For new owners of the versatile inexpensive Raspberry Pi or RBPi, there is always a period of perplexity as to how they can try out an embedded computer project with the SBC. Although a breadboard helps to some extent, connecting the circuit on a breadboard to the RBPi involves many loose wires, making the experiment very cumbersome. An add-on kit, the Pi Plate from Adafruit, makes it very easy to prototype circuits for the RBPi.
The Pi Plate snaps on to the RBPi and the user can easily unplug it for making any changes to the circuitry. This is a double layer board and has a connector on the underside for fitting on to the GPIO pins of the RBPi. The specialty of the Pi Plate is the huge prototyping area, half of which is in the form of a breadboard style, and the rest in the form of a perfboard style. Therefore, users can wire up DIP chips, sensors and switches.
All the GPIO, I2C, SPI and Power pins from the RBPi are broken out to 0.1” strips along the edge of the proto area. The connections are all labeled, so the user has little difficulty in connecting them to his/her prototype circuit. In addition, all the breakout pins are also connected to 3.5mm screw-terminal blocks, all with labels. That makes it very easy to connect sensors, actuators, LEDs, etc. semi-permanently with wires. For general-purpose non-GPIO connections, there is also a 4-block terminal block broken out to 0.1” pads. For those with surface mount chips to be connected, the remaining space has a SOIC breakout area, therefore, if you can conveniently use an IC that does not come in a DIP format.
When you buy the kit, all parts come separated. Following a tutorial on how to assemble the kit, any first-time user can learn to put it together. One advantage with this process is the user learns to solder and thereby acquiring a new skill. This is in line with the philosophy of learning with the RBPi.
Those who regularly use add-ons to the RBPi will appreciate that the header breakouts on the Pi plate are taller than the typical custom header breakouts. Therefore, the prototype plate sits above the metal connectors on the RBPi, allowing for a large workspace. However, this does not prevent it from fitting within the RBPi enclosure. Therefore, the RBPi remains safe within the enclosure, with complete access to the terminal blocks, making prototyping simple. Adafruit plans to have stackable header kits, which will help in putting multiple plates on top of the RBPi.
It is very easy to use the Prototyping Pi Plate. Adafruit has designed it to be as simple as possible so that it is a good fit for any type of RBPi project – whether simple or complex. According to Adafruit, there is no extra power regulator on board and none of the pins is buffered, because that keeps the design simple and inexpensive. In addition, it also offers the maximum space for adding any circuitry for prototyping.