Chip is the world’s first $US9 computer, capable of most basic PC tasks, including editing spreadsheets, learning to code, surfing the web, and playing a Super Mario knockoff game. It also fits in the palm of your hand.
But Chip’s incredible computing powers aren’t what makes it one of Tech Insider’s most exciting innovations of the year. The little-computer-that-could may usher in a new era of hardware development, thanks to its low price tag.
I recently visited Next Thing Co.’s office (in a garage, of course) to learn about the company’s mission to revolutionise tinkering.
Dave Rauchwerk, CEO and cofounder, previously created a GIF-generating camera powered by the ever-popular Raspberry Pi, which has similar capabilities to Chip. But the microcomputer’s $US35 cost drove up the total bill for parts.
The camera, priced at about $US250, crossed what Rauchwerk called the “impulse buy” threshold. It was too expensive for its intended purpose as a fun party toy. Rachwerk decided in order to get the cost down his team needed to create a new computer.
Chip is that solution. It looks like a black, simple circuit board about the size of an old Game Boy cartridge. USB and audio input ports jut up from one side.
What’s under the hood is most impressive. The Linux-based mini-PC comes with a 1 gigahertz processor, 512 megabytes of ram, and four gigabytes of storage. All those specs add up roughly to a low-end smartphone with WiFi and Bluetooth.
All you have to do is connect it to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse with adaptors, and you’re in business.
Next Thing Co. began shipping early models to early Kickstarter backers this fall, and is on track to fill over 20,000 orders through March. Amateur inventors will soon be able to create new gadgets, like the GIF-generating camera, that use Chip as their processors. It will help keep the overall cost of parts down.
Richard Reininger, vice president of marketing, tells Tech Insider that some customers have announced plans to make weather stations, water tank monitors, electronic props for cosplay outfits, indie arcade machines, drones, and more, all powered by the $US9 computer.
Chip is a sort of a means to an end for Next Thing Co. The company plans to dive back into making consumer gadgets once it’s perfected Chip, which will be used as a backbone for future products.
“We want to do awesome, cool stuff with it, Reininger says. “But making [Chip] be the thing that we want it to be, and what everyone else wants it to be, has to be priority. If it doesn’t work the way we want it to, then nothing else really matters.”
The company is in the final stages of development in China now, where the computers will be manufactured.
While Reininger wouldn’t let on what Next Thing Co. has in store, we get the impression the projects will be diverse. The startup’s 15-person team includes a particle physicist, a gaming programmer, a comic book artist, an architect, and a guy who hacks animatronics on the side.
For Reininger, who comes from a film background, holding a computer is the palm of his hand is exciting enough. Because this one is intended for something greater than what a smartphone provides.
“The Android and iOS ecosystem are designed for consumption, and not creation,” Reininger says. Chip, in contrast, is designed for makers and tinkerers to modify at will.
“I get goosebumps when it [turns] on,” he says. “I have to stop myself all the time. Like, holy crap, this is really incredible.”
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