Raspberry Pi, Python & Arduino

Hey! This article is really old! So old, in fact, that it really only exists to track down content farms that like to knock off my articles (oh hai, CircuitDigest!). Information here may be misleading and possibly wrong. You probably want to be using a newer client library and you definitely want to use an Arduino IDE ≥ 1.6 and not the ancient one that comes with Raspbian.

After the other night’s wonderfully slow detour into Processing, I thought I’d try the Raspberry Pi’s “native” language of Python to control an Arduino. This worked rather well, though I don’t have a slick GUI for it yet.

pyFirmata is the magic that allows an Arduino running Firmata to talk to Python. It’s fairly easy to install under Raspbian:

  1. Get the required packages:
    sudo apt-get install python-serial mercurial
  2. Download the pyFirmata code:
    hg clone https://bitbucket.org/tino/pyfirmata
    cd pyfirmata
    sudo python setup.py install

    (If this succeeds, you can delete the pyfirmata folder.)

Using pyFirmata is a bit different from other Arduino applications:

  • Analogue reads and PWM writes are normalized to a 0 .. 1 range, and not the standard Arduino 0 .. 255 and 0 .. 1023.
  • You really need to start a separate iterator thread to stop old readings overflowing the serial buffer
  • Since the Arduino is read asynchronously, make sure that the pyFirmata connection is fully initialized before reading from ports. Otherwise, None values ensue.

Here’s some code that uses the same hardware as before, but simply reports the temperature and ramps the brightness of the LED up in 10% steps.

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-

# simple test of pyfirmata and Arduino; read from an LM35 on A0,
#                                       brighten an LED on D3 using PWM
# scruss, 2012-08-14 - tested on Arduino Uno & Raspberry Pi (Raspbian)

import pyfirmata

# Create a new board, specifying serial port
board = pyfirmata.Arduino('/dev/ttyACM0')

# start an iterator thread so that serial buffer doesn't overflow
it = pyfirmata.util.Iterator(board)

# set up pins
pin0=board.get_pin('a:0:i')             # A0 Input      (LM35)
pin3=board.get_pin('d:3:p')             # D3 PWM Output (LED)

# IMPORTANT! discard first reads until A0 gets something valid
while pin0.read() is None:

for i in range(10):
    pin3.write(i/10.0)                  # set D3 to 0, 10%, 20%, ... brightness
    print "PWM: %d %% Temperature %.1f °C" % (i * 10, pin0.read() * 5 * 100)
    board.pass_time(1)                  # pause 1 second

pin3.write(0)                           # turn LED back off

The output from this might look like:

PWM: 0 % Temperature 24.9 °C
PWM: 10 % Temperature 24.9 °C
PWM: 20 % Temperature 24.9 °C
PWM: 30 % Temperature 25.9 °C  <-
PWM: 40 % Temperature 26.9 °C    |
PWM: 50 % Temperature 28.3 °C    | I was holding the LM35 here
PWM: 60 % Temperature 28.8 °C    | to make the temperature rise
PWM: 70 % Temperature 29.8 °C    |
PWM: 80 % Temperature 29.8 °C    | 
PWM: 90 % Temperature 29.8 °C  <-

If this doesn’t work, check the output of dmesg to see if you’re using the right port. You could try this little test script

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-

import pyfirmata

PORT = '/dev/ttyACM0'           # change this to suit
board = pyfirmata.Arduino(PORT)
print 'pyFirmata version:\t%s' % pyfirmata.__version__
print 'Hardware:\t\t%s' % board.__str__()
print 'Firmata firmware:\t%i.%i' % (board.get_firmata_version()[0],

which should generate something like

pyFirmata version:    0.9.4
Hardware:        Arduino /dev/ttyACM0 on /dev/ttyACM0
Firmata firmware:    2.3

Next time, I’ll try to wrap this in a tkinter GUI. But for now, pyFirmata is a much quicker way than Processing to talk to an Arduino. But there is hope of a faster Java for the Raspberry Pi


  1. Thank you thank you thank you for the info on Firmata – it’s helped me a lot with my ‘tricorder’ project. I’ve got my Pi connected to an Arduino Leonardo clone and then sensors coming off it. I have two problems at the moment. First of all, the temperature sensor (MCP9700) I’m using is working, but I haven’t got a clue how to calibrate it (any tips you can provide would be appreciated – I’m all at sea when reading datasheets)! Secondly, I’m not it’s possible to use an ultrasonic distance sensor (the kind where you trigger a ‘ping’) with Firmata… I think the timings involved are too tight to do it reliably. Not a problem – I can run it off the Pi itself.

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