Raspberry Pi Pico: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

Small board, massive potential!
Ash Ash (330)

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has released its first official microcontroller board called the Raspberry Pi Pico. The Pico is quickly sweeping across the community as makers push this tiny new board to its limits and start development on new cool projects.

If you want to see what all the fuss is about, you may be wondering what the new Raspberry Pi Pico offers and how you can use it.

What is the Raspberry Pi Pico?

The Raspberry Pi Pico is a microcontroller board developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. It features the new ARM-based chip developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation known as the RP2040. This chip has only been made available to third-party developers, however, plans in the works to make the RP2040 a commercially available unit that any maker can purchase.

The Pico can be programmed using an IDE, much like an Arduino board. It supports multiple languages including both Micropython and C.

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Raspberry Pi Pico
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Spec Raspberry Pi Pico
Size 21mm × 51mm
Microcontroller RP2040
Processor Dual-core Arm Cortex-M0+
CPU Speed 133 MHz
Memory 264KB SRAM
GPIO 26 Multifunction Pins
Analogue Inputs 3
SPI Controllers 2
I2C Controllers 2
PWM Channels 16
USB 1.1 Controller 1
Programmable I/O State Machines 8
Power Input 1.8–5.5V DC
Clock Module Yes
Temperature sensor Yes
Button Yes

Overall, this board packs a notable punch for its size and price point. Its processing power is limited compared to something like a Raspberry Pi SBC but ideal for simple projects and basic control operations (think motors and LEDs).

Because of the light specs, the Pico has really low power demand. This makes it an ideal candidate for portable projects and wearable creations. It can also be used to remotely trigger a Raspberry Pi, saving power until it's actually needed.

The Raspberry Pi Pico uses a micro USB port to both receive power and transmitting data. It can accept 1.8 - 5.5V DC. The power consumption on this module is so low, you could power it with a couple of AA batteries. The amount of power your Pico draws will depend on any additional modules it's connected to and the complexity of the application it's programmed to execute.

If you don't want to constantly hardwire your Pico project, you may have to experiment to determine how much power you'll need from a battery pack to keep your project running.

Raspberry Pi Diagram

The Pico features 26 GPIO pins and arrives with no headers soldered in place. It's up to the maker to determine when and if headers are necessary. Makes have three analogue inputs to work with, two UART ports, a couple of SPI controllers, and two I2C controllers. There are 16 total PWM channels and a USB 1.1 controller.

It has an LED as well as a button that can be used to trigger the PC mounting mode necessary to program your Pico. Headers should be soldered facing downward, this is to ensure access to the button is not obstructed.

This board is super slim and can easily squeeze into a number of projects. It has no Ethernet port and no wireless support of any kind. Any and all connectivity must be handled manually unless a wireless adapter is installed.

Raspberry Pi Pico

Programming the Raspberry Pi Picp can be done from a Windows, Linux, or Mac machine. All you need is a micro USB to USB Type-A cable and a little bit of spare time.

Makers have two options for coding on the Pico: C and MicroPython. The Raspberry Pi Foundation has plenty of documentation to support both avenues—something we definitely appreciate having on-hand at the time of release. And we have a guide dedicated to showing you how to use MicroPython with the Pico.

Raspberry Pi Pico

If you're looking for some project ideas, we've got you covered! There are tons of cool applications out there for a board like this and we can't wait to see what new developments the community creates with it, as well. Here are some ideas we've had for the new Raspberry Pi Pico.

  1. Energy Saving Pi Remote - Full-sized Raspberry Pi SBCs take up much more power than the Pico module. By using the Pico as a remote controller, you can use it to monitor specific conditions (like temperature or time of day) and choose when to send a command to power the Raspberry Pi. This helps keep overall power consumption low by only powering the Raspberry Pi when necessary.
  2. Wearable LED Controller - Wearing LEDs can be fun, especially when they're programmed to respond to specific conditions. The Pico doesn't require much power, making it an excellent candidate for wearable projects.
  3. Low Power Distance Meter - Monitoring distance with ultrasonic sensors doesn't require much software-wise or hardware-wise. The Pico can be used to check sensor data in real time without chewing up resources for a full-blown operating system.
  4. Motion Detector Trigger - There's no sense in overpowering your motion detectors. If you're into home security, you may want to snag a few Picos. These boards are well-suited for things like motion detection triggers and more.
  5. Egg Timer - You can't keep us out of the kitchen and what better place is there for a Raspberry Pi? The Pico can control things like LCD screens which would be great for displaying a countdown for something tasteful like an egg timer for your kitchen!

And there's plenty of new awesome accessories for the Pico from some of the top manufacturers for your next project.

Official resellers

Until the hype dies down, it looks like Pico will be sold out for a while at many of the official Raspberry Pi resellers. But check in to get your hands on one for as little as $4-5!

Starter kits

Vilros and Waveshare has already released a pretty sweet starter kit at only $20 for the Raspberry Pi Pico.

Find out what microcontroller suits your project best.
Ash Ash (330)

Finding the right microcontroller for your project is critical for not just budgetary reasons but also performance.