We're coming off the holiday season, so one would think fundraising campaigns would have slowed down. It may have been the case for others, but not for the Pine A64, which has smashed funding goals and is generating no small amount of buzz. The $15 64-bit super computer is causing a stir much larger than its diminutive size would suggest. We chatted with Johnson Jeng, one of the founders of the Pine A64, to see why his invention is great for designers.
So far, your campaign has raised over $800k. Why has the Pine64 garnered so much attention?
I think this is a fairly growing category of technology. Affordable computing is something that everyone is looking for, and the PINE64 has a mixture of affordability and performance. Starting at just $15, it’s surprising to see such a powerful device that costs around 3 cups of lattes. Combined with a great PR team and strong advisors Daniel Kottke, Kai Kreutzer, and Chris Loeper, we’re able to position ourselves for fast growth. We’re targeting to over 1M raised by the end of the campaign.
Is this just for engineers and makers or do you plan on the typical consumer to get on board?
The PINE A64 board is a board for bunch of individuals - original SBCs like this in the market are generally targeted for makers and engineers, but I believe with a 64-bit processor and our quad core computing power, we were able to touch the typical consumer market by offering a full-blown version of Android 5.1.1 - making it super easy to download apps from the Android market. On top of Android, we’re compatible with Ubuntu Linux, and we’re working with other software providers to expand our compatibility. Because of this factor, it has became a target for academic and mass implementation in countries with limited resources. By offering a platform running around 2.5W, it can save communities 100x (compared to 250W tower computer) in energy costs. In the next few months, we’ll be tapping into the robotics market, maker market, and more. It’s actually a great platform for kids to learn about computing.
We especially like the Lego enclosure.
Sounds like it would be. So how did the Pine A64 come about? Or, in other words, what needs did you not see being addressed with dev boards on the market?
Many of the dev boards are great and each company really focuses on a niche platform, whether it’s a sensor-based board, or limited 32-bit platform, or a high performance Intel powered board (which also comes with a higher price tag): but none of them are really in the middle and versatile. Companies like Remix PC launched a very similar consumer product targeting a finished consumer device. Our product is similar in power, but we gave our consumers a versatility in customizing and upgrading their product, unlike Remix. By passing on factory savings directly to end users, we’re able to push the price down, which was an inviting price point for many people.
Could you explain why the hardware is so adaptable?
Opensource operating systems are always the best to play with, as the source codes are upgradable and customizable. We made our device very expandable; with dual I/O development ports, users can add on development kits also specific boards to to work with our device. We already started discussions with multiple hardware companies to start developing products and modules for the PINE64. One of the I/O ports is also the same layout as Raspberry Pi, making some Pi- compatible products eventually compatible with the PINE64, as long as software permits. We run Android 5.1.1 and also working on different versions of Linux. As long as there is demand, hardware providers will always start producing software drivers to make devices compatible with our product. After all, we’re trying to build a community of users - so group effort is the key.
How small is small? The A64 next to an iPhone.
What’s been the best use of the Pine 64 you’ve seen so far?
It’s only been a few months since we’ve been testing a pre-production model in real-life use. But some of the great uses include: 1) Media player - similar to an Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV, the PINE64 can load media software such as KODI or other programs and perform similar tasks like the Apple TV and watch your favorite shows and movies 2) Android or Linux Computer - This is a great platform to service a consumer’s basic needs of computing - watch youtube, run office productivity software, check your email, and surf the web, from a device well under $50 fully built and ready to go. 3) Digital Advertising - The PINE64 can be modified and enclosed in a waterproof container or non-waterproof, to be used indoor and outdoors for digital advertising and billboard display purposes. Users can run their Linux or Android based proprietary software, and live stream media through Ethernet or Wifi. 4) Robotics and Makers - We currently are working with individuals now on this. We want to see this used as a robotics or maker platform, where you can develop different products as our quad core processor with up to 2GB of ram is way powerful than many competitors in the price range. 5) IoT - Internet of Things and Home Automation - by partnering up with openHAB, home automation open source software, we’re able to tap into the growing market of connecting your devices. There are many companies on the IoT platform, that allow you to turn off and on your lights, control your thermostats, open garages, TV or more. These are the top 5 uses we’ve explored so far, and we’re constantly working with more companies to develop cooler stuff - some of these uses include Bitcoin mining, cluster computing, cloud server, and even data management or implementation into educational games.
Where do you intend to go from here? Improvements, projects, etc?
Like mentioned earlier,we’re constantly working with individuals from all over the word on adding more and more uses, modules, and add-ons. Expect to see GPS modules, 3G cellular modules, accelorometer modules, and more. We don’t develop modules in-house ourselves, but we do work with many companies who do. We want to focus on getting the products out to our backers, then focus on distribution and corporate partnerships.
You’re committed to open source. Why is that so important? Any challenges that arise from that?
Open sources allows transparency to everyone and everyone can contribute - we’re not Apple or Microsoft, where we are a huge corporation capable of supporting millions of users. By leaving it open source, it allows users to voice their suggestions and other individuals to chime in and comment. With the conversations going, we can see which products or services have demand, and expand out support, in both hardware and software to support that. Our team is dedicated to finding the best companies to form strategic alliances with to develop modules that have great demand. One of the huge challenges that we face right now is prioritizing these demands, as we are fairly new: the demand for everything is through the roof. Over time, I’m sure we’re able to get everyone’s request on the timeline and go from there.
A 5V 0.5A power draw
Anything else you'd like to share?
For everyone that’s reading this - chase your dreams and believe in a bigger future and community. Originally PINE64 was a concept designed for two separate companies with two separate uses, and it became a global community of individuals getting together to reshape the future of technology. Through the PINE64 platform, many companies can tap into its power and versatility and create better products, and make them affordable for everyone. I’m glad to be a part of this community with TL and the team. With this, we can truly help the world.