Yesterday the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the electronics distributor Element14 announced an exclusive customization program for Raspberry Pi boards. Assuming you are willing to order a lot of boards (3,000–5,000 of them), Element14 will help engineer and manufacture your custom design.
Here are a few things that you could potentially do with a custom Pi:
- Reconfigure the board layout
- Add new components to the board, or change the memory configuration
- Add or remove header pins and connectors
Seven million Raspberry Pi boards have been sold globally since the foundation was established in 2012. And many of these Pi boards are used in industrial or commercial applications. With this program, future packaged Pi boards could be more specialized, and possibly less expensive.
Eben Upton, CEO of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, explained that of the three million boards they expect to sell this year, one million of these boards will end up in industrial applications such as building automation and machine control. It is often less expensive for a company to buy an off-the-shelf Pi and create an accessory board for its specialized needs, instead of developing an entire platform or board from the processor up. With this new program, companies — and entrepreneurial individuals — will have the ability to alter the Pi design itself, forgoing the need for accessory board development, while possibly lowering costs and increasing reliability.
Now that customization of the Pi is sanctioned by the foundation and Element14, expect to see people use the program as a crowdfunding solution. Rather than fully design a product, people could use the program and Element14’s engineering services to patch together a limited run product. Keep an eye on crowdfunding platforms for these sorts of hybrid Pi boards that are fully hardware compatible for projects.
It will also be interesting to see how this program will affect boards based on ARM processors in general. Prior to this program, Broadcom, the manufacturer of the Pi’s main processor, was unwilling to sell the main processor to anyone other than the foundation. A common tactic for those looking to manufacture software compatible Pi clones is to use ARM chips from vendors willing to sell in low volume and with similar chip architectures, such as Allwinner. While these boards do not share the identical hardware, they do share the same chip architecture and are therefore able to run nearly identical software.
The Pi Foundation and Element14 haven’t publicized the cost of using the customization service, but it is certain to vary based on how much you modify your design away from standard Pi. Most likely a customization program will add more costs per unit than a stock Pi, but you will have your very own custom solution.