Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Pimoroni Explorer Pro Hat - first impressions

This morning my new Explorer Hat from Pimoroni arrived, and the tempation to play has proved to much to resist.

There are two versions of the Explorer Hat, standard and Pro. I greedily ordered one of each; the standard version is great for experimenting, but the Pro version offers several extra useful features.

I started with the Pro.

I love it.

Here's what the Explorer hats provide:
  • Four buffered 5V tolerant inputs
  • Four powered 5V outputs (up to 500mA!)
  • Four capacitive touch pads
  • Four capacitive crocodile clip pads
  • Four coloured LEDs
  • PRO ONLY Four analog inputs
  • PRO ONLY Two H-bridge motor drivers
  • PRO ONLY A heap of useful (unprotected) 3v3 goodies from the GPIO
  • A mini breadboard on top!
It took me a couple of minutes to get the environment set up
The Readme on the github site tells you how prepare your Pi, and then walks you though some fun experiments.

One thing to watch: the setup instructions suggest that you install pip by typing
sudo apt-get install python-pip

Just say no

I recommend that you don't install pip that way. The version of pip that's included in the raspbian distribution is quite old, and it will bring python2.6 in with it! With yet another version of Python on your pi, the possibilities for confusion are considerable, and using the outdated version of pip can cause other problems.

Instead, I recommend that you start by installing setuptools and use easy_install (part of setuptools) to install pip. Here's what you need to type:

sudo apt-get install python-setuptools
sudo easy_install pip

and now you can type

sudo pip install explorerhat

Apart from that, the installation instructions are fine, and very clear.

Once you've configured i2c and installed all the required software, you can start to flash LEDs and write code that responds to button presses.

Lights On!

Here's the Python code to turn the red led on:

That's simple and intuitive. I'll bet you can guess how you turn the red light off, and the blue light on :)

I suspect you'll find that the Explorer Hat makes it as easy to do Physical Computing on the Pi as it is on the Arduino.

You'll be programming interactively in Python instead of editing, compiling and uploading code in the Arduino's c-based Wiring language. Many people will find that development is faster and the learning curve is less steep.

I think Pimoroni have a real winner here, especially at the very attractive price. The Pro is £18, and the standard Explorer Hat is just £10.

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