Home Thoughts on CircuitPython for 2020

Thoughts on CircuitPython for 2020

Over on the Adafruit blog, they asked “what do you want from CircuitPython in 2020?”. For those that aren’t familiar with it, CircuitPython is a project to allow programming of embedded microcontrollers in Python. It’s pretty much wonderful, and I’ve been using it for almost all of my hardware hacking of late.

So here in no particular order are my thoughts for #CircuitPython2020.

Projects you’d like to build

I have two projects currently in flight, which I’d like to kick into gear and finish in 2020:

  • An as-yet unnamed gizmo to provide breathing support and pulse-ox monitoring for people (especially kids) having asthma attacks. Finishing this is going to require porting one of the MAXIM MAX3010x Arduino drivers. This is something I’m working on.

  • dbagparker, a simple project which uses a distance sensor to tell you how far away from the wall you are when parking your car. I started designing this for Arduino, but I think I’m going to redesign for a CircuitPython board instead.

I have a few other ideas for stuff I’d like to work on, but I’d like to finish at least one of these first.

Things you think could be easier

Overall, CircuitPython is fantastic, and I definitely find it much easier and faster to build stuff than I did with Arduino/C. Some of that is my greater fluency with Python, but the dev/test cycle is just much more intuitive with CircuitPython. Still and all, there are a couple of things I think could be made easier:

  • Dependency management: I don’t necessarily think we should recreate the whole pip ecosystem, but making sure the right libraries are installed on my boards and keeping those libraries updated is still a chore. The CircUp tool helps with the updating part, but I’d like a way that my CircuitPython programs could know what libraries they need and make sure those are automatically installed.

  • Firmware updates: Downloading the CircuitPython .uf2 images for all of the boards in my collection, resetting each one to get it into UF2 mode, making sure I copy the right firmware image to it, and then resetting again and updating libraries is a laboriously manual process. In my ideal world, there would be a workflow where I could run a listener script on my computer (maybe in Mu) and then plug in a board, hit the double reset button, and have the script automatically download and flash the newest firmware image, wait for the board to reset, and then automatically update all of the libraries. When you have 10 or 20 CircuitPython devices, this would make firmware updates waaaaaay faster.

Library improvements

displayio is a fantastic way to create UIs on boards with OLED displays, but it’s taken me a long time and a lot of trial and error to figure out how to use it. I understand the flexibility that its paradigm of Displays and TileGrids and Groups provides, but I’d love a simpler layer for very common tasks, such as “fill the screen with a solid color and write some text on top of it.” I’d also love it if there was a way for the library to know the device resolution and to describe the UI in a resolution-independent way, so if I switch my project from a PiBadge to a Circuit Playground Express with a TFT Gizmo, I didn’t have to rewrite all of my UI code.

In closing

I think CircuitPython is an amazing tool which makes the world of microcontrollers and hardware hacking so much more accessible for people who want to move beyond MakeCode. The ecosystem has grown by leaps and bounds in 2019, and I’m excited to see what 2020 brings. I’m also excited to increase my level of contribution in 2020, and if you use CircuitPython and love it you should think about contributing too!

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.

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