LCDs/OLEDs for the absolute beginner loser

Hi all.

I’ve followed ElectricImp since the start and am always in awe of the projects I read about. I’m a perennial tinkerer and am dying to start my own project, but have absolutely zero knowledge of electronics and wiring. I can wire a plug and a switch, but even that has me sweating profusely.

All I want to do is connect either an LCD or OLED to display a small amount of text, pulled in from a JSON or potentially XML file remotely. There’ll be all sorts of logic behind the events and I may also connect a PIR sensor. That is it. It’s just for me to start understanding how this all works.

But I’m already stuck - I love my Raspberry Pi because it requires absolutely no electronic knowledge, but plenty of geekery. I’ve looked into LCDs and am terrified to my soul reading about anodes and cathodes and resistors and voltages. I don’t own a soldering iron either. The breakout boards look promising, but I’m confused by what a breakout board is. When we want to enclose this inside a case, eventually, then what?!

Can someone explain how simple it is to hook up an LCD/OLED to the imp, with power, and for it to be “ready” and talkative to the imp’s backend servers? Even the prospect of pushing a “hello world” message to a display seems far off at this stage.

Sorry for being such a pathetic loser of a beginner. I too hate messages like these. If anyone wants to make a basic kit for me, with everything connected, I’ll send you tea and biscuits (and/or sport-related merchandise from my day job) and glorify you publicly until the sun sets.

Thanks for any advice,


There a number of tutorials available now. @beardedinventor has one on getting started on the Instructables site, and I have the one and only (I think) tutorial on the Adafruit learn site. The new documentation site is really great and has a lot of examples as well.

IMHO the LCDs with serial backpacks are the easiest, (and use the least number of pins) way to get going. Both Sparkfun and Adafruit make these boards. Here is how it works. Your standard LCD, say 16x2 has a bunch of pins that you would use to write characters or change the brightness/contrast, ect. A serial backpack is a chip on a breakout board that you solder to the LCD, and allows you to write to the LCD much more easily using serial communication. With one of these backpacks, you only need to connect Power, Ground, and one data pin. On an Imp that pin will either be 1,5 or 8. (Or 6 on the Imp module), depending on how you assign pins.

So, get one of these:

Hook it up to an April board using a USB connection with +5V. Connect Vin to red wire, GND to the Black wire, and Pin 5 to the white wire.

If you don’t have an Imp already, you’ll need.

I’m not pushing Adafruit here, most of those parts are cheaper on Digikey, but Digikey won’t have the serial backpacks. If you order from Adafruit, do it on Saturday night after they announce the discount code on the streaming shows.

Then download this code.

That will get you going with the LCD… I’d say get that sorted and then see where you want to go.

You will need a soldering iron though…

Also. A breakout board is just a printed circuit board that usually contains a chip or a microcontroller, and allows you to easily connect other devices to it, and usually contains the necessary electronics to make it operate. The April breakout board contains all of the basic parts for you to easily connect to the Electric Imp card.

Just reread your post, and you mentioned wanting an enclosure. I’ve used this one…

It is one of the few enclosures with an LCD window built in, and you can screw the LCDs that I mentioned directly to it. It was made for Arduino’s but I’ve spent a bit of time figuring out how to use it with an Imp, and can help you out there.

Another tutorial on Imp-LCD:

If you definitely didn’t want to do any hardware, I might be willing to build something for you and sell it, but honestly, it is a very rewarding experience, and not all that hard.

What a great, great reply - thank you so much. Definitely feel I should just get on with this.

Very impressed by your device and it’s so good to see something which has been built. Provides even more inspiration. Is it a noise measurer?

One other thing I forgot to mention was that I need a button to scroll through the Json and display different bits of text (a little like this). Would this be connected to the LCD’s serial backpack, or to April, or would I need a different backpack altogether to achieve this?

I’m in the UK so probably won’t get all this from Adafruit to save on customs and postage etc, so I may list out some UK alternatives and ask you to confirm, if that’s ok!

Really excited. Thanks a lot for your advice

The device with the LCD is a dual-probe thermocouple temperature monitor, designed for BBQ, grilling, whatever. It is displaying probe temperatures, whether it is charging, and the WiFi signal strength.

You can get your parts from anywhere you like, but there are different chips used in the serial LCD backpacks, so you’ll need to figure out what code to use.

Hooking up a button is very easy…the setup you posted looks like it would easily go into an enclosure.

@will you can get your imps/impee and adafruit bits in the Uk from a number online sites without having to pay customs and international shipping etc. I use the ship bits in nice plastic boxes too :slight_smile:

@jwehr - thanks. I think I’ll probably be a pussy and get the one you suggest to start with, and a separate button and LED. Definitely can’t run until I can think about walking.

@controlcloud - great! Do you know if their breakout is the same as the April board?

@Will - The breakout is the same an the April board :slight_smile:

@Will Trust me, I set off at a sprint all the time before getting frustrated and realizing I haven’t “learned to walk” with respect to some new thing I am doing.

Let me see if I can help a little more. There are basically two versions of the Electric Imp… The card version, that most people are familiar with, in the SD card form, and then there is the solder down version, or the imp002, which requires more technical knowledge to use, so don’t worry about it for now.

Electric Imp has made several reference designs for developers to use Electric Imps with. One of those designs was “April”, and there are several others. If you get the “April” design made into a printed circuit board, and install the components, you have a breakout board for the Electric Imp. Most of the April boards that you see will be the standard green color. The only variation is the one made by Sparkfun, and it is red. Sparkfun took the reference design, rebuilt the board in a program called Eagle, and added thier logo. You can download that design from their website, but it is technically identical to all of the other “April” boards available. Other retailers do sell the “Sparkfun” version of the April board. Don’t worry, they are all the same.
(They might have slightly varying components, but should work in an identical manner.)
So, the April board is an Electric Imp breakout board reference design. Here are some of the others:

I have personally had the “Amber” board printed myself, and installed the components.

So, you could actually take the reference board files from the link I sent, and have an April board printed yourself! :slight_smile: That would really be sprinting!

Yeah, definitely don’t do that.(Yet) There is a voltage regulator on the April board with extremely tiny pins. Hand soldering that would be very, very challenging.

I saw that…it’s really cool. I might prototype with it, but I don’t think I would build a permanent board with it.

can’t delete this post??

You’re right. sorry
I can’t delete the post

Me either

Thanks for your help, both of you. Much appreciated. Unfortunately I’ve wimped out for the time being; I’m going to get a proof of concept going with my Raspberry Pi using this 16x2 LCD from Adafruit.

I am new to Python but have built a few little things in the last six months. Getting to grips with Imp’s a) electronics and b) new language is a fun prospect but I first need to see if my idea has any sort of viability. If it works, then I’ll almost certainly go down the Electric Imp route to make the whole hardware package nice and small.

A lot of the work I’ll be doing is actually in the backend, so all that can come with me. Anyway - will be back here in a couple of months I’m sure!

I went down the R-Pi road for a bit, and spent most of my time being frustrated, but there are lots of people building projects and posting code for them, so I’m sure you’ll get it sorted. Python wasn’t terrible, but the libraries always wanted to run on a different version, and I’ve never taken the time to really learn Linux. The best thing that I did find for using with the Pi is Adafruit’s Web IDE, which connects to BitBucket and allows you to run it headless. Otherwise you have a tiny computer, with a crapload of cables plugged into it, and suddenly its not very tiny anymore.

Ha. Yeah. Never used my pi without it being headless. It’s a mini server and runs for months without needing a reboot. Several cron jobs, all working with remote Apis, works beautifully and silently. But yes. It’s a headache getting it all working.