What is Raspberry Pi?

Exploring this wonderful credit-card sized computer

The Raspberry Pi is a series of low-cost, credit card-sized single-board computers. It is just like any other computer and features built in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth. You can connect a keyboard, mouse through USB or Bluetooth and a display monitor through HDMI cable and start using it just like a normal computer.

But the real power of Rpi is realized in embedded systems. The Raspberry Pi has the ability to interact with the outside world, and has been used in a wide array of digital maker projects, from music machines and parent detectors to weather stations and tweeting birdhouses with infra-red cameras. We ourselves are using it in our ITSP to read measurements from ultrasonic sensors and give output to stepper motors.

To interact with most of the digital equipment we have to use the GPIO (General Purpose Input/Output) pins on Raspberry Pi.

So lets learn how to configure and use GPIO pins!!

What does Raspberry Pi board look like?

The image given below is a top-view of Raspberry Pi 3 model B.

  • The 40 pins shown at the top contain the Ground pins, I2C, SPI, GPIO pins, supply voltage pins.

  • On the right, the top two structures are the USB ports and bottom one is the ethernet port.

  • Comming down, we have the USB charging port on the left and the and the HDMI port next to it.

  • On the left hand side we have a micro SD slot which acts as the hard drive of Raspberry Pi.

Now lets have a closer look at those 40 pins. Here is a pin diagram of those 40 pins.
We can see that out of the 40 pins

  • 26 pins are GPIO pins
  • 8 pins are Ground
  • 2 pins are 5V supply
  • 2 pins are 3.3V supply
  • The other 2 pins are ID_SD and ID_SC used in I2C communication

The GPIO pins are used to connect to electronic devices and can be used as input or output. GPIO 2 and 3 can be used for I2C communication as they are the SDA and SCL pins respectively.

The 5V pins can be used to give 5V supply to any of the electronic devices. Same goes for 3.3V pins.

Configuring GPIO

For programming the GPIO pins we have to install the python 2 library RPi.GPIO. This module makes it simple to use the GPIO pins. To install RPi.GPIO on your Raspberry Pi follow the following instructions.

In the LXTerminal of your R-Pi type the commands

sudo apt-get update

To install RPi.GPIO, you first need to install the Python Development toolkit that RPi.GPIO requires.

To do this enter the following command:

sudo apt-get install python-dev

Then to install Rpi.GPIO itself type:

sudo apt-get install python-rpi.gpio

Thats it! Now you are ready to program GPIO pins.

Basics of GPIO programming

To program GPIO pins you have to import RPi.GPIO library in your python program. To do this type the following line at the top of your program:

import RPi.GPIO as GPIO

But before we start programming we have to set the numbering system of the pins. There are two types of numbering systems:

  • BCM

The GPIO.BOARD option specifies that you are referring to the pins by the number of the pin the the plug - i.e the numbers printed on the board (e.g. P1) and in the middle of the diagrams below.

The GPIO.BCM option means that you are referring to the pins by the “Broadcom SOC channel” number, these are the numbers after “GPIO” in the green rectangles around the outside of the below diagrams:

In the image below the numbers in the middle correspond to BOARD numbering and those written outside refer to BCM numbering.

Based on which numbering system is comfortable to you, which RPi shield your are using, what program you are using you can choose the numbering sytem which is most convinient to you.

To specify in your code which number-system is being used, use the GPIO.setmode() function. For example…




After specifying the numbering system we have to decide whether the pins that we are using will be input or output (just like in Arduino).

To do this we use GPIO.setup() function. So if you want to setup pin 4 as output you would enter:

GPIO.setup(4, GPIO.OUT)

If you want to set pin 17 as input you would enter:

GPIO.setup(17, GPIO.IN)

So if you have set a particular pin as input you would like to read the value of that pin. To do this you would use the GPIO.input() function.

For example if you would like to read the value of pin 17 you would enter:


If you have setup a pin as output you would like to write a value to it. You would use the function GPIO.output() for it.

For example if you would like to set the value of pin 4 as HIGH you would enter:

GPIO.output(4, GPIO.HIGH)

If you want to set it as low:

GPIO.output(4, GPIO.LOW)

Now that you know how to set input and output of pins you are set to use any electronic devices along with the entire convinience of python.

One important thing to note that after the program is terminated either on its own or by a Keyboard Interrupt some of the pins which were high remain high after execution of the program. So in order to set everything to low we use the GPIO.cleanup() function.

Here is an example of simple LED blink program in which the usage of each and every function will become clear

import RPi.GPIO as GPIO
import time
GPIO.setup(4, GPIO.OUT)

    while True:
        GPIO.output(4, GPIO.HIGH)
        GPIO.output(4, GPIO.LOW)
except KeyboardInterrupt:

When we execute this program with a led at pin 4 we would see the LED blinking at a rate of 1 second. This program would go on for ever unless we terminate it by CTRL-C which is a KeyBoardInterrupt which then initiates the GPIO.cleanup function.

With this much knowledge you should be able to interface any electronic equipment with R-Pi with one last precation :P.

All the GPIO pins on R-pi are 3.3 volt logic level. So it is not safe to connect any device that gives or takes more than 3.3v as it might damage the GPIO pins. If you have to use any device that has a 5V supply such as HCSR04 ultrasonic sensors you should use a potential divider.


Okay, so with this we come to an end to introduction to R-Pi. But I hope it is also the beginning your ability to imagine all the possible things that can be accomplished with this amazing piece of technology!

The goal of the Raspberry Pi foundation is ‘to advance the education of adults and children, particularly in the field of computers, computer science and related subjects.’.

Lets help them realize this goal!

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