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SparkFun launches robotics and display pHATs

Apr 27, 2020 — by Eric Brown 965 views

SparkFun has launched two pHATs for the Raspberry Pi, Jetson Nano, and Google Coral: The Auto pHAT offers robotics motor and servo controls and an IMU while the Top pHAT has a 2.3-inch color display plus LEDs, buttons, mic, and speaker for ML prototyping.

Boulder, Colorado based SparkFun announced a $29.95 Auto pHAT for robotics control and a $49.95 Top pHAT display board designed to sit on top of your Pi or its stacked HATs. Both pHATs support the Nvidia Jetson Nano and Google Coral Dev Board in addition to any Raspberry Pi with a 40-pin GPIO connector.

SparkFun Auto pHAT (left) and SparkFun Top pHAT
(click images to enlarge)

Like most of Sparkfun’s pHATs, the Top pHAT (for partial HAT) is a Raspberry Pi Zero-sized module while the larger Auto pHAT is more like normal HAT. Presumably, SparkFun uses the pHAT terminology here because the Auto pHAT does not support all the specifications of the official Raspberry Pi HAT (Hardware Attached on Top) standard. There is no pHAT standard.

Both pHATs are open source hardware modules with posted schematics and Eagle files. We discovered the products on HelpNetSecurity.


Maker-friendly tech retailer and manufacturer SparkFun is known for its Qwiic sensor modules, Raspberry Pi add-ons, and robotics kits such as the Jetson Nano based JetBot AI Kit. It also produces an open source hardware Artemis Bluetooth LE module built around a Cortex-M4F Apollo 3 MCU.

SparkFun Auto pHAT

The SparkFun Auto pHAT follows other Raspberry Pi add-ons for robotics motor and servo control such as the Adafruit Crickit HAT and SparkFun’s own SparkFun Autonomous Kit for Sphero RVR. The add-on can drive two small DC motors with or without encoders and can support up to four servo motors via I2C. Python packages are available for major components.

Auto pHAT driving a two-wheeler (left) and rear view
(click images to enlarge)

The Auto pHAT uses the same 4245 PSOC and 2-channel motor ports system found on the SparkFun Qwiic Motor Driver. The motor system provides 1.2A steady state drive per channel (1.5A peak) and 127 levels of DC drive strength. A Microchip ATTINY84A microcontroller supports up to two motor encoders for more precise movement.

The pHAT’s servo control is based on the PWM-enabled SparkFun Servo pHAT, which has an I2C link that frees up Raspberry Pi GPIO pins for other purposes. There is also a Qwiic connector for interfacing with the I2C bus found on Qwiic modules.

Auto pHAT detail view and legend
(click images to enlarge)

The Auto pHAT is further equipped with an ICM-20948 9DOF IMU for motion sensing. You can access four selectable ranges from both the 3-axis gyro and accelerometer and make use of the 3-axis magnetometer.

A USB Type-C port can power both the power-protected pHAT and the Raspberry Pi. Alternatively, you can power the pHAT via the Pi’s GPIO and use the USB port for establishing a serial connection with the Pi “to avoid having to use a monitor and keyboard for setting up the Pi,” says SparkFun. There is 5V passthrough to support other HATs on top of the Auto pHAT.

SparkFun Top pHAT

The SparkFun Top pHAT is a UI interface and control panel for your Pi projects that sits on top of the Pi or stacked HATs. It lacks 40-pin passthrough, but offers a 2.3-inch color TFT display, buttons, LEDs, and audio UI. Applications include machine learning prototyping, voice control, camera control feedback, or system status display.

Top pHAT detail view and legend
(click images to enlarge)

The Top pHAT is equipped with dual user buttons and a programmable joystick for GUI menus and robot control. Other features include a Qwiic connector, 6x LEDs, and an off switch. Voice control is supported with 2x microphones and a mono speaker. As with the Auto pHAT, the Top pHAT does not inhibit access to the Raspberry Pi’s camera or display connectors.

Further information

The SparkFun Auto pHAT is available for $29.95 and the SparkFun Top pHAT is on pre-order for $49.95, with shipments expected in May. More information may be found in SparkFun’s announcement, as well as the Auto pHAT shopping page and Hookup Guide and the Top pHAT shopping page and Hookup Guide.

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