An introduction to some of the most popular Raspberry Pi peripherals

Author: Darhan Saami

Raspberry Pi is an affordable supercomputer, the size of a standard deck of cards. There is a vast potential for the number of things you can do with this portable supercomputer. However, it comes at the expense of more connectable tools you need to buy to carry out your projects. This article will explore some popular peripheral devices – electronic equipment and devices connected to a Raspberry Pi using a wire – that are available in the market today. It is important to note that peripherals do not include electronic equipment directly soldered onto the board. Suppose you want to become proficient in the use of microcontrollers and microcomputers. In that case, you need to learn the intricacies of soldering and additional peripheral devices’ intricacies, as we will discuss in this blog. 

Circuit Prototyping Equipment

In electronic terms, prototyping refers to how you can easily design your idea to reconstruct the circuit in an apt design. A breadboard is one of the most common and essential tools used along with a Raspberry Pi or any other microcontroller to make prototypes. A breadboard is a small piece of board, perforated with several holes in a symmetric pattern. These holes internally connect to metallic spring clips that serve as connectors. A breadboard has two sides – symmetrically separated – that help separates the polarities. The breadboard gets connected to integrated circuit chips, which use a dual inline packaging design. Always remember to connect the opposing ends of chips to the opposite side of the breadboard. 

Breadboards come in different sizes, typically ranging from 30 rows to 60 rows of holes. Apart from these holes, breadboards have a few more perforations along their outer edges, representing supply voltage and ground negative. The breadboard is essentially the perfect tool to prototype electrical circuitry because it does not require you to solder anything. Everything can be connected and disconnected from the breadboard easily. You can plug and experiment with Integrated Circuits, resistors, lead wires, LEDs, and various other physical components. 

Ribbon and Jumper Wires

A typical Raspberry Pi uses around 26 GPIO pins to break the Raspberry Pi out to a breadboard. To do this, you can use either ribbon wires or jumper wires. A ribbon wire has a flexible body but a fixed connecting clip to connect all the GPIO pins simultaneously and in order. Jumper wires are also called straps. They are structured similar to the ribbon wire, with the difference being that they connect a single GPIO pin onto the breadboard. Jumper wires are extensively used by people when working with the Gertboard expansion board. 

Single-board microcontrollers

Microcontrollers are printed circuit boards that use primarily for a limited number of tasks at a point in time. Microcontrollers, like Raspberry Pi, are highly compatible with a vast set of hardware such as sensors, boards, and other data-gathering devices. An advantage of connecting your microcomputer to a microcontroller is that you can use a wide range of digital and analog sensors simultaneously according to your need. These sensors can include motion, light, sound, moisture, temperature, and many other possibilities. Many enthusiasts have already developed intricate and exciting projects using several sensors that you can easily find on the internet. These exciting projects are where a seemingly small Raspberry Pi can perform expansive tasks using basic hardware and programming knowledge. The list of projects is truly endless. 

The most common microcontroller you can connect to your Raspberry Pi is an Arduino device. You can either use a USB cable or an I2C serial link to connect these two devices. Because of power consumption differentials between a Raspberry Pi and Arduino, you should carefully invest in an external voltage regulation solution to avoid overheating and consequently burning your Raspberry Pi. The lack of an operating system is one of the defining characteristics of a microcontroller. Therefore, you need a way to transfer data collected by your microcontroller to the microcomputer. To upload Arduino’s data to Raspberry Pi, you need to establish either a serial or a USB connection between the two devices. One of the most convenient ways of connecting these two devices is purchasing an Alamode shield conveniently available online. It provides seamless connectivity and voltage regulation, solving all of your problems in one go. Please note that an Arduino is only the most common but not the only microcontroller you can use for this purpose. Many others are also available in the market, such as a Teensy, STM32, Pinguno, etc.

The Gertboard

A chief architect of the Raspberry Pi printed circuit boards, Mr. Gert Van Loo, designed and named the Gertboard after himself. He was a computer electronics engineer by profession, so he thought of the Gertboard as a Raspberry Pi expansion board which makes it more convenient to detect and respond to physical changes concerning voltage and power. This Gertboard is also referred to as a daughterboard at times. A daughterboard is another Printed Circuit Board (PCB) that serves to expand the main board’s functionality. In this case, the Raspberry Pi acts as the main board of our system; and the Gertboard acts as the circuit’s daughterboard. A daughterboard’s purpose includes enabling expansion cards to mount parallel to the mainboard, making the computer’s form factor as slim as possible. The Gertboard makes it very convenient to build circuits without using a breadboard. It contains multiple electrical components such as LEDs, tactile buttons, motors, and analog-digital converters. 

Monitor, keypad and speaker

Perhaps the most common peripheral devices used with Raspberry Pi are monitors, keyboards, mouse and speakers. These devices are required to produce the necessary outputs and to perform functions on a seemingly non-engaging computer. Since they are generally pervasive, we will not go through them in more detail in this blog. 

Power Adapters

Perhaps another essential peripheral of Raspberry Pi is a power adapter. While Power adapters are also fairly common, it is important to understand a power adapter’s utility when connected to a Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi uses a standard micro USB, also known as type B, power connector. It runs at 5 volts. You can either directly plug it into the main source using an adapter or plug the micro USB into the computer as a power source. Specifically for Raspberry Pi, a 5.25 V 1500mA power adapter is available in the market. Raspberry Pi develops this to account for a higher draw of current by Raspberry Pi than other devices that use type B peripherals. 

Ethernet

Another commonly used peripheral with the Raspberry Pi is the Ethernet connection. An Ethernet connection helps us to connect the Raspberry Pi to the internet. It is not an absolute necessity as many versions of Raspberry Pi come with wireless network connection capabilities. However, an Ethernet is still a reliable source of network connectivity and often comes in handy in places where signal distortion takes place. The ethernet connection gets typically established via USB ports. The same is also true in Bluetooth, Wifi, 3G, and 4G dongles. An extensive list of peripheral devices can be connected to a Raspberry Pi using a USB or serial adapter. 

General Purpose Input Output pins

General Purpose Input Output pins, also known as GPIO, are a special kind of peripheral, only specific to microcomputers and microcontrollers such as Raspberry Pi, Arduino, etc. Normal smartphones, computers, and laptops do not use GPIO pins. GPIO’s are categorized as low-level peripheral, connecting our microcomputer to devices like relays, LEDs, sensors, and voltmeters, which are essential tools in controlled systems. Raspberry Pi boards have 26 pin2.54 mm expansion headers. It provides 8 GPIO pins along with access to I2C, SPI, and UART. 

These GPIO pins are tolerant to 3.3 V instead of 5 V., So over-voltage protection on the GPIO board does not exist. We recommend using external boards as described above, with buffers and power regulation to prevent damaging your Raspberry Pi. All GPIO pins are reconfigurable to produce alternate functions such as SPI or I2C. 

Conclusion

After you have read this blog, a fair bit of test and trial runs on your Raspberry Pi with different combinations of peripherals and peripheral devices will make you well versed in the intricacies of Raspberry Pi hardware. With so many hardware options available, it can only become overwhelming even for the most proficient users. The only way to make oneself an expert in DIY projects is to practice different combinations of these devices as much as you can. Once you have thoroughly learned the functionalities of peripheral adapters, devices’ use becomes much more straightforward. Almost all Raspberry Pi versions deal with similar peripherals, so you need not worry about having to adapt anew every time a new version of these supercomputers is released. So what are you waiting for? Try it out now! You can get your Raspberry Pi Model B+ from Amazon here, or read our review of it here if you aren’t yet convinced.

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