Raspberry Pi Founder Shows Off Incoming Touch Panel For Making DIY ‘Pi Pads’

Eben Upton, the founder of the Raspberry Pi microcomputer, has shown off a new piece of hardware that’s likely to expand the ecosystem around its single board computer — namely a touchscreen display.

So, in other words, get ready for DIY ‘Pi Pads’.

“The whole time we’ve been doing Raspberry Pi we’ve been saying yeah the display accessory is coming, yeah the display accessory is coming — and the display accessory is finally coming,” said Upton.

“This is our first display panel that we’re going to be hopefully getting out of the door before the end of the year or early next,” he added.

Upton was speaking during an on stage interview with TechCrunch’s John Biggs. He showed off the seven inch VGA capacitive touch panel that’s designed to be combined with a Pi to build what would be a rather chunky tablet, but a tablet nonetheless.

Or indeed some other form of embedded Pi-powered project with a panel which is clearly the primary application the Pi Foundation has in mind.

“It’s kind of like a tablet, if you’re prepared to put up with a very thick tablet,” said Upton, demonstrating how the display combines with a Pi stacked on the back. “What you end up with is a stack with a Raspberry Pi on it. The idea is this gives you something you can embed.”

Some 4 million Raspberry Pis have been sold so far, after more than two years on sale — which is a very impressive figure when you consider the company was only hoping to sell maybe 10,000 Pis over its entire lifetime.

With the incoming touchscreen panel The Pi Foundation is clearly hoping to keep stoking the creative fires that have helped drive sales of the Pi by slotting another piece of DIY hardware into the mix.

Upton dubbed the cheaper Model A Pi (which costs just $25 vs $35 for the beefier Model B) as a flop since it’s ‘only’ sold around 100,000 vs the 4M Model B’s. But it’s evidently aiming to rectify that with a Model A+ board.

“We’re going to do an announcement about an A+ soon. I think it’s going to be an exciting product,” he said, without giving exact details of how the board will be upgraded.

The Foundation recently released an upgraded version of the Model B board, called the B+, which has more USB ports, an expanded number of connector pins, an SD card slot, lower power consumption, enhanced audio and a few other enhancements.

The original mission for the Pi Foundation was for the low cost microcomputer that kids could learn coding on but the hardware has been much more widely adopted by the maker community to power all sorts of creative projects and even entire startup businesses.

On stage Biggs and Upton discussed one such company that’s building atop the Pi Model B+, called, fittingly enough the Pi Top: aka a 3D printed laptop powered by a Pi.

“The cool thing is these guys are nothing to do with Raspberry Pi,” said Upton. “One of a large number of different groups of people who have taken the Pi and [built something with it]. This is on Indiegogo at the moment.”

During the fireside chat, Upton also talked about the importance of building a community when it comes to doing a hardware project — in order to mine it for feedback and then feed that into the product development cycle to produce products that the community really wants.

“We went out to the community and said ‘hey we’re making a $25 computer and it’s got these features, it’s got one USB port and no network. And the first thing people say to you is well this is going to require a USB hub and a network adaptor so it’s not a $25 computer it’s a $50 computer. So things like that. We’ve ended up with a product — all of the changes between the Model B and the launch of this thing [Model B+]… all of those have been basically driven by community complaints,” said Upton.

“Liz [my wife] was a freelance journalist. She stopped doing that and started on our community. So we’ve been doing community stuff long before we’ve been doing any kind of meaningful engineering. And we found that’s very useful because we’ve been able to build excitement around the product and get a lot of feedback.”