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April 12, 2023

Raspberry Pi gets AI chip access and Sony cash boost

Raspberry Pi users will be able to build AI vision applications using the Sony AITRIOS platform as part of the new investment agreement.

By Ryan Morrison

Micro-computer company Raspberry Pi will get a regular cash injection from Sony’s semiconductor unit as part of a new deal that will also let users integrate Sony AI chips. The amount of money involved in the deal hasn’t been revealed by either party but Raspberry Pi co-founder Eben Upton hinted it was in the millions.

Sony already builds the Raspberry Pi boards and has done since it launched in 2012 (Photo: Zoltan Kiraly/Shutterstock)
Sony already builds the Raspberry Pi boards and has done since it launched in 2012. (Photo by Zoltan Kiraly/Shutterstock)

Raspberry Pi was founded in 2012 to make computing more accessible for younger people, involving a single-board computer the size of a credit card that has seen been used to power sensors, submarines and managing enterprise-scale industrial systems.

A report by Rowse last year found that the Raspberry Pi is providing a range of industrial applications as they are “very cost-effective” and energy-efficient. It has been used to provide wireless sensor modules, digital I/Os and RFID readers. They are resistant to dust, humidity, vibrations and shock, so work well in more extreme environments and can be easily adapted with additional modules.

While it started as a hobbyist platform, 70% of sales of Raspberry Pi boards now come from commercial customers, according to Upton. The new Sony deal expands on an existing relationship between the two companies. Sony has been manufacturing the board since its inception in 2012 through its UK division. It has gone from 10,000 units per year to one every 3.1 seconds.

The deal will provide Raspberry Pi users with access to the Sony AITRIOS platform which will allow for the development of visual sensing applications that use AI cameras equipped with the IMX500 sensor. The AITRIOS platform is designed for IoT applications, connecting different types of physical devices within a network. The edge AI sensing platform links to the cloud and was previously available to large companies. It will now be accessible to users of Raspberry Pi for the first time.

Focus on artificial intelligence

This focus, says Upton in an interview with CNBC, would help children better understand computers as they exist today rather than the way they operated decades ago as modern computers are built around AI. “It’s super important we teach kids about computers as they are now, rather than 30 years ago,” he said. Adding that: “While Raspberry Pi looks back, on the education, we hark back to the glory years of the 1980s, we’ve got to be conscious we’re not trying to make faster versions of 1980s computers.”

The fourth edition of the Raspberry Pi has enough processing power and memory to handle small-scale AI and machine learning applications and a number of hobbyists have been using it for that purpose. It has even been used to run a large language model chatbot similar, but on a smaller scale, to ChatGPT from OpenAI.

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Upton says the new partnership will allow users already experimenting with AI and machine learning to do more, opening up other tools and applications than are currently available. “This transaction will allow us to expand our partnership, bringing Sony Semiconductor Solutions’ line of AI products to the Raspberry Pi ecosystem, and helping our users to build exciting new machine-learning applications at the edge.”

The goal, said Sony Semiconductor Solutions CEO Terushi Shimizu, is to provide a new value to a variety of industries and support them in solving issues using AI sensing technology. “We are very pleased to be partnering with Raspberry Pi Ltd. to bring our AITRIOS platform – which supports the development of unique and diverse solutions utiliSing our edge AI devices – to the Raspberry Pi user and developer community, and provide a unique development experience.”

Read more: What is Raspberry Pi?

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