IT News Africa sat down with Brian Andrew, the General Manager of RS Components South Africa, to discuss the launch of the all new Raspberry Pi 3 Compute Module.
RS Components is the trading brand of Electrocomponents plc, the global distributor for engineers, and is one of two global distributors of the Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi is a small single board computer which was developed in the UK by The Raspberry Pi Foundation to promote the teaching of basic computer skills in developing countries. These mini computer boards turned out to be far more than anticipated and are today the best selling British computer with over 10 million being sold so far.
IT News Africa spoke Brian Andrew about the capabilities, effectiveness, uses and challenges of the device in Africa.
What is the Raspberry Pi and what impact do you expect it to have in the African market?
I think what it does is that it opens doors for basically entrepreneurs or design engineers to be able to build new products using the Raspberry Pi as a sort of base platform. There are two Pi 3 products, the Raspberry PI 3 comes with your Bluetooth and WiFi and is aimed mainly at the education sector although people have been utilizing it to design new products and so on. The most recent product is the Raspberry Pi 3 compute model, now that is a board which slots into the standard memory module slots and that allows people to be able to develop new products. It is basically a development board more designed for industry applications which can include IoT, the main focus of the compute module is behind developing new products specifically hardware related products while being more cost effective.
Can the Raspberry Pi be an alternative to traditional laptops or desktops?
The standard Pi 3 definitely can be an alternative, it’s certainly not going to have the same processing power as your latest notebook but what it does provide is a very capable computer in terms of actually being able to utilize programs such as open office and you can run most of the software that is available freely downloadable, so there is no extra cost involved in terms of software license. Then one can integrate it into things like the Pi Top, which is the laptop version, or the Pi top seed which is the desktop version where your Raspberry Pi can integrate into that and really give you a fully functioning computer. Using it like this may not be the cheapest but what it does give you is a complete upgradability path. Instead of having to buy a new notebook, you simply take out the old model, slide in the new one and you have upgraded your processing capabilities.
What does the Raspberry Pi bring to Africa?
The main focus is having the accessibility because of the low-cost point of it. Fundamentally the reason the Raspberry Pi was created was for education, to actually drive people and get them interested in physical computing so not just about programing but about interacting with real world environment, so connecting up sensors, connecting motors, so you could really get into what’s called the physical computing environment versus just writing software.
Can the Raspberry Pi help bridge the digital divide?
Definitely, I think there is a great opportunity for it. I think there is a lot of innovation coming out of Africa and this something that can just help enable that innovation at a lower price point. Certainly, when ones looking at the communities which have people who have ideas of developing new products this is the type of solution that can actually help bring that to fruition.
What is the biggest challenge in terms of getting the product into Africa?
I think the biggest challenge when moving products through Africa is logistics. Every single market in Africa has its own challenges with regards to local legislation around importing products. Generally, we have good supply chains going into those markets. The service we supply the South African market is next day delivery, South Africa is our biggest market while Kenya has also really taken to the Raspberry Pi.
How do you plan to further generate demand for the device in 2017?
I see it as a massive opportunity. I think we haven’t been doing all we can and this is a focus point of ours to see how we can get the Raspberry Pi into the hands of people that really need it and can do something with it. I think a lot of the people who actually could use it are totally unaware of it.
By Dean Workman