The Raspberry Pi Foundation aims to give nearly everyone in the world its £20 credit card-sized computer, from children learning to program to grandmothers looking for a geeky stocking filler this Christmas. PCR spoke to the charity’s CEO Eben Upton about the success of the mini Linux PC…
Why did you decide to be a charity, rather than a traditional company?
The focus is that we have is a charitable activity – we’re trying to change the way that people approach computers – so being a charity was appropriate.
Our partners are all companies that have an interest in solving the same problems as us to one degree or another. Because we’re a charity we made strong use of that – we went and said: “We’re not going to make many of these but we are going to solve this problem, and I think we can all agree it’s a good cause – can you give us a good price?”
The stamp of approval that you get from having a charitable status was extremely useful to us in the early days for getting those relationships right.
How do you think Christmas will fare for the Raspberry Pi?
Christmas last year was great – they make a great Christmas gift as a high-end stocking filler. We sold a lot to grandmothers – we found that they buy educational tools quite often. But there’s also a sense that it won’t just be brought as an educational tool – it will also get brought as a toy for adults. It’s a great geek gift.
This Christmas we’ve spent time grinding off the performance issues. Compared to last year, you’d hardly recognise it as the same piece of hardware.
So last Christmas was good, and I hope this Christmas is good, and any money that we make we can obviously put back into the charity.
Arguably the Raspberry Pi has begun a resurgence in the DIY tech market – how do you feel about the strength of the market?
It’s going well, isn’t it? Arduino gets the crown for having opened people’s eyes to the fact that you can do really something really exciting at this price point.
The more people come and do stuff in this space, the bigger the market gets. It’s going to be a while before people start fighting over this market, because the market is growing so rapidly and everyone bringing something to the market is bringing something new.
The Raspberry Pi initially used the open-source Linux Debian platform. What is the importance of open-source?
The whole thing is very important because it gives people a way to cooperate. People can look at where the contributions to Linux came from, and many came from corporations. The wonderful thing is that institutions like ours can make their million-dollar contribution, and at the end of it you’ve got a large and very effective software engineering activity that produces this amazing operating system.
Do you have a personal favourite use you’ve seen the Raspberry Pi being used for?
My favourite is always the high altitude ballooning. People who put the Pi onto weather balloons, send them 40km up and take pictures. Back in August we dropped a teddy bear, beating [Red Bull Stratos jumper] Felix Baumgartner’s jump by 30 metres.
Those activities can be really inspiring to kids. The balloon is a great example because it was done by adults, but then we see High School kids doing it.
We originally saw the Pi as a platform to teach kids about computing, but those kinds of engagement speak to an aspect of the mission that we had really not considered before.
Obviously Raspberry Pi has been a massive success – can you tell us what that came down to and what you’re working on now?
We’re making it easier to get involved for people who are just getting started using Raspberry Pi – particularly children – who don’t have access to someone who has programming experience, in order to broaden the appeal of the device and eliminate those learning curves. But we have to be careful, in case we start to lose some of the authenticity and appeal of the platform. So that’s really mostly software-side and software work.
We’ve also got a big program going on to produce education teaching material, and that’s a big part of making the device easier to get to grips with. We’ve also trying to educate the government about the importance of the maker scene for adults and the economic activity that’s coming out of the scene in the UK now.