on these forums do themselves a disservice by always picking wholes and moaning rather than embracing and trying.
  • I think that this is a Gimick.

    By pretending to give easy skills at a moments notice it will rake in the dollars. So it is hoped I think.