Raspberry Pi is a little techie – but FUZE makes it easier for teachers to manage, says Drew Buddie
When your 13-year-old daughter excitedly exclaims, “What’s that gadget dad? It looks DEAD cool!”, you know you’re on to a winner. When the gadget concerned is a bright red, retro-looking computer, you know you have something exceptional in your hands.
I found myself in this situation when I unboxed the new FUZE for Raspberry Pi in all its pillarbox red glory. I don’t think I had been quite so excited by a delivery to my home since Santa brought me a Jean Michel Jarre album in the 1970s – and this was just a sturdy white box.
That's because I already knew what was inside the box – I had read so much about the FUZE beforehand – and my fingers were trembling with anticipation. I was not disappointed by the contents as the FUZE is greatly reminiscent of the BBC Master computer of years gone by – albeit in a shiny red case instead of the BBC's old cream and brown with which I was so familiar.
Cut the faffing – FUZE makes Raspberry Pi a 'straightforward reality'
If like me, you are a computing teacher and have tried to establish the use of the Raspberry Pi computer within your lessons, you may have stopped short because of the faffing around that would be necessary to set up 20-plus kits for your class. If so, then the FUZE is going to be the greatest piece of kit you’ve ever used! Quite simply, it confronts the simple desire to use a Raspberry Pi, without fuss, in your lesson, and makes it a straightforward reality.
For many teachers it can be a daunting challenge to get the Pi's wires connected to the carious peripherals it needs. The Raspberry Pi has become known as the £25 computer. However, anyone who has tried to set one (or more) up in the classroom knows that peripheral costs soon mount up as you need power cable, mouse, keyboard etc. And having to set up all of these extras causes problems for the lone teacher trying to accommodate the needs of a whole class. This is where the FUZE comes into its own: because it is one easily managed, and fairly portable, self-contained unit, there is less need for fragile and loose components to be set up individually. As the FUZE is designed to look like it belongs in a computer lab, it can even be left in situ without seeming out of place.
The designers have quite literally thought outside the box when making the FUZE, because instead of building a structure that was small, in keeping with the size of the Raspberry Pi, they have decided to go the whole hog and make the Raspberry Pi look like a compact computer by creating a full-sized case for it with built-in keyboard. Once you have inserted the Pi into the slot specifically designed for it, you are ready to plug in and play.
When I switched on the FUZE, all that was missing to complete my journey back in time to the BBC, was the lack of the singsong 'binglybong' (ie the familiar start-up refrain that greeted the user of a BBC computer) that I grew so familiar with each time the BBC Master was switched on. And that is no bad thing when this is the only 'criticism' I can make of the FUZE. Because the FUZE effectively creates a tidy, coherent Raspberry Pi 'workstation'.
'Every single penny would be well spent'
Although the FUZE adds further expense to the low cost of the Raspberry Pi, I am in no doubt every single penny would be well spent. Raspberry Pi is one of the coolest gadgets around at the moment and a proliferation of resources is now available so that they can be used in the classroom to support the new Computing curriculum. Thus, any equipment which can help a teacher to make more instant use of the Raspberry Pi in the classroom has to be a good thing.
The relatively foolproof nature of the FUZE means that only a low level of skill is required to set one up, and it does not look quite as intimidating to a novice as the bare Raspberry Pi might. It could be argued that the Raspberry Pi gains much of its appeal not just from its low cost but also from its 'raw' state; however, instead of detracting from this when enclosed in the FUZE, its coolness rating goes off the scale.
The Fuze is clearly rigid enough to stand up to the rigours of a classroom environment and the carefully positioned breadboard – the base for plugging in wires, LEDs, sensors and other electrical components – means that the range of LEDs and other components that are provided with the kit are less likely to end up strewn over an exuberant student’s desk. There may be teachers and students who would happily opt for fiddling about with bits of hardware but they are likely to be a small minority. The rest will happily opt for the FUZE approach, which separates the fiddling about from the meanigful learning. And in reality this could make the difference in whether or not the Raspberry Pi is used in many classrooms.
The FUZE has quite rightly gained many plaudits for their device because the makers have really given careful consideration to their target audience and helped ensure that teachers who use the device can concentrate more on the teaching and learning and less on setting up and dismantling the device. If there is any justice in the world, the FUZE will be victorious after being shortlisted for a 2014 BETT award – it really is that good.
Within 20 minutes of starting my review of the FUZE that was loaned to me, I telephoned the manufacturers to ask how I could purchase one of my own. I believe I can give no greater personal recommendation for the FUZE than that.
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 5
Value for money 5
The FUZE is a case for the Raspberry Pi computer which transforms it into a secure and robust workstation with the connectivity available via the back panel. Package includes the Raspberry Pi itself and everything else required, including extension cables for USB, HDMI, audio and network, UK keyboard and pass-thru interface. Also included is a UK 'mains to 5V' PSU and 840-socket solder-less 'breadboard' for electronic projects and prototyping.
Pricing from £129.99.
The FUZE products can be seen on the Binary Distribution stand at BETT.
Drew Buddie is present on the Naace stand at BETT 2014 on January 24 and 25, and at TeachMeet BETT on January 24