Meet the Raspberry Pi Pico, a tiny little microcontroller that you can use to create hardware projects with code that runs on the microcontroller. Even more interesting, the Raspberry Pi Foundation uses its own RP2040 chip, which means the Foundation is now making its own silicon.
If you are not familiar with microcontrollers, you can use these devices to control other parts or other devices. You might think that you can already do this kind of thing with a regular Raspberry Pi. However, microcontrollers are specifically designed to interact with other things.
They’re cheap, they’re small, and they use very little electricity. You can develop your project with a breadboard to avoid soldering. You can pair it with a small battery and it can last for weeks or even months. Unlike computers, microcontrollers do not run conventional operating systems. Your code runs directly on the chip.
Like other microcontrollers, the Raspberry Pi Pico has dozens of input and output pins on the sides of the device. These pins are important as they interface with other components. For example, you can have your microcontroller interact with an LED light, get data from various sensors, show information on a display, etc.
The Raspberry Pi Pico uses the RP2040 chip. It has a dual core arm processor (at 133 MHz), 264 KB of RAM, 26 GPIO pins with 3 analog inputs, a micro USB port and a temperature sensor. It doesn’t come with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. And it costs $ 4.
If you want to do something on the Raspberry Pi Pico, it’s easy to do. You connect your device to your computer using the micro USB port. You start the Raspberry Pi Pico while pressing the button. The device will appear as an external drive on your computer.
In addition to C, you can use MicroPython as a development language. It’s a Python-inspired language for microcontrollers. The Raspberry Pi Foundation has written a lot of documentation and a datasheet for the Pico.
Interestingly, the Raspberry Pi Foundation wants others to benefit from their own chip design. It reached out to Adafruit, Arduino, Pimoroni, and Sparkfun so they could build their own boards using the RP2040 chip. There will be a whole ecosystem of RP2040 devices.
This is an interesting step for the Raspberry Pi Foundation as they can take this path and go through their own chip design with more powerful variants. It offers two main advantages – the ability to control exactly what to bring on board and the price.