Today, we’re launching our first microcontroller-class product: Raspberry Pi Pico. Priced at just $4, it is built on RP2040, a brand-new chip developed right here at Raspberry Pi. Whether you’re looking for a standalone board for deep-embedded development or a companion to your Raspberry Pi computer, or you’re taking your first steps with a microcontroller, this is the board for you.
You can buy your Raspberry Pi Pico today online from one of our Approved Resellers. Or head to your local newsagent, where every copy of this month’s HackSpace magazine comes with a free Pico, as well as plenty of guides and tutorials to help you get started with it. If coronavirus restrictions mean that you can’t get to your newsagent right now, you can grab a subscription and get Pico delivered to your door.
Microcomputers and microcontrollers
Many of our favourite projects, from cucumber sorters to high altitude balloons, connect Raspberry Pi to the physical world: software running on the Raspberry Pi reads sensors, performs computations, talks to the network, and drives actuators. This ability to bridge the worlds of software and hardware has contributed to the enduring popularity of Raspberry Pi computers, with over 37 million units sold to date.
But there are limits: even in its lowest power mode a Raspberry Pi Zero will consume on the order of 100 milliwatts; Raspberry Pi on its own does not support analogue input; and while it is possible to run “bare metal” software on a Raspberry Pi, software running under a general-purpose operating system like Linux is not well suited to low-latency control of individual I/O pins.
Many hobbyist and industrial applications pair a Raspberry Pi with a microcontroller. The Raspberry Pi takes care of heavyweight computation, network access, and storage, while the microcontroller handles analogue input and low-latency I/O and, sometimes, provides a very low-power standby mode.
Until now, we’ve not been able to figure out a way to make a compelling microcontroller-class product of our own. To make the product we really wanted to make, first we had to learn to make our own chips.
It seems like every fruit company is making its own silicon these days, and we’re no exception. RP2040 builds on the lessons we’ve learned from using other microcontrollers in our products, from the Sense HAT to Raspberry Pi 400. It’s the result of many years of hard work by our in-house chip team.
We had three principal design goals for RP2040: high performance, particularly for integer workloads; flexible I/O, to allow us to talk to almost any external device; and of course, low cost, to eliminate barriers to entry. We ended up with an incredibly powerful little chip, cramming all this into a 7 × 7 mm QFN-56 package containing just two square millimetres of 40 nm silicon. RP2040 has:
- Dual-core Arm Cortex-M0+ @ 133MHz
- 264KB (remember kilobytes?) of on-chip RAM
- Support for up to 16MB of off-chip Flash memory via dedicated QSPI bus
- DMA controller
- Interpolator and integer divider peripherals
- 30 GPIO pins, 4 of which can be used as analogue inputs
- 2 × UARTs, 2 × SPI controllers, and 2 × I2C controllers
- 16 × PWM channels
- 1 × USB 1.1 controller and PHY, with host and device support
- 8 × Raspberry Pi Programmable I/O (PIO) state machines
- USB mass-storage boot mode with UF2 support, for drag-and-drop programming
And this isn’t just a powerful chip: it’s designed to help you bring every last drop of that power to bear. With six independent banks of RAM, and a fully connected switch at the heart of its bus fabric, you can easily arrange for the cores and DMA engines to run in parallel without contention.
For power users, we provide a complete C SDK, a GCC-based toolchain, and Visual Studio Code integration.
As Cortex-M0+ lacks a floating-point unit, we have commissioned optimised floating-point functions from Mark Owen, author of the popular Qfplib libraries; these are substantially faster than their GCC library equivalents, and are licensed for use on any RP2040-based product.
With two fast cores and and a large amount of on-chip RAM, RP2040 is a great platform for machine learning applications. You can find Pete Warden’s port of Google’s TensorFlow Lite framework here. Look out for more machine learning content over the coming months.
For beginners, and other users who prefer high-level languages, we’ve worked with Damien George, creator of MicroPython, to build a polished port for RP2040; it exposes all of the chip’s hardware features, including our innovative PIO subsystem. And our friend Aivar Annamaa has added RP2040 MicroPython support to the popular Thonny IDE.
Raspberry Pi Pico
Raspberry Pi Pico is designed as our low-cost breakout board for RP2040. It pairs RP2040 with 2MB of Flash memory, and a power supply chip supporting input voltages from 1.8-5.5V. This allows you to power your Pico from a wide variety of sources, including two or three AA cells in series, or a single lithium-ion cell.
Pico provides a single push button, which can be used to enter USB mass-storage mode at boot time and also as a general input, and a single LED. It exposes 26 of the 30 GPIO pins on RP2040, including three of the four analogue inputs, to 0.1”-pitch pads; you can solder headers to these pads or take advantage of their castellated edges to solder Pico directly to a carrier board. Volume customers will be able to buy pre-reeled Pico units: in fact we already supply Pico to our Approved Resellers in this format.
The Pico PCB layout was co-designed with the RP2040 silicon and package, and we’re really pleased with how it turned out: a two-layer PCB with a solid ground plane and a GPIO breakout that “just works”.
Whether Raspberry Pi Pico is your first microcontroller or your fifty-first, we can’t wait to see what you do with it.
Raspberry Pi Pico documentation
Our ambition with RP2040 wasn’t just to produce the best chip, but to support that chip with the best documentation. Alasdair Allan, who joined us a year ago, has overseen a colossal effort on the part of the whole engineering team to document every aspect of the design, with simple, easy-to-understand examples to help you get the most out of your Raspberry Pi Pico.
