Prototype: Programming and Electronics Computer for Kids

Or anyone with an imagination and a craving to tinker!

I have spent a lot time researching computers from the 1970s to the 1990s, as well as looking into what is available in modern hardware for tinkering with electronics and programming. Somewhere in there I was inspired to build a mock up of this,

Blender rendering of the SN0E electronics and programming hobby machine.

What you’re looking at here is a Blender rendering of the SN0E electronics and programming hobby machine, which is a self contained computer and electronics hobby kit. The system is based on the combination of a Raspberry Pi Zero W computer and an Arduino UNO micro-controller inside a retro-style chassis. It has a 4″ 800×600 LCD, a mechanical keyboard with a standard ANSI layout, a large storage box for electronic components, two full sized bread boards for making projects, 8 jewel style LEDs, and set of keys, buttons, and switches (with a slider for good measure!) that can be wired to do whatever the user would like.

The idea is basically, if this box was the only thing under the tree for a child at Christmas, they would be able to open it and spend the rest of their life creating countless fun projects! No batteries to buy, no mouse to lose, and only the power cord to worry about… just a complete kit of awesome and a manual to take you from scratching your head to revelling in how amazing you are.

SN0E stands for, “Semi-Nerdly Raspberry Pi Zero Enhanced”, but you can call it the “Snow” or if you’re a Brit, the “Snotty” (S not E). Funny story, I thought of the name while shovelling my drive way, but it wasn’t until I had nearly finished the model that I made the connection between S N 0 E and the snow I was shovelling hours before… πŸ™‚

I’ll be building the prototype and writing the manual this year, and down the road I will see about mass producing them. If nothing else, after refinement I will be able to hand make custom machines, though I bet that would make them expensive as hell (which is damned shame – every family should be able to afford one!!!).

Major Design Points
– Sturdy, high quality chassis/switches/buttons/keys that will stand the test of time while also being easy for the owner to repair.
– Capitalise on standards, so what kids learn is actually useful in the real world (such as repairing or upgrading their SN0E!).
– Standard keyboard layout.
– Standard Raspberry Pi OS and Arduino software.
– Well labeled pin headers.
– Super friendly manual that teaches kids electronics and programming in a practical, entertaining way that encourages emergent behaviour and creativity. This will include programming a game using PyGame, making a merry-go-round with motors, lights, and programming, and lots of other nifty stuff.

I’m one man who is building the SN0E as a “passion project”, so it’s going to take a good long while to complete. Creating the prototype will be expensive, making/testing/documenting the projects will take a long time, and writing/editing the manual is a full time job in itself, so we’re probably looking at a few years of development. Now, if someone provided me with all the resources and they locked me in a room with them, I could have it complete in less than a week. There’s a challenge for any bored rich people out there – I know I can do it, because that’s how I operate best, alone and until the job is done!

I really want to make the SN0E, because it’s something that I wish I had as a kid. Sure, one can accomplish the same effect using a Pi, an Adruino board, and a bunch of stuff on their desk, but that’s not half as inspiring and approachable as a system you can take out of the box and sit down at to use. A self contained command center of awesome, all yours, doing exactly what you programmed it to do!

Speaking of putting it on you’re desk…

A mockup of the SN0E electronics and programming hobby machine.

Here are some images of the SN0E,

And here are some images showing how I created the mockup using Blender!

Ultimately, I would love to see a SN0E lab in every elementary school in Canada – that would be totally awesome, for the kids and for the future they’d be inspired to create! Wish me luck and thanks for reading! πŸ™‚