MicroPython: Bringing Python to the World of Microcontrollers and IoT

MicroPython: Bringing Python to the World of Microcontrollers and IoT

Java Script and HTML/CSS are the critical ingredients behind many software developments today, including designing iGaming sites like Ice Casino and the games in their lobbies. That said, Python’s popularity has rapidly grown to become the go-to programming language for many developers today, even in the iGaming scene, because of how versatile and user-friendly this tool is.

Meanwhile, as good as Python is, if you are interested in home automation, connected devices, and the Internet of Things, there is one Python derivative you could lean into to get things done. This is where MicroPython comes in. Read on to discover what this language is all about and why it is the perfect solution for building exciting items like a laser sword, blaster, or robot.

What Is MicroPython?

Essentially, MicroPython refers to an efficient, lean implementation of Python programming. The tiny, open-source language runs on microcontrollers, essentially small, embedded development boards. So, given that this tool lets you write simple and clean Python code for controlling your boards, you don’t have to leverage complex languages like C++.

This software implementation benefits users who are new to programming and coding. No worries if you already use Python, as its Micro counterpart supports most of the syntax you’re already accustomed to. But how do the two differ?

Python vs Its Micro Counterpart

The difference between the two software types lies in the size of their standard libraries. MicroPython features a more compact standard library with only a limited subset compared to the comprehensive library of Python.

This design language functions effectively under constrained conditions and compensates for its smaller standard library by allowing modules to access low-level hardware. For instance, it facilitates the use of libraries for convenient interaction with general-purpose input/outputs (GPIOs).

What Is a Microcontroller?

Microcontrollers are tiny and less potent than your server rack or desktop computer. However, their all-rounded assembly adds control and intelligence to our devices. These small computers on single-integrated circuits encompass a range of general-purpose computing devices, including appliances, HVAC systems, home security setups, pacemakers, and more.

MicroPython is tailored to the specific constraints of microcontrollers. Choose it if you want to write Python code that can run efficiently on microcontrollers. This way, you’ll simplify the development of embedded systems and Internet of Things (IoT) applications. This combination enables programmers to leverage Python’s ease of use and readability in the context of resource-constrained devices. Thus, it’s more accessible to a broader range of developers.

Why Use MicroPython?

So, why use this software when it has its limitations? Despite the setbacks, this programming language implementation tool has much to offer. Let’s explore some benefits:

  • Perfect for Beginners: MicroPython’s simplicity makes it an excellent choice for those starting their programming and coding journey. You can learn it in just a few days or even hours and swiftly progress to programming microcontrollers. But if you’re already familiar with Python, transitioning is even more seamless with minimal challenges;
  • Rapid Feedback: Users get rapid feedback through the interactive nature of the software REPL (read-evaluate-print-loop). This feature lets you enter commands and receive immediate responses without compiling or uploading. As a result, you’ll achieve a faster learning and experimentation process than the traditional code-compile-upload-execute iterations;
  • Extensive Software Library: MicroPython’s extensive software library supports various tasks, such as parsing JSON data from a web service, string handling, and network socket programming. This feature significantly simplifies tasks and enhances overall ease of use;
  • Flexible: Lastly, the tool is highly extensible with mid-level C/C++ functions. Its flexibility allows users to blend clean and easily understandable code with performance-critical sections written in faster low-level code. This approach combines simplicity with the ability to address performance-intensive requirements.

Supported Platforms & Architectures

MicroPython is compatible with diverse microcontrollers. It operates seamlessly on various platforms, including Unix-like systems (BSD, Linux, WSL, macOS) and Windows. In addition, it caters to microcontroller targets with minimal specifications, supporting devices as compact as 256kiB flash + 16kiB RAM. However, devices with at least 512kiB flash + 128kiB RAM are recommended for a more comprehensive and feature-rich experience.

The Windows and Unix ports of MicroPython facilitate the development and testing of Python’s Micro descendant itself and offer a lightweight alternative to CPython, especially on embedded Linux systems. Its “minimal” port is an illustrative example of why it is called Micro. You can compile it as a standalone Linux binary or for ARM Cortex M4.

Start with the “minimal” port if you want to port MicroPython to another microcontroller. The “bare-arm” port represents the minimal configuration, serving as a reference to monitor the code size of the core runtime and VM.

MicroPython Hardware

You’ll need a compatible hardware solution to install the software onto. Fortunately, you have vast options, including but not limited to:

Built for Python

The Kickstarter campaign that initiated the Micro software in the center of our post introduced its corresponding hardware, the so-called Pyboard. This hardware solution is built on the STM32 and is now at version 1.1. The feature-rich board offers ample GPIO, an SD slot, an accelerometer, and RTC, operating at 168 MHz.

ESP8266 or ESP32 Boards

ESP8266-based boards are on the more affordable end. They offer limited analog inputs and fewer pins than the Pyboard, but you benefit from Wi-Fi capability. Notable versions like the M5 Stack include a Peizo speaker, battery, card reader, and color screen.

BBC Micro: Bit

This tiny board is based on the Nordic nRF51822 microcontroller. It has a built-in Bluetooth LE, temperature sensing, an accelerometer, a 5×5 LED grid, and two action buttons. These boards are widely distributed to UK schoolchildren and inspire a new generation of coders.

Adafruit and CircuitPython Boards

Adafruit introduced CircuitPython following MicroPython’s momentum. The latter supports Adafruit hardware and presents boards as USB-connected drives, simplifying code transfer. The CircuitPlayground Express is the flagship Adafruit board. It boasts an optional Crickit add-on, providing a comprehensive solution with pins, sensors, motor drivers, RGB LEDs, and more. However, Adafruit has discontinued ESP8266 compatibility. Instead, the hardware opts for the ESP32 Wi-Fi co-processor in upcoming releases.

The Revolution in Hardware Programming

Programming robots, microcontrollers, and electronics has never been more accessible. Traditionally, developers were confined to low-level languages like Assembler or C++, sacrificing functionality. Thankfully, MicroPython opens new possibilities that developers can tap into!


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