Our verdict computer kit Piper STEM Learning Toy :
If you’re looking to improve your child’s STEM skills, this Raspberry Pi powered Minecraft-centric, feature-packed learning kit is a great option, albeit a bit pricey. 9 ten

The Raspberry Pi is a great educational device, but in its bare state it might not be immediately obvious.

Several companies have tried to «fix» this shortcoming by repackaging the Pi as part of a more STEM-oriented experience for kids. They’ve dealt with varying levels of success, so what did Piper bring?

The ultimate DIY computer experience?

Well, it’s more than just another Raspberry Pi and a keyboard. Piper describes himself as a «computer kit» and of course it takes quite a bit of effort to get the Raspberry Pi up and running.

The website is full of accolades from users and even Apple founder Steve Wozniak, who is addicted to the Piper Computer Kit, which he claims is «the ultimate do-it-yourself computer building experience.»

You will no doubt agree that this is a high demand.

However, the Piper Computer Kit received support from Stanford University and was a 2018 Tech Toy of the finalist. It aims to teach your child essential critical thinking, engineering skills, knowledge of electronics, basic programming and practical coding.

All in all, it’s like a Raspberry Pi in a wooden box. To find out if this is true, I turned to my seven-year-old son for help.

Unpacking content

The Piper Computer Kit comes in a standard cardboard box. It has a nice optical illusion on the side when you remove the main unit from the sleeve — by turning the screws. When the packaging is this good, you never know if the product will disappoint or be amazing…

Initial impressions of sulfur in many ways. It’s basically a box full of wood, with a Raspberry Pi 3 even mounted on a wooden plate.

In fact, there is a tree everywhere.

Piper computer box

You might think that in the 21st century “this is no place for wooden computers; it’s not 1977″ and in many ways you’d be right.

However, the 7″ display, mouse, breadboard (and two smaller ones) and brass fittings all work together nicely, giving you:

  • lockable wooden box with built-in display
  • Raspberry Pi computer with access to GPIO pins
  • mouse (no keyboard)
  • layout for installing buttons, LEDs, etc.
  • battery

In short, that’s exactly what it says: a computer kit. Designed for kids to build, it even features an impressive set of instructions presented as a blueprint.

About Raspberry Pi

Several versions of the Raspberry Pi have been released since 2012, and almost all of them are still available. This is due to their suitability for a range of purposes.

The Piper Computer Kit comes with the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B. This model was released in 2016 and comes with built-in wireless and Bluetooth. With four USB ports and an Ethernet port, there’s also a standard HDMI connector, a TRRS multi-functional audio/media port, and a USB power connector.

Raspberry Pi 3 Features in the Piper Computer Kit

Inside the Raspberry Pi 3, you’ll find a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, and a Broadcom GPU. They are combined into a single SoC (system on a chip) to save space and increase the efficiency of the computer.

There is also a microSDHC slot from where the operating system is loaded. The Piper Computer Kit comes pre-installed with the Piper OS on an 8 GB card. This must be inserted into the Raspberry Pi before the computer is screwed into the box.

Also in the box is a 7″ HDMI LCD, USB mouse, portable lithium battery and speaker. You’ll also find the various USB and HDMI cables you need to connect, as well as plenty of switches, buttons, wires, and LEDs.

What can you learn from this?

It can be argued that the Raspberry Pi’s potential for teaching young children has never been fully realized. Luckily, Piper has proven that all it takes is the right set of peripherals, components, and battery pack.

Raspberry Pi GPIO

Aimed at STEM/STEAM students ages 7-13, the Piper Computer Kit is designed to advance science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. These are the most important elements of teaching in many western schools due to shortcomings in these areas.

On a practical level, this means building circuits, playing Minecraft games, and solving math and logic puzzles.

If that wasn’t enough, your child will get some useful insight into how to build a wooden computer case. In fact, working at this stage will help you develop an interaction with the computer that you have never known before…

Building a Piper Raspberry Pi Computer

Time for some honesty; Piper is not a simple assembly. My son Bruce is almost 8 years old and the set is for ages 7-13. Thus, there was an initial difficulty in getting started.

Plan of the Piper computer kit

Bruce is well versed in Lego, Meccano and other building toys, so the principle of connecting wooden components, screws and nuts was not alien to him. After some early disagreement about the approach (project or no project?), he was able to establish a good rhythm, with a father willing to help.

It took about two hours to assemble the box, the bottom half of the case and the lid. It’s not so bad; I believe the whole build was about three hours from start to finish. However, it’s easy to hit the ground running with an excited young engineer desperate to get his computer up and running.

Assembling the Piper Computer Kit

I hope we both learned the importance of following a plan.

Of course, once the screen was inserted into the lid and the Raspberry Pi was secured, it didn’t take long before the Piper booted up. That’s when the real magic begins…

Download and get started

If the Piper battery is charged, you should be able to boot your computer. Curiously, this is the only option; You cannot use a USB cable to power your Raspberry Pi and display. Thus, it is worth keeping the battery discharged overnight.

Once loaded, you will see the Piper workspace and a video demonstrating what can be done with the device. At this point, the computer needs to connect to the wireless network, which must be done using the mouse.

It is advisable to check for updates before proceeding. Once that’s done, the Raspberry Pi reboots and the journey begins…

Meet Piperbot

The Minecraft element from the Piper Computer Kit is based on the adventures of Piperbot. This character and his friends are initially voiced by what appear to be children, which seems to devalue the process somewhat.

DIY Controller Moves Piperbot Minecraft Character

Whoever controls the Piperbot begins to complete missions that begin with basic mouse movements. However, after a few minutes, Piperbot gets some extra portability thanks to GPIO, breadboard, buttons, and connecting wires.

Some kids can fly with this; However, Bruce ran into a problem. We found that accidentally clicking the mouse too many times exited the on-screen guide for connecting the breadboard to the Pi. Thankfully it wasn’t the end of the world, as the vantage point (still in the Minecraft world) could be revisited.

Basically, after the first 30 minutes, you get a «wooden» game controller on buttons with additional controls being created for each mission on smaller layouts.

Electronics for children

Any kid lucky enough to get a Piper computer kit will have a whole world of electronics.

The project box not only requires building from scratch, but projects (which can be enjoyed both individually and in story mode) help you understand how to create simple circuits and connections.

Piper Computer Kit box open

But what did Bruce learn from the experience of building and continuing to use his Piper Raspberry Pi? He tells me that what he enjoyed most was putting the box together and putting everything together. But he also thought that being able to create his own controller was amazing and he enjoys making various switches.

At 7 years old, he is at the younger end of Piper’s target audience. As such, Bruce needed some encouragement and guidance in places, but ultimately enjoyed it.

And he’s totally against sharing Piper with his twin sister…

Piper for every home and class!

While looking through the Piper computer kit, I thought giving it to my son to work through would be the best option. But when I saw the blueprint, the wooden box components, the intertwined teeth, and the Raspberry Pi, it dawned on me what a cool kit.

Wooden computer holding Raspberry Pi 3

In short, this is everything I wanted from a computer 30 years ago.

After building the Piper, Bruce split his time equally between sandboxing Minecraft on his tablet and adventuring on his little computer. Solving puzzles with wires and switches is a challenge that he enjoys and enjoys every moment with the device.

Forget tablets and Chromebooks. If you want to introduce your kids to technology, start with the Piper Computer Kit.

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