You can find complete documentation for Raspberry Pi Pico, and for RP2040, its SDK and toolchain, here.
To help you get the most of your Pico, why not grab a copy of Get Started with MicroPython on Raspberry Pi Pico by Gareth Halfacree and our very own Ben Everard. It’s ideal for beginners who are new (or new-ish) to making with microcontrollers.
Our colleagues at the Raspberry Pi Foundation have also produced an educational project to help you get started with Raspberry Pi Pico. You can find it here.
Over the last couple of months, we’ve been working with our friends at Adafruit, Arduino, Pimoroni, and Sparkfun to create accessories for Raspberry Pi Pico, and a variety of other boards built on the RP2040 silicon platform. Here are just a few of the products that are available to buy or pre-order today.
Adafruit Feather RP 2040
RP2040 joins the hundreds of boards in the Feather ecosystem with the fully featured Feather RP 2040 board. The 2″ × 0.9″ dev board has USB C, Lipoly battery charging, 4MB of QSPI flash memory, a STEMMA QT I2C connector, and an optional SWD debug port. With plenty of GPIO for use with any FeatherWing, and hundreds of Qwiic/QT/Grove sensors that can plug and play, it’s the fast way to get started.
Adafruit ItsyBitsy RP 2040
Need a petite dev board for RP2040? The Itsy Bitsy RP 2040 is positively tiny, but it still has lots of GPIO, 4MB of QSPI flash, boot and reset buttons, a built-in RGB NeoPixel, and even a 5V output logic pin, so it’s perfect for NeoPixel projects!
Arduino Nano RP2040 Connect
Arduino joins the RP2040 family with one of its most popular formats: the Arduino Nano. The Arduino Nano RP2040 Connect combines the power of RP2040 with high-quality MEMS sensors (a 9-axis IMU and microphone), a highly efficient power section, a powerful WiFi/Bluetooth module, and the ECC608 crypto chip, enabling anybody to create secure IoT applications with this new microcontroller. The Arduino Nano RP2040 Connect will be available for pre-order in the next few weeks.
PicoSystem is a tiny and delightful handheld game-making experience based on RP2040. It comes with a simple and fast software library, plus examples to make your mini-gaming dreams happen. Or just plug it into USB and drop the best creations from the Raspberry Pi-verse straight onto the flash drive.
Pimoroni Pico Explorer Base
Pico Explorer offers an embedded electronics environment for educators, engineers, and software people who want to learn hardware with less of the “hard” bit. It offers easy expansion and breakout along with a whole bunch of useful bits.
SparkFun Thing Plus – RP2040
The Thing Plus – RP2040 is a low-cost, high-performance board with flexible digital interfaces featuring Raspberry Pi’s RP2040 microcontroller. Within the Feather-compatible Thing Plus form factor with 18 GPIO pins, the board offers an SD card slot, 16MB (128Mbit) flash memory, a JST single-cell battery connector (with a charging circuit and fuel gauge sensor), an addressable WS2812 RGB LED, JTAG PTH pins, mounting holes, and a Qwiic connector to add devices from SparkFun’s quick-connect I2C ecosystem.
SparkFun MicroMod RP2040 Processor
The MicroMod RP2040 Processor Board is part of SparkFun’s MicroMod modular interface system. The MicroMod M.2 connector makes it easy to connect your RP2040 Processor Board with the MicroMod carrier board that gives you the inputs and outputs you need for your project.
SparkFun Pro Micro – RP2040
The Pro Micro RP2040 harnesses the capability of RP2040 on a compact development board with the USB functionality that is the hallmark of all SparkFun’s Pro Micro boards. It has a WS2812B addressable LED, boot button, reset button, Qwiic connector, USB-C, and castellated pads.
It’s fair to say we’ve taken the long road to creating Raspberry Pi Pico. Chip development is a complicated business, drawing on the talents of many different people. Here’s an incomplete list of those who have contributed to the RP2040 and Raspberry Pi Pico projects:
Dave Akerman, Sam Alder, Alasdair Allan, Aivar Annamaa, Jonathan Bell, Mike Buffham, Dom Cobley, Steve Cook, Phil Daniell, Russell Davis, Phil Elwell, Ben Everard, Andras Ferencz, Nick Francis, Liam Fraser, Damien George, Richard Gordon, F Trevor Gowen, Gareth Halfacree, David Henly, Kevin Hill, Nick Hollinghurst, Gordon Hollingworth, James Hughes, Tammy Julyan, Jason Julyan, Phil King, Stijn Kuipers, Lestin Liu, Simon Long, Roy Longbottom, Ian Macaulay, Terry Mackown, Simon Martin, Jon Matthews, Nellie McKesson, Rod Oldfield, Mark Owen, Mike Parker, David Plowman, Dominic Plunkett, Graham Sanderson, Andrew Scheller, Serge Schneider, Nathan Seidle, Vinaya Puthur Sekar, Mark Sherlock, Martin Sperl, Mike Stimson, Ha Thach, Roger Thornton, Jonathan Welch, Simon West, Jack Willis, Luke Wren, David Wright.
We’d also like to thank our friends at Sony Pencoed and Sony Inazawa, Microtest, and IMEC for their help in bringing these projects to fruition.
Buy your Raspberry Pi Pico from one of our Approved Resellers today, and let us know what you think!
Are you planning to make RP2040 available to customers?
We hope to make RP2040 broadly available in the second quarter of 2021.