Raspberry Pi Fuze enclosure revives 1980s micros

This post was updated on 13 May 2013 to add information about the Fuze's project cards and final hardware design.

It’s fair to say the Raspberry Pi is a hit with at least two constituencies. Without a doubt it’s captured the imaginations of youngsters attracted to its simple versatility. To those of us from an older generation, it also has a certain nostalgia value, harking back to the days when bare circuit boards were de rigueur and writing your own software was all part of the fun.

It’s appropriate then that the Fuze enclosure – made by Aylesbury-based Binary Distribution – looks like something that itself fell out of the eighties. Following consciously in the footsteps of the BBC Micro, Binary Distribution has aimed the Fuze at schools – a fact which explains its tough, aluminium casing. Each unit comes with a deck of 16 colourful and jovially written project cards (aimed at key stages one to four) that guide students through the fundamentals of BASIC programming, starting with a classic Hello World program and moving on to more advanced concepts such as variables and loops.

With its tiny space bar, clackety action and elevated, angled keys, the Fuze keyboard isn't exactly a pleasure to type on for extended periods. But then, in fairness, neither were the majority of 1980s home computer keyboards – remember the Oric-1? So it all feeds into the atmosphere of jolly revivalism.

One big thing the Fuze does have going for it is the cavity at the top, which brings the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO connectors into a convenient and secure location, next to a 640-connector solderless breadboard – offering an easy way for beginners to play with switches, LEDs, potentiometers and so forth, at the same time as learning about the programming back-end. Since the Pi itself is also safely screwed inside the metal box, it adds up to a nice stable experimental platform, and a coherent introduction to the twin worlds of electronics and computing.

Physically, there’s not much more to the Fuze than this: the Pi’s data and power connectors are conveniently conveyed to the backplate (rather than sticking out on all sides, as they do on the bare board). There's only one free USB port, to which you will presumably attach a mouse, as the Pi’s secondary port is occupied by the integrated keyboard.

The above image shows the  interior of the model I road-tested; Binary Distribution has since announced that production hardware will use a simpler internal design, with only a single board and tougher, shorter cabling.

For those who haven’t been bitten by the Pi bug, Binary Distribution also plans to offer a Maximite version of the Fuze, which boots directly into a BASIC environment (for an even more authentically 1980s experience).

The Fuze costs £150 + VAT with Raspberry Pi hardware already installed. That's a steep premium over the standalone Pi, but the price does include a mouse, a 4GB SD card and a breadboard and component kit, so it should appeal to those seeking a one-stop education station.

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