What is Raspberry Pi Pico?

Calling the new Raspberry Pi Pico a surprising release will be an understatement. For just $4, imagine the impact this microcontroller can make in the embedded project and coding community. Unlike other Raspberry Pis, the new Pico is not a processor but a modest microcontroller that comes equipped with a brand new RP2040 chip.

Users from across the spectrum – early coders, embedded project enthusiasts, DIY guys, and the whole lot – can now easily build stuff no matter their operating software. Let’s learn a bit more about the smallest Pi yet.

Specification

As it is the first stand-alone microcontroller from the Raspberry Pi lineup, you can expect some significant changes from a standard Raspberry Pi. The first obvious improvement is the introduction of the RP2040 “Pi Silicon” custom system on a chip. The chip comes equipped with a dual-core Arm Cortex M0+ running at 133MHz with 264KB of SRAM and 2MB of flash memory ready for file storage.

Raspberry Pi Pico Specification

Being a functional mini-controller of this size and cost comes with a disadvantage – a lack of wireless connectivity. But being light also brings a cool way to run code in it. You’ll need to write code externally on a computer and flash the code just as you would on an Arduino board.

Raspberry Pi Pico Pinout

Here’s what you get on a Pico:

Raspberry Pi Pico Pinout
Raspberry Pi Pico Pinout
  • 26 multi-function 3.3V GPIO pins
  • 16 controllable PWN channels, 3 12 bit ADC, and 2 UART
  • 8 Programmable I/O (PIO) state machines for custom peripheral support
  • Castellated module to solder directly on the carrier boards

The RP2040

This latest microcontroller on the Raspberry Pi lineup is currently available only on the Pico board. Several others have announced new boards based on RP2040, so users can expect a wave of new layouts and features on the RP2040 based platforms.

Raspberry Pi Pico Chipset
Raspberry Pi Pico Chipset

Known for its low power capabilities, high memory, and high speed, the chip has already captured the attention of many electronics project enthusiasts across the world.

Some major additions to the RP2040 based boards are:

  • Arduino’s Arduino Nano RP2040 Connect that has WiFi and Bluetooth
  • Sparkfun’s new board that has a micro SD card and better onboard flash storage
  • Pimoroni with their smallest RP2040 based board tiny2040
  • Adafruit’s Feather 2040 and ItsyBitsy2040 boards with larger storage, battery charging, STEMMA QT and Neopixels

Raspberry Pi Pico GPIO Voltage

Altogether, the new Pico has a 40 pin GPIO to play around with, operating at 3.3V. As you may guess, it doesn’t have the form factor of a standard Raspberry Pi. It has pulse width modulation and specialist protocols like 12C, UART/Serial, and SPI.

Raspberry Pi Pico

Contrary to other Raspberry Pis, the Pico has 3 Analog inputs that could be used variable voltages connections.

Pico comes will castellation all around, making it so easy to mount over other carrier boards. Even more so. you can solder header pins to it and mount it on breadboards.

Where to start?

The cheaply priced microcontroller is the best fit for so many electronics projects and is a great way to learn physical computing.

Here are some of my suggestions:

  • learn how to build motorized projects
  • collect external data through sensors
  • Practice programming basics

Accessories and add-ons

At the moment, you can find around a dozen new accessories that you could add to your Pico for their unique features. Here are some of them:

  • SparkFun Thing Plus
  • Pico Breakout Garden Base
  • Pimoroni Pico VGA Demo Base
  • Pimoroni Tiny 2040
  • Pico Proto
  • Pico Omnibus/Decker Expander
  • Pico RGB Keypad
  • Pico Explorer Base
  • Pico Unicorn Pack
  • Pico Audio Pack
  • Pico Scroll Pack
  • Pico Display Pack

The list of addons is expected to expand shortly.

Arduino Vs Raspberry Pi Pico

Even though Raspberry Pi Pico and Arduino are almost the same, there are differences in these microcontrollers, and these could sometimes come in the way of choosing the right option for your project. In this Arduino vs Raspberry Pi Pico comparison, we will see how each of these fare at some very basic features – ease of use, reliability, costs, and more.

Raspberry Pi Pico vs Arduino
Raspberry Pi Pico vs Arduino

Getting Started

We will be providing you with a complete step by step tutorials on what to do and how to do with Pico. Why not start with coding? Click the below link when you are ready!

How to Program Raspberry Pi Pico?

C/C++ or MicroPython are the two ways you can program and get code to run on the new Pico. MIcroPython is the language of choice that the company suggests, making it easy for beginners to code and get their projects ready quickly.

MicroPython is a modified version of Python 3 for microcontrollers. Introduced back in 2014 on the PyBoard development board, this easy language has found a steady increase in device adoption over the years. CircuitPuthon, a fork of MicroPython created by Adafruit has added enhancements for their range of boards as well.

Pico using Thonny IDE
Programming Raspberry Pi Pico using Thonny IDE

You can write code for Pico with the Thonny Python IDE available for all prominent OSes, and is pretty easy to code too.

The overemphasis on MicroPython is because it is the fastest way you can flash code on your controller. It also means that coding with C/C++ is a bit harder than the MicroPython approach.

Here’s how you can get C/C++ code to run on your Pico:

  • Write code on an external text editor and follow a workflow to build the file in order to get flashed on to the Pico.
  • Use a graphical workflow and have Microsoft Visual Studio for creating, building, and flash all in one application.

Arduino has assured that they’ll be adding support features for the new RP2040 to be coded with Arduino IDE, one of the most famous IDEs on the planet. This could see a boom in sales for the Raspberry Pi Pico in the coming months, as hardcore Arduino hackers will find it no difficult to use their IDE to code Raspberry.

Check out the Next Page where you will learn the basic of Coding Raspberry Pi Pico.

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