[Miroslav Nemecek] really pushes the limits of the Pico with his PicoVGA project, which packs a surprising number of features. His main goal with this library is to run retro games which can fit within the limited RAM and processing power of the Pico, but the demo video below shows a wide array of potential applications.
The library provides a whole slew of features, including frame buffering, sprites, overlays, and resolutions up to 1280×960 in either NTSC or PAL timings. A PWM-driven audio output channel is also included in the package. His library takes full advantage of the programmable I/O module functionality and uses the second core which is dedicated to video processing. However, with care, the second core can perform application tasks in certain circumstances. The VGA analog output signals are provided by resistor ladders, and pixel color is 8-bit R3G3B2 format. To be clear, [Miroslav] does cheat a little bit here in one regard — he overclocks the processor up to 270 MHz to meet the timing demands in some of the resolutions.
[Miroslav] has developed these tools using ARM-GCC on Windows, but he lacks the experience to make a Linux build. He welcomes help on that front from anyone familiar with Linux. And stay tuned — there may be more coming from [Miroslav] in the future. He notes that the PicoVGA library was created as part of a retro gaming computer project which is still under development. We look forward to hearing more about this when it gets released.
A couple of weeks ago we wrote about a monochrome VGA version of Pong for the Pico by [Nick Bild]. It’s exciting to see these projects which are exploring the limits of the Pico’s capabilities. Have you seen any boundary-pushing applications for the Pico? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks to [Pavel Krivanek] for sending this project to our tip line.
For some applications, smaller is better and that is precisely the thinking behind a diminutive keyboard like the PiPi Gherkin, which is designed to use the Raspberry Pi Pico as its controller. This keyboard may have only 30 keys in total, but they are full-sized for comfort and don’t let the scant layout mislead you. It has more functionality than it would seem to at first glance; the entire bottom row acts as dual function tap/hold keys, allowing the keyboard to shift layers on the fly.
This keyboard definitely has a a thoughtful layout, and we’re not just talking about the tap/shift functionality. We especially like the way the Pi Pico is tucked neatly underneath the main PCB, taking up very little room while exposing its USB connector between two standoffs for easy access without requiring an adapter, or wiring a separate plug.
If the Gherkin sounds familiar, we’ve seen it before as part of this lunchbox cyberdeck build, where the small size allowed it to take up impressively little room. The shifting might take a little getting used to, but it’s a clean design that uses full sized keys, so when it comes to small keyboards one could certainly do worse.
Independent hardware developer [bobricius] is at it again, making what he claims is the world’s first Pico RP2040 QWERTY + IPS development kit — the PICOmputer. This is a palm-sized computer of sorts. It integrates a keyboard made from tactile push button switches, a TFT IPS display, and a RP2040 Pico computer module. At 100 x 65 mm size, it is slightly bigger than your typical ISO-7810-ID-1-sized credit card, and slightly smaller than an A7 piece of paper.
One of [Bobricius]’s goals for this project was to minimize the number of external components, thus maximizing the use of the RP2040’s internal features. And if you peruse the schematic posted on his GitHub repository, you can agree he’s met this goal for sure. There’s a filter capacitor for the optional LoRa module, and two MOSFETs and three resistors to drive a speaker and the TFT backlight. Aside from connectors, the switches, and the submodules themselves, that’s all of the external circuitry.
The arrangement of two USB connectors, type C for power and micro-USB for data, is an interesting aspect of the connector / module placement. He plans to add an Ethernet module in the future, and issue some more revisions to fix small errors and to make the front panel fit more sizes of displays. We wonder if a battery module add-on is in the works, as well.
If you recognize [bobricius], that’s because his previous ARMACHAT handheld LoRa messenger project was among the Hackaday Prize Community Vote (Bootstrap) winners last year. We think tiny keyboards may be an obsession for him — indeed, he freely admits to being blinded by his own enthusiasm. Check out his mini (Pi)QWERTY USB keyboard from 2018, for example. Thanks to [Itay] for bringing this project to our attention via the Hackaday tip line.
