Using an HD44780 character LCD with the Raspberry Pi

[Tech2077] is one of the lucky ones who already got his hands on a Raspberry Pi. He’s been looking into different interface options with the GPIO header and just posted a guide to using an HD44780 character display with the RPi. We like this approach because instead of doing some hard-core LCD work he’s using prototyping equipment you probably already have on hand.

Getting a character LCD running should be really simple. The gotcha is the logic level gap between the devices. If you’ve been working with Arduino, your add-ons are probably meant for a 5V power rail  and logic levels. The RPi outputs 3.3V logic. You could use a level converter (you’d need at least 7 pins to be converted in this case) or you can be a bit more clever. [Tech2077] grabbed an I2C port expander that uses just 2 of the RPi lines to address even lines of the display (four data bits plus three control bits). This is a bit of a hack, as the 3.3V logic is 0.2V below the recommended minimum for a digital 1 on the port expander. But it seems to work just fine! If it didn’t, a couple of NPN transistors would do the trick as well.

Addressing the new peripheral is just a matter of loading the i2c module and writing some Python.

Parts: 8bit IO Expander (PCF8574)

pcf8574

Sometimes a project has more sensors, buttons, or LEDs than your microcontroller has pins. The PCF8574 is an easy way to add 8 low-speed input or output pins to a microcontroller. A configurable address lets multiple PCF8574s exist on the same bus, so two microcontroller pins can control dozens of IO pins. We’ll show you how to use this chip below.

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