A Portable Raspberry Pi Powered display

If you have a motor to control, the RasPiRobot Board is a very good fit. Apart from controlling motors, you can also use its switch mode voltage supply to power your RBPi or Raspberry Pi using a large range of battery types. Therefore, with a pack of AA type batteries and the RasPiRobot shield, you can make a very convenient and portable RBPi powered display.

To make an RBPi display that will show the current time as a scrolling text, you need to collect a few parts. These would be – the Adafruit Bicolor square Pixel LED Matrix along with its I2C backpack, A RasPiRobot Board version 2, a battery holder with on/off switch suitable for holding 4xAA batteries and the RBPi Model B+ with 512MB RAM.

Not much of wiring is involved in setting up the parts together. The only soldering you will need to do involves the LED Matrix display, as this comes in a kit form. This is not too difficult as all the instructions are included inside the kit. Once soldering is over, fit the LED Matrix display into the I2C socket of the RasPiRobot Board.

If you are using the latest version 2 of the RasPiRobot board, you have to be careful its extended header pins do not reach up to the bare connections on the underside of the LED Matrix module. In case they do, you will need to insulate the module by covering the header pins with a layer or two of electrical insulating tape.

Next, plug in the RasPiRobot Board on top of the RBPi. Just make sure the RasPiRobot board fits over all the GPIO pins on the right hand side of the RBPi. The RasPiRobot Board has two screw terminals marked GND and Vin. From the battery box, attach the flying leads to these screw terminals taking care of the correct polarity.

Fit four rechargeable AA batteries to the battery holder. Make sure they are fully charged and fitted with the correct polarity. When you turn on the switch on the battery holder, you should see the RBPi light up its power LED as well as the two LEDs on the RasPiRobot Board.

To operate the LED Matrix board from the RBPi, you will need to install the Adafruit I2C and the Python Imaging Libraries – follow the instructions here. The guide also has a few examples to allow you to check the working of your I2C interface and consequently the LED Matrix display. For example, you can have a slow display scrolling text on the LED Matrix, showing the current time.

The LED Backpack library has a number of sub-libraries that handle the low-level interface to the matrix display. The Python Imaging Library handles the job of writing text onto the display as an image. This uses the True type Font FreeSansBold size 9 from the library, although you can use other fonts as well that look good. You may need to experiment with the fonts, as they are not primarily intended to be displayed in the 8×8 pixels the matrix uses. You can select the color of the display also.