3.8. Raspberry Pi interface and level shifters

The Balboa 32U4 control board was designed to be easy to interface with a Raspberry Pi single-board computer to expand Balboa’s processing power. The board has mounting locations for a connector and two standoffs, matching part of the Raspberry Pi HAT (Hardware Attached on Top) specification, and it is designed to connect to the Model B+ and newer versions of the Raspberry Pi with 40-pin GPIO headers (including the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B and Model A+).

The Balboa 32U4 kit does not include a Raspberry Pi connector or mounting hardware. To add a Raspberry Pi, you will need a 2×20-pin 0.1″ female header and a set of two standoffs, screws, and nuts.

Note that the Balboa is intended to be used with our standoffs with 4 mm threads. Our standoffs with longer (6 mm) threads will interfere with the chassis.

Balboa 32U4 Balancing Robot with 80×10mm wheels and a Raspberry Pi 1 Model A+.

Balboa 32U4 Balancing Robot with 80×10mm wheels and a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B.

I²C communication

When used with a Raspberry Pi, the control board is designed to serve as an auxiliary controller, communicating with the Raspberry Pi using an I²C interface (also known as 2-wire Serial Interface, or TWI). As such, the ATmega32U4 microcontroller’s I²C data and clock lines (SDA and SCL) are connected to the corresponding lines on the Raspberry Pi’s I²C bus 1 through on-board level-shifting circuits. These bidirectional level shifters convert between the AVR’s 5 V logic level and the Raspberry Pi’s 3.3 V logic level.

We have written an Arduino library for our our 32U4 family of boards that lets them act as an I²C slave and provides a framework for communication between the ATmega32U4 and a Raspberry Pi master.

A tutorial on the Pololu blog demonstrates this library and its included example code, using them to make a robot that can be remotely controlled and monitored through a web server running on the Raspberry Pi. This tutorial uses our A-Star 32U4 Robot Controller SV and a laser cut chassis, but the instructions for setting up your Raspberry Pi and Raspberry Pi slave library for Arduino still apply for the Balboa 32U4, and we will be releasing an updated tutorial with steps specific to the Balboa soon.

Raspberry Pi robot using the A-Star 32U4 Robot Controller.

General-purpose level shifter

In addition to the dedicated I²C level shifters, the board also makes available a single-channel, tristatable, unidirectional level shifter that is not connected to any signals by default. Four pins are exposed: OE (output enable), IN (input), OUT (shifted output), and VCC (logic supply voltage).

  • When OE is high, OUT is in a high impedance state.
  • When OE is low, OUT matches the state of IN, shifted to the voltage supplied on VCC.

For example, if you pull OE low, connect a 3.3 V signal to IN, and connect 5V to VCC, the signal will be shifted to 5 V logic level on OUT.

The input logic level can be 1.8 V to 5.5 V, while VCC (and the output logic level) can be 3 V to 5.5 V. The IN signal can have either a lower or higher logic level than the VCC voltage: you could connect a 5 V signal to IN and a 3.3 V to VCC or a 3.3 V signal to IN and a 5 V to VCC.

Powering the Raspberry Pi from the control board

The control board will provide 5 V power to an attached Raspberry Pi by default. See Section 3.6 for more details about how power is shared and can be controlled between the two boards.


The Balboa 32U4 control board includes a 32-kilobit (4096-byte) EEPROM that connects to the Raspberry Pi’s ID_SD and ID_SC pins. The EEPROM ships with its contents blank, but you can program it as an ID EEPROM in the format specified by the Raspberry Pi HAT specifications, using the utilities provided there. When suitably programmed, the EEPROM can help the Raspberry Pi identify and configure itself to work with the Balboa 32U4 control board.

Write protection for the EEPROM can be enabled by using solder to bridge the surface-mount jumper labeled “WP” next to the EEPROM chip. (The EEPROM is not write-protected by default.)

Related Products

Balboa 32U4 Balancing Robot Kit (No Motors or Wheels)
Balboa Chassis with Stability Conversion Kit (No Motors, Wheels, or Electronics)
Stability Conversion Kit for Balboa
Bumper Cage Kit for Balboa
Balboa 32U4 Control Board
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