I have been following the Rasperry Pi project with much interest. I have had an NSLU2 for quite a few years. This device was intended for ‘Network attached storage’, which means that you can add a USB hard disk to your network. Some clever sausage hacked the NSLU2, replacing the version of Linux it was running with a custom version, allowing remote telnet access and the ability to install your own packages. I plugged in a USB soundcard, loaded some sound card drivers, installed the Music Player Daemon (MPD) and hooked it up to my MP3 collection and hi-fi. Therefore creating a Sonos wi-fi hi-fi like system out of old crap. It is controllable via my laptop and Android phone.
Linksys stopped making NSLU2′s years ago and finding a tiny low power mini-server is near impossible. I believe there is a huge market for such a device. For 2 watts of power each you could connect several old hi-fi’s up to the home network to share a central MP3 jukebox, streaming the latest release from Jarvis Cocker into the kitchen or spare bedroom. You could connect one up to your TV and stream films using XBMC.
Now it looks like that void is being filled in the form of a Rasperry Pi. A Cambridge charity supporting the world famous Cambridge based ARM architecture. Onboard networking, sound, USB and video-out in the form of component and HDMI, all for about £20! The project is primarily focussed around stimulating skills in computer science, but also to stimulate the IT and electronics industry here in the UK. A local project with laudable motives and a desirable product.
As with all things which seem too good to be true, upon manufacture the Rasperry Pi project has turned a little sour.
“[T]he Raspberry Pi Foundation had intended to get all its manufacture done in the UK; after all, we’re a UK charity, we want to help bootstrap the UK electronics industry, and doing our manufacturing in the UK seemed another way to help reach our goals.
[W]e have had to make the pragmatic decision and look to Taiwan and China for our manufacturing, at least for this first batch. We are still working hard on investigating UK possibilities.”
The foundation decided that the device will be made in China because people would not be willing to pay an extra £3 to compensate reasonable working conditions for UK staff. They also assumed that potential customers would not be happy to wait several weeks for smaller UK manufacturers to produce a sufficient quantity. The massive Chinese factories have the capability to wake up thousands of workers living in company dormitories and start producing while their UK counterparts would either still be asleep, playing with their children or dislocating their shoulders interfering with cats.
I would be happy to pay at least £3 more to support jobs in decent conditions for UK workers. This could have set a chain in motion for further investment, manufacturing, exports and jobs for the UK. After all, we all know that working in Chinese electronics factories isn’t all about the tea-breaks and collegial pranks.
I won’t be buying a Raspberry Pi until they put the price up a little and move production to the UK. I hope you won’t too. Shame on you Raspberry Pi Foundation!