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The Raspberry Pi Pico

July 28, 2021

The Raspberry Pi Pico

Today we’re going to be checking out the Raspberry Pi Pico board! This board is a low cost microcontroller board with flexible digital interfaces. The board features the RP2040 microcontroller chip designed by Raspberry Pi. It can be programmed using micropython and c++. The headers are an optional addition depending on what kind of project you're doing. The Pico really lives up to its name, it really is small. It’s accessible for beginners and has excellent features for experts who are looking to work with its peripheral set but I will note now that set up is a little bit complicated compared to other boards.

As usual I’m getting started by plugging the board into my laptop with the use of the micro USB cord. I’ve decided to work in Python/MicroPython with the Pico. The Getting Started with Raspberry Pi Pico document produced by Raspberry Pi is extremely helpful for working with this board. For the Pico I’m going to be using the Thonny IDE that can be found on their website for free download. You can just go with their basic set up options unless you are a bit more familiar with coding and want to optimize the settings. 

Once you have everything downloaded open up Thonny, go to Tools>Options, within this panel select Interpreter and then in the dropdown menu pick MicroPython (Raspberry Pi Pico) and then press okay. This will allow the IDE to know what device you’re working with. It will prompt you to install firmware specifically for the Pico and give you brief instructions on how to do so. 

I downloaded the UF2 file found on the Raspberry Pi website to prepare the Pico to be able to work in MicroPython. The website also has brief instructions on how to connect your Pico as a storage device to be able to add the UF2 file to it. The Pico will then restart.  

Now you’re ready to start working with your Pico in MicroPython!

At this point it’s best to test the board a bit and make sure everything is working properly. You can do this with a quick “Hello Pico!” if it responds correctly in Shell and says ‘Hello Pico!’ things are working as they should. Now you can use the board’s LED to do a classic Blink Test using the following code to turn the LED on and off. With that we’ve confirmed that our Pico is working correctly and we can now move on to some more interesting builds. 

Depending on what you want to do you may need your headers at this point to make your Pico compatible with a breadboard. 

Raspberry Pi Pico’s are a great microcontroller that has a fair amount of range, despite the slightly more tricky set up process, once it’s ready to go there’s a lot you can do. The Pico has a pretty established community through the Raspberry Pi network which means there’s been a lot of neat add-ons created to be able to do more with it. Utilizing additions like the Kitronik Discovery KitPimoroni’s Pico VGA Demo BasePico Audio Pack or the Pico Decker Quad Expander can really push the Pico to perform in new and extraordinary ways.


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