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An attractive board and screen combo, the Tufty 2040 is the ultimate interactive conference badge or an excellent desktop iOT display.
Conference badges made of static paper or plastic are very 20th century. Today, inventive makers have a wide selection of microcontroller/screen combinations at their disposal, which they may wear and program to show whatever they choose.
These interactive badges are increasingly using the RP2040 chip from the Raspberry Pi as the processor. The 2.4-inch full-color IPS display on Pimoroni’s newest RP2040-powered board, the Tufty 2040, replaces the 2.9-inch e-paper screen on the company’s Badger 2040.
With the power of Pi silicon at its core, the $28 (24-pound) Tufty 2040 is more than just a wearable display. It can also act as an Internet of Things (IoT) device, displaying sensor data, pictures, and more from the convenience of your desk. The Tufty 2040 is one of the best RP2040 boards you can buy, but it has one significant drawback: it lacks an official chassis. As a result, we created our own 3D-printed cover to protect the board and a LiPo battery for the duration of a conference.
Using Tufty 2040
The Tufty 2040 board operates exactly like other RP2040-based boards. To program it, we can use C++ or the unique MicroPython firmware created by Pimoroni. There isn’t currently a particular version of CircuitPython available, but we could install one for the Raspberry Pi Pico and then add support for the ST7789 display.
For our evaluation, we stayed with Pimoroni’s MicroPython package and at first investigated Tufty 2040 using the pre-installed demos. You won’t need to deviate from the samples supplied if all you need is a cool conference badge. We used the Retro Badge and Wavy Message examples to rapidly impress the other participants when we brought our badge to a maker event.
The 2.4 inch IPS display is bright and clear, and is flanked by a series of buttons and phototransistor.
The wavy message function demonstrated how quickly the screen updates while in use. As graphics are quickly shown on the 2.4 inch IPS display by Pimoroni’s PicoGraphics MicroPython module, our message scrolled over the screen with precision and ease. Compared to the Badger 2040, which needs a conversion script, that is a lot simpler to program.
We can control our conference badge thanks to the strategically placed and legibly labeled buttons. Two additional buttons—Power and Boot/USR—can be found on the back. The board is put into bootloader mode using the Boot button, which is necessary to flash Tufty 2040 with new firmware. Of course, power is used to turn the board on and off. Although it is unfortunate, there is no reset button.
We tested the onboard Qw/ST connector, a portmanteau of SparkFun’s Qwiic and Adafruit’s Stemma QT connector. Qw/ST is essentially just an I2C connection which works with compatible add-on boards.
Utilizing a BME688 temperature sensor, we evaluated Tufty 2040. We changed the Retro Badge example to display the current temperature, air pressure, and humidity data. Making this work didn’t take long, and it transforms it from a straightforward badge into a compact data collecting and display device, all contained in a nice box with a wonderful screen.
A sensor can be utilized with Tufty 2040 if it is compatible with MicroPython and the Raspberry Pi Pico. Pimoroni offers a variety of modules and simple-to-use MicroPython examples. You can use PyPi and the Python community to source an alternate module if your sensor isn’t mentioned there.
This leads us on to CircuitPython support. As it stands there is no bespoke CircuitPython release for Tufty 2040. You could install the Raspberry Pi Pico firmware, but right now support for the ST7789 screen is not available. Typically this screen uses SPI as an interface, but for Tufty 2040, it is connected via a parallel bus. So for now, CircuitPython support is not quite on par with MicroPython.
It is possible to utilize a LiPo battery or three AAA batteries with the onboard JST-PH connector. You must need a battery charger such as a TP4056 or Pimoroni’s LiPo Amigo because the Tufty 2040 lacks an internal LiPo charging circuit. A 1,000 mAh LiPo battery was charged using a LiPo Amigo.
This battery provided us with five uninterrupted hours of use at our maker event, and it continued to work well after we returned home. Depending on how hard Tufty 2040 is worked, your results may vary.
Who is Tufty 2040 for?
The manufacturers and developers who want to upgrade their conference badge game from ePaper or LCD to IPS LCD are the target market. However, this is not a one-trick pony. We can utilize a wide range of sensors and accessories with the Qw/ST connector to add additional functionality.
Our Tufty 2040 required little effort to transform into an indoor sensor platform. A maker could really push Tufty 2040 to its limit with a little more time and creativity; perhaps they could even create a Doom-style game?
The lovely Tufty 2040. Although we adore the Badger 2040, the Tufty 2040 ups the ante with a full-color IPS LCD and a sleek design. Similar to Badger 2040, Tufty 2040 also has a fantastic squirrel silkscreen print with a cyberpunk vibe.
There’s always space for improvement, and we’d really like to see a Tufty 2040 model with integrated Wi-Fi (like the new Raspberry Pi Pico W). Imagine having a display on your neck that streams live web material. Theoretically, you could connect an ESP8266 or another Wi-Fi capable microcontroller to the Tufty 2040’s UART ports to allow wireless, but that would significantly complicate the design in terms of code, power consumption, and size.
If you want to impress folks at your next conference or party, the Tufty 2040 is a great choice. And if you just need an RP2040 board with a built-in screen, it’s also for you.