Raspberry Pi founder tells of “toy” that grew and grew

Four years ago Raspberry Pi was launched as a “toy computer” to help teach children about programming, but the Raspberry Pi phenomenon was not destined to remain only in the classroom.

Eben Upton - Raspberry Pi founder tells of "toy" that grew and grew

Eben Upton

Eben Upton, founder of the Raspberry Pi Foundation and now CEO of Raspberry Pi (Trading) gives Electronics Weekly an exclusive view on what happened next…

Raspberry Pi has become a global engineering platform, both in education and the maker community. Paradoxically, does this success make planning the future product strategy all the more difficult?

Eben Upton: I don’t think so. We’re actually very constrained in terms of what we can do within the price envelope, so there’s generally an obvious thing to be doing next.

In the case of Raspberry Pi 3 that was a transition to a 64-bit ARM Cortex-A53 processor, ARM’s current champion in-order core, and the inclusion of wireless, made possible by ongoing cost optimisation elsewhere in the bill of materials.

We do struggle a bit deciding what accessories to build: generally our preference is to leave this to the ecosystem, but there are occasions (for example the cameras, display and Sense HAT) where either we have some secret sauce needed to make it work well or the market has failed to provide a compelling peripheral that we need for an educational program (Astro Pi in the case of Sense HAT).

Has it surprised you that Raspberry Pi has been taken up by makers and professional engineers as a development platform to the extent that it has?

Eben Upton: Absolutely. You have to remember that this was just intended as a toy platform for encouraging a small number of young people to get involved in computing with a view to having them apply to study Computer Science at Cambridge.

It turns out that if you make a sufficiently well-engineered toy, and the quality of our hardware and software now surpasses that of many self-described ‘industrial’ products, then people find other uses for it both in hobbyist and commercial settings.

Is it possible that two product roadmaps will emerge, one for the educational sector and another for the design community?

Eben Upton: Well, we have the Compute Module and the Customisation Service which both target the design community. On the whole though, given our limited engineering resources, I would rather we tried to build one standard platform that serves both communities well.

Which areas of development would official Android support for Raspberry Pi open up?

Eben Upton: I don’t see Android support as being about development, so much as giving Raspberry Pi owners access to the vast pool of apps that have been developed for the platform. It’s important to us that our users, particularly children, see the Raspberry Pi as a fun thing to own.

It’s not supposed to be a ‘worthy’ platform that you use because it’s good for you: it’s a fun platform that happens to be programmable, just like the 8-bit microcomputers of my childhood.

Is the next generation of the hardware already in development? Can you hint anything about it?

Eben Upton: Sadly not. One of the unfortunate things about becoming successful is that we’re less able to let people in on our ongoing engineering activities.

On the educational side, which I know is very important to you, is there any possibility you could work with the BBC’s micro:bit in schools programme?

Eben Upton: The Raspberry Pi Foundation has published a number of educational resources for the micro:bit.

Is the arrangement of charity and commercial parts of the Raspberry Pi organisation working well?

Eben Upton: Absolutely. This arrangement allows both parts of the organisation to focus on doing what they do best.

Will there ever be code in Raspbian to support add-on I2S audio boards – so that the add-on board makers don’t have to re-compile their own flavour of each new Raspbian version?

Eben Upton: As far as I’m aware we ship quite a broad range of digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) drivers as loadable kernel modules.

Are there any standards emerging in the realms of IoT – security, verification, connectivity – that have caught your attention and may figure in Raspberry Pi roadmaps?

Eben Upton: Nothing yet. We’re watching the low power wide area network (LPWAN) space with interest, but we’re unlikely to do anything there until there’s a bit more clarity about which standard or standards are going to dominate.


One comment

  1. Great article !
    On the I2S tilt … I agree there is limitation … however there are a lot of stereo hats out there … check here for an incomplete list :

    The surround sound (multichannel) I2S hat limitation (ceiling) has only just been broken … looking for feedback here :

    I think that is what you were referring to … and thats the latest news hot off the press !

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