Tech2 speaks with Eben Upton, co-founder, Raspberry Pi Foundation

The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card size, single-board computer from the charity foundation, Raspberry Pi Foundation. Weighing a mere 45 grams, it lets you connect a generic USB mouse, keyboard and a monitor, and can be used for many things that your desktop does such as spreadsheets, word-processing and games; it can handle high-def videos too. Though creative wits at the Foundation have been working on it since 2006, the miniature machine went up for pre-order earlier this year and was an instant hit. It soon made headlines as 700 units of the Raspberry Pi were reportedly sold every second and the official Raspberry site was partially down due to humongous traffic. Though it faced several roadblocks in the form of shipping delays, production glitches etc., the miniature computer never faced any dearth of love.

The guys at Raspberry Pi want to see it be used by kids all over the world to learn programming as it was built with the intention of stimulating the teaching of basic computer science in schools. Tech2 spoke with one such creative wit, Eben Upton, trustee and co-founder of Raspberry Pi foundation and the person responsible for the overall software and hardware architecture of the Raspberry Pi device. He is also the Technical Director and ASIC architect for Broadcom. Available at a price of around Rs. 2500 (Model B priced Rs. 2750 and currently out of stock) through Element14, the Raspberry Pi seems like a great product for the Indian market to deepen our PC penetration. However, Eben tells us that the response from Indian users has been limited due to very small but very obvious reasons and hopes that these problems will be resolved before the end of the year.

So, will Raspberry Pi ever replace the commercial desktop PC?

To know this and why we, as price-conscious Indians, aren't responding well to this innovation, why Raspberry Pi is a charity foundation and not a commercial venture, how Eben handles both positions at Raspberry Pi and Broadcom, his biggest challenges while making a single-board computer at such a low price and more, read on.

Was Raspberry Pi always meant to be a charity foundation rather than a private enterprise? Do you think the Raspberry Pi wouldn’t have done well as a commercial venture?
Yes, it was meant to be a charity foundation and wouldn't have done well as a commercial venture. I think we would have struggled to establish good relationships with our suppliers as a very small commercial entity.

Was it easy to be a part of Raspberry Pi foundation along with Broadcom? Do you plan to get into Raspberry Pi full time anytime in the near future?
I think there's good alignment between my work at Broadcom and at the Foundation. I have no immediate plans to leave (or reduce my involvement with) Broadcom.

Raspberry Pi (Image Credit: Switched On Tech Design)

Raspberry Pi (Image Credit: Switched On Tech Design)


What were the challenges you faced while building a single-board, credit card-sized PC at such a low price?
Controlling the BOM (Billing of Material) cost was one big challenge we faced while the other was finding reliable low-cost assembly partners.

A computer at around Rs. 2500 is a great tech initiative for a developing nation like India. It is currently available online only through Element 14, do you plan to make it available through other retailers in India?
We are very much hoping that value-added resellers will emerge in countries like India where there are currently very high international shipping costs. There is a good business to be made importing Pis in bulk and reselling them locally.

Could you tell us about the existing models?
Powered by ARM processor on a Broadcom BCM2835 SoC, there are two models – Model B priced at $35 (approx. Rs. 1,850) and Model A at $25 (approx Rs. 1,320). The model B has HDMI, Ethernet and two USB ports, Linux's Fedora software, 256MB RAM while Models A has just one USB and no Ethernet.

Can we expect some more models of the Raspberry Pi?
We don't have any publicly-announced plans to produce further versions.

Will we see RaspBerry Pi run on Windows someday?
The current hardware would struggle to run Windows, as it only has an ARMv6 version (Windows RT requires ARMv7).

The Raspberry Pi was an instant hit and reportedly sold hundreds of units per second. But the company faced some delays on and off, what is the current status?
Our partners Element 14 currently have a backlog of a few days. We believe that the earlier shortages have largely been resolved.

How has the response been from Indian consumers? Can you reveal some sales figures?
We've seen limited demand in India due to high courier and tariff charges, but we hope this will be resolved before the end of the year.

What do you think of other such low price initiatives like OLPC and the Aakash tablet?
They're great ideas. Anything that is cheap, and hits its quality and price targets is good as far as we're concerned.

Published Date: Sep 29, 2012 12:01 pm | Updated Date: Sep 29, 2012 12:01 pm