When building projects on the Raspberry Pi that run ‘headless’ I’ve often found it necessary to connect to the Pi to see what’s going on, work out why it’s not working as I expected or to simply shut it down neatly without yanking out the power cable.
There are a few ways to do this – you could carry around a keyboard and monitor, hook them up to the Pi and see what’s what. The extremely useful and sadly getting rarer and more expensive Motorola Lapdock which I reviewed a while back works very well as a portable monitor / keyboard combination.
Or you could connect to the Pi using SSH if you’re both connected to the same network.
The third option is to connect to the Pi using a USB to Serial port converter. These are usually available as USB to TTL Serial Cable with a USB plug on one end and a series of female jumper wires on the other. Adafruit have a good guide on how to use one of these. Ryanteck have recently released a Raspberry Pi USB debug chip which works in the same way as the USB serial cables, but which is easier to connect to the Pi and includes friendly green and red LEDs to indicate data being sent back and forth. I recently backed this on Kickstarter so was able to get one to play with.
For this option you do need to carry round a computer, but as I discovered it works well with my tiny Toshiba Encore windows 8 tablet – and even with an Android mobile phone!
Assembling the chip is very straightforward with the instructions on the Ryanteck website – although it’s worth mentioning that the version of the PCB supplied varies slightly from the images in the guide. The final version of the PCB includes a little jumper clip – this is quite important – with the jumper in place the Debug Clip will power the Raspberry Pi. It’s vital that the Pi is powered from either the clip or it’s micro USB port – the serial link will not work if the Pi is powered from both.
The RPi debug clip lacks any headers or sockets – it’s designed to sit on the Raspberry Pi GPIO pins underneath a hat or add-on board. In practice I found it a tight fit on the Raspberry Pi pins and a loose fit on a spare extension header I had lying around so I’ve used a 40 pin extra tall header – with this it’s possible to use the Rpi Clip with the Pimoroni Coupé style cases and have room to fit additional hats on top:
Despite having just one micro usb port it’s possible to use the debug clip on the Toshiba with a Micro USB Host OTG Cable – as there are a lot of very cheap Windows based tablets now available I imagine they all work in the same way.
To get the RPi clip working with the Toshiba Encore I installed the driver from the Microchip website, and then looked up the COM port the USB Serial port was using with the Computer Management window (right click on the Windows 8 start icon). In my case it was COM3. I opened up the Windows Telnet App PuTTY, chose a serial connection on COM3 at 115200 baud, hit enter and voila! – the Raspberry Pi login prompt appeared.
It’s also possible to use the same cable with an Android mobile phone. I tested it with my bog standard Nexus 5 (which hasn’t been rooted) and a free app called DroidTerm – to connect hook up the Pi with the OTG to USB cable, make sure the header on the RPi debug clip is removed and use the following settings:
When you first connect the screen will be blank – just enter the username you normally log in on your pi with (I think everyone uses ‘Pi’) and it will prompt you for your password. It’s a basic app – there’s no cut and paste, but for checking on things it’s fine.
The Ryanteck Raspberry Pi debug clip is available here for about 7 quid.