MEMS and Sensors

Video: Raspberry Pi launches $4 board built with its first proprietary MCU

22 January 2021

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has launched a new developer board built with its first microcontroller-class product priced at only $4.

Typically, many hobbyists and developers pair a Raspberry Pi and a microcontroller with the board doing the computation, network access and storage chores while the microcontroller handles analog input and low-latency I/O and a low-power standby mode.

However, the company has not been able to build its own microcontroller because it did not have the ability or expertise to do so. The RP2040 microcontroller, which powers the new Raspberry Pi Pico developer board, was built from Raspberry Pi’s experience using microcontrollers in its own products.

The company designed the RP2040 with three goals: high performance, flexible I/O and low cost. The chip ended up being a 2 sq mm device on 40 nm silicon using a dual-core Arm Cortex-M0+ processor, 264 KB of on-chip random access memory (RAM), support for up to 16 MB of off-chip flash memory, DMA controller, interpolator and integer divider peripherals, 30 GPIO pins and 8x Raspberry Pi programmable I/O state machines.

The Raspberry Pi Pico is the first low-cost board with the RP2040 microcontroller and it pairs with 2 MB of flash memory and a power supply chip supporting input voltages from 1.8 V to 5.5 V, allowing the board to be powered from a range of sources including two or three AA batteries in a series or a single lithium-ion cell.

The Raspberry Pi Pico powered by the new RP2040 microcontroller pairs with 2 MB of flash memory and a power supply chip. Source: Raspberry PiThe Raspberry Pi Pico powered by the new RP2040 microcontroller pairs with 2 MB of flash memory and a power supply chip. Source: Raspberry Pi

Pico features a single push button to be used to enter USB mass-storage mode at boot or as a general input as well as a single LED. It exposes 26 of the 30 GPIO pins on the RP2040 including three of the four analog inputs and headers that can be soldered to the pads.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has been working with partners to develop other boards built on the RP2040 chip. These include:

  • Adafruit Feather RP2040 — A board with USB C, Lipoly battery charging, 4 MB of quad serial peripheral interface (QSPI) flash memory, a STEMMA QT I2C connector and an optional serial wire debug (SWD) port.
  • Itsy Bitsy RP2040 — A tiny board with lots of GPIO, 4 MB of QSPI flash, boot and reset buttons, a built-in RGB NeoPixel and a 5 mV output logic pin.
  • Arduino Nano RP2040 — This combines the MCU with microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) sensors, a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module and an ECC608 crypto chip.
  • Pimoroni PicoSystem — Designed to develop handheld game-making experiences using the RP2040.
  • Pimoroni Pico Explore Base — Develops products for educators, engineers and software with embedded electronics.
  • Sparkfun Thing Plus RP2040 — A Feather-compatible board with 18 GPIO pins, SD card slot, 16 MB flash memory, a JST single-cell battery connector, a WS2812 RGB LED, JTAG PTH pins, mounting holes and a Qwiic connector.
  • SparkFun MicroMod RP2040 — This allows users to connect the RP2040 processor board with the MicroMod carrier board.
  • SparkFun Pro Micro RP2040 — A compact development board with the USB functionality that has a WS2812B addressable LED, boot button, reset button, Qwiic connector, USB-C and castellated pads.
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