Bake your own Pi – element14 & Raspberry Pi set up path to customised Pi

October 27, 2015 // By Graham Prophet
Designers and engineers creating or building products based around the Raspberry Pi, in small-to-medium volume, can now access a service set up by distributor element14, and Raspberry Pi Trading to design and manufacture customised versions of the Pi.

The concept has arisen from, the two parties say, multiple customer requests for optimised versions of the technology platform. element14 has, separately, acquired Embest and Avid, companies that give the distributor the capability to design and build product at board level. It has built an ARM-centric development board business around this resource, notably with Freescale, and is now applying that to the Raspberry Pi platform.

As before, the software of the Pi is open source, but the hardware is proprietary; areas that might be considered for customisation would include configuration of the PCB, adding functions, re-designing interfaces or headers/pinouts, and altering memory configurations. The core (Broadcom) silicon and its immediate circuit context is not available to be changed; the same is true of the power supply configuration around the processor, where a substantial amount of work has been invested to achieve the board's performance.

element 14 anticipates that typical projects will be in the 3000-5000 volume range; but that is very flexible. The Foundation's Eben Upton says that he expects to see many projects in the 100-1000 initial production range to be enabled by this move: he sees it as the next step from what many users have been doing with the compute module variant of the Pi. Most projects, the partners expect, will have been 'prototyped' on existing hardware, but element 14 says it could take a project form an earlier 'concept' stage. All current variants of the Pi are available for customisation, in a 'requirements-in/production-out' model. Upton believes that, “the first wave will be existing Raspberry Pi customers.”

element14 and Raspberry Pi Trading's agreement to provide design and manufacturing services to OEM customers to create bespoke designs is 'global and exclusive' based upon the Raspberry Pi technology platform.

Future developments, element14 says, could involve ready-made reference designs; the company anticipates that many applications will have common characteristics and it might be feasible to aggregate those into a small