Recently I’ve been sent a PiFace board from the lovely people at Farnell UK – I’m currently working on a slightly silly but hopefully quite fun project with this, but in the meantime I wanted to post up a quick review of the board.
The Pi-Face comes fully assembled and features 4 inputs (complete with push switches for testing) and 8 outputs – 2 of which are relays, making it suitable to drive high current motors. All the outputs feature surface mount LED indicators so you can easily see what’s happening. As there’s a load of screw terminals attached to the board, absolutely no soldering is required to hook it up to LEDs or motors, or any type of power application. Although the big chunky relays are rated up to high voltages I think the practical limit is about 20v.
Fitting the board – in this case to a Raspberry Pi model A is a push fit job – there are cut outs for the video out and ethernet ports, along with a rubber foot that rests on the HDMI port. My only slight niggle was that in order for the board to fit completely flush against the Pi I had to trim 5 of the pins from the inputs for it to fit where it sits on the blue audio output port. This is a minor issue though as the board would work fine without this.
For installation – ignore the url printed on the board as this includes a mistake in the setup instructions. I used the following to install the software for the board:
sudo nano /etc/modprobe.d/raspi-blacklist.conf
and edit the file to add a # at the beginning of the line which reads blacklist spi-bcm2708, so it reads # blacklist spi-bcm2708.
sudo wget -O – http://pi.cs.man.ac.uk/download/install.txt | bash
to install the software – reboot your Pi and then you can use the rather neat graphical interface to test out the board –
to startup the graphical user interface, then open a terminal and type:
The emulator lets you see inputs from the buttons, and switch the outputs on and off:
The instructions and resources from the Start Pi website seem to be the most accurate – there’s a lot of work in progress, but hopefully the support for the Pi-Face will improve with time.
In conclusion it’s a cheap, nicely put together board with very handy relays and terminal inputs – I’m planning on putting mine to use with a lego project (watch this space) – although it lacks the flexibility of some of the bigger boards it has enough for most of the projects you’re likely to do – particularly if like me you interested in the whole idea of social media controlled gadgets. The documentation could be a lot better, and with the screw terminals rather than soldering requirement this board is aimed at the beginner, so hopefully that should improve over time.
The Pi-Face is available from Farnell UK’s website.
The official Pi-Face website is now a much better source of information & how to guides – find it at http://www.piface.org.uk/