Rolling your own VGA signal is no simple feat, and this project takes full advantage of the Pico’s features to pull it off. Display data is buffered in memory, while a Programmable I/O (PIO) program reads straight from the buffer via Direct Memory Access (DMA) and writes straight to the display. This allows for nanosecond-precision while leaving the CPU free to handle inputs and run the game. Even with the display work offloaded, the ARM processor had to be massively overclocked at 258 MHz, well over its 133 MHz specs, to make things run smoothly. And still [Nick] found himself limited to a 640×350 resolution and serendipitously-retro-accurate monochrome color scheme.
Gesture controls come from a pair of IR light beams hooked up to the GPIO. IR LEDs shine up toward reflectors, and the light bounces back down to detectors. Blocking one of the beams causes your paddle to move up or down, which looks pretty responsive in the video (embedded below).
[Hari] set about writing Snake in MicroPython for the Raspberry Pi Pico. The hardware side of things is simple enough – five buttons hooked up to the Pico, along with an 128×64 I2C OLED screen to display the game on. On the software side of things, [Hari] pushed the boat out, deciding that his version of Snake had to have the player character slither like the real thing. This took a little effort to get right, particularly when navigating corners in different directions. However, perseverance paid off and [Hari] got the job done.
As explained in the video below, the adapter is essentially just a Raspberry Pi Pico paired with some level shifters so that it can talk to the Game Boy’s link port. That said, the custom PCB does implement some very clever edge connectors that let you plug it right into the Link Cable for the original “brick” Game Boy as well as the later Color and Advance variants. This keeps you from having to cut up a Link Cable just to get a male end, which is what [stacksmashing] had to do during the prototyping phase.
Of course, the hardware is only one half of the equation. There’s also an open source software stack which includes a Python server and WebUSB frontend that handles communicating with the Game Boy and connecting players. While the original game only supported a two person head-to-head mode, the relatively simplistic nature of the multiplayer gameplay allowed [stacksmashing] to expand that to an arbitrary number of players with his code. The core rules haven’t changed, and each client Game Boy still thinks it’s in a two player match, but the web interface will show the progress of other players and who ends up on top at the end.
To be clear, this isn’t some transparent Link Cable to TCP/IP solution. While something like that could potentially be possible with the hardware, as of right now, the software [stacksmashing] has put together only works for Tetris. So if you want to battle Pokemon over the net, you’ll have to do your own reverse engineering (or at least wait for somebody else to inevitably do it).
Although protocols like I2C and SPI are great for communicating between embedded devices and their peripherals, it can be a pain to interface these low-level digital interfaces to a PC. [Alexandre] typically used an Arduino to bridge between the PC and embedded worlds, but he got tired of defining a custom serial protocol for each project. Inspired by MicroPython’s machine module, [Alexandre] has developed u2if—an implementation of some of MicroPython’s machine module for PC—using a USB-connected Raspberry Pi Pico to bridge between a PC and low-level digital interfaces.
u2if consists of two parts: the PC portion is a Python implementation of a portion of the MicroPython machine module, and the Raspberry Pi Pico receives some custom C++ firmware. Thus far, [Alexandre] has implemented functionality for the onboard ADCs, I2C, SPI, UART, and GPIO lines as well as additional support for I2S sound and the WS2812B addressable LED.
In addition to the u2if package, [Alexandre] has designed a PCB to break out all of the Raspberry Pi Pico’s interfaces in a handy 3×3.9″ board. We especially like that multiple headers are supplied for I2C, including one with enough space to mount an SSD1306 OLED display.
We think this could be an incredibly useful tool, and what makes it even more impressive is that it uses a board many of us already have laying around. If you want a dedicated device for interfacing with low-level digital buses, you may want to check out the GreatFET.