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This 6-Year Old Helped Build a Supercomputer out of LEGO And $25 Computer Chips

Sixty-four Raspberry Pi chips and a LEGO rack makes a surprisingly effective computer

Simon and James Cox (right), along with their team at the University of Southampton, strung together 64 separate Raspberry Pi computers on a LEGO rack. Photo: Simon Cox

Six-year-old James Cox and his father, University of Southampton professor Simon Cox, designed and built a 64-core supercomputer out of little more than LEGO bricks and a bundle of lower-powered computer chips known as the Raspberry Pi.

According to a release from the university, the system boasts more than a terabyte of storage, or around 1600 gigabytes. It’s made up from many, many SD cards—the kind you’d use in a camera. Commenters at Ars Technica calculate that the home-built system is equivalent in power to stringing four desktop computers together—not a bad bang for the project’s $4000 budget.

The Raspberry Pi chips that the team at Southampton used, which each cost $25, were designed a few years ago by a group of researchers at the University of Cambridge. The thinking was that, as with most things, people learn about technology, electronics and engineering by taking them apart and putting them back together. This was true in the early days of home computing, where people often built and programmed their own systems. But, as the complexity and cost of computer hardware and software has grown, so too has the risk in damaging an expensive investment. The idea behind the Raspberry Pi, a fully functional yet relatively underpowered computer chip, was to rekindle that opportunity to experiment and play without all the risk—a challenge clearly taken up by James and Simon Cox when they decided to build their LEGO supercomputer.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Celebrating 80 Years of LEGO
World’s 10 Fastest Supercomputers
Cat Brain Inspires Computer Design

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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