The smallest member of the Raspberry Pi might actually be its largest: at the absurd price of £4 ($5 in the United States), it’s a full scale computer, and it could revolutionize electronic appliances.

Wait, what’s a Raspberry Pi?

Image via WIRED.

The Raspberry Pi is a series of credit card–sized single-board computers developed in the United Kingdom by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Their main goal was to promote the teaching of basic computer science in schools and developing countries, but they are also increasingly used in smart devices. The new model, the Raspberry Pi Zero, is a core that is 40 percent faster than the initial Raspberry Pi, running at 1Ghz with 512MB RAM, a MiniHDMI port and two Micro USB ports. This is a computer in itself, and it’s about  as big as a stick of gum. The Zero, which will be produced in Wales, has been praised by everyone, including its creators:

“It is about as big a change as the original Raspberry Pi was,” Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton said in an interview. “Really everything we’ve learned has been packed into this one device.”

As with previous Raspberry Pi’s, you can use it as a computer if you provide your own screen, keyboard and input device, because basically everything that’s not crucial for computing has been stripped. But getting Zero down to its bare bones isn’t about cutting features: it’s about progress in miniaturization.

Raspberry Pi’s executive director Eben Upton attributes much of his generation’s passion for computing to the success of the BBC Micro in the 80s. Image credits: Greg White

“There are economies of scale that weren’t available to us when we started,” Upton admits.

The success of the project is evident though – at $5 per board, the actual metal in the board makes for much of the cost.

“Being physically small makes it physically cheaper,” Upton added. “It’s fairly hard to imagine taking much more cost out. You’re talking about the cost of moving a physical product around that has atoms, that has metal in it — you get down to the point where the cost of the metal connectors makes an impact.”

At this price, it will open the door for many to start working in computer programming, but it might also pave the way for a new generation of smart appliances. Your fridge might let you know when you’re running low on butter or when the milk is not good anymore, or it may simply make some online orders for you. It could learn what kind of food you like and simply buy it from Amazon when you’re low on it. At $5 for a computer… why not?

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