In this interview, Eben Upton explains the reasons behind the development of the new Raspberry Pi Compute Module, recently launched in the market.
According to Eben, James Adams, Director of Hardware Engineering came up with the idea of the Compute Module. Having observed the different applications for Raspberry Pi over the past couple of years, they were surprised how some equipment designers were incorporating a complete Raspberry Pi into their end systems.
Since these are systems for low to mid volume industrial or commercial equipment, developers typically add an IO board to cater for additional connectivity. James thought it was a good opportunity to work on a design where they could provide all the computing resources of the Pi in a compact format but leave the IO to the end system manufacturer or a third party supplier.
The result was the Compute Module, which consists of the same Broadcom BCM2835SoC, 512 Mbyte of RAM and a 4 GbyteeMMC Flash all packaged onto a small 67.6x30 mm board that fits into a standard DDR2 SODIMM socket.
In terms of the development approach to using the module being different from that of the typical Raspberry Pi board, Eben explains that while there are a few changes, the software development process will essentially remain the same. A development board will be supplied for the Compute Module to ease the development of an end system, and will bring out all the IO connectivity available in addition to providing all the other parts of a standard Raspberry Pi such as the HDMI socket, USB connectors and pin headers. The development board design uses open source and is expected to become a prototyping platform for developers.
Being more expensive and larger than a Raspberry Pi, they don’t expect developers to incorporate the board into their system. Eben says that developers might first prove their software design on a standard Raspberry Pi, then migrate to a Compute Module and development board set-up as a way of bringing out the required IO to prototype their own interface board. Once their design has been validated they will move to their own interface board that will host the Compute Module.
On the success of the Raspberry Pi having created a market for third party extension boards, modules and accessories, Eben was asked whether this trend would continue with the Compute Module. He sees it as an exciting opportunity as it will allow the creation of other Raspberry Pi-based designs, providing all kinds of connectivity with the Compute Module at its heart, in addition to motivating third parties into creating a whole new line-up of interface boards and host boards for the Compute Module.
Eben also expressed his appreciation for the solid distribution support they have received from RS Components. Explaining the importance of getting a leading international component distributor involved from the very beginning, he said RS Components convinced them about the need for them to take responsibility for the production as much as the marketing in order to get Raspberry Pi into the market.
They licensed the Raspberry Pi design to RS Components to take on the manufacturing responsibility. The first day of the launch got them over 100,000 orders, which they were able to fulfil thanks to the logistical footprint of RS.
Going forward, the Raspberry Pi team sees even more opportunity for their relationship with RS Components thanks to the leading distributor’s focus on industrial markets.