Expander Pi - IO Port LED binary counter
Counting in binary with LEDs with the Raspberry Pi and Expander Pi
Created: 16/06/2017 | Last Updated: 02/02/2019
In this tutorial we will make a binary counter using 8 LEDs. For this you will need your Raspberry Pi, an Expander Pi, 8 red LEDs and 8 200R resistors.
We will use the AB Electronics python library to talk to the Expander Pi, to download the library visit our Python Library and Demos knowledge base article.
You will need to enable i2c on your Raspberry Pi, see our other tutorial on i2c: I2C, SMBus and Raspbian Linux
The AB Electronics python library uses another library called python-smbus, you can install it using apt-get with the following commands.
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install python-smbus
With the libraries installed and the Raspberry Pi configured to use i2c we can begin building our project.
Stage 1 – Blinking an LED
If you haven’t done so install your Expander Pi onto the Raspberry Pi by connecting it onto the GPIO header. Make sure your Raspberry Pi is turned off when you do this to minimise the risk of damaging the Raspberry Pi or the Expander Pi.
Next connect the LED and resistor in series between Pin 1 of the IO port on the Exmander Pi and the ground pin as shown on the picture.
The Expander Pi contains an MCP23017 I/O controller chip from Microchip. The MCP23017 is an i2c based controller containing 16 I/O pins which can be configured individually as inputs or outputs.
The maximum current you can draw from any of the pins on the MCP23017 is 25mA so by using the 200R resistor in series with the LED we limit the current to a safe level. The maximum current you can draw from all of the pins combined is 125mA.
For this tutorial we will start by creating a new python program file called demo_iowrite.py. You can use your favourite text editor for writing the program. You can find a complete example of demo_iowrite.py in the ABElectronics_Python_Libraries/ABElectronics_ExpanderPi/demos folder.
At the top of your program you will need to import the IO library and time library.
The Expander Pi library is used for all communication with your Expander Pi, it gives you control over almost everything that can be done with the MCP23017 controller.
We will create an instance of the IO class and call it io.
io = ExpanderPi.IO()
With our new instance of the IO class we will be able to access all of the available methods for controlling the Expander Pi. Let’s begin by setting the pins to be outputs on pins 1 to 8.
The 16 channels on the I/O bus is split into two 8 pin ports. Port 0 controls pins 1 to 8 while port 1 controls pins 9 to 16. Having two 8 pin ports gives us the ability to change the direction on 8 pins at once by sending an 8 bit byte of information to the Expander Pi. You can also set each pin separately using the set_pin_direction command but for our tutorial today we will stick with using set_port_direction.
set_port_direction takes two variables, the first is the port you want to control, 0 for pins 1 to 8 and 1 for pins 9 to 16. The second variable is the command byte for setting the individual pin directions. Setting a pin to 0 makes it an output while setting it to 1 makes it an input, just remember 0 = out, 1 = in.
As a byte in binary is 8 bits long each bit represents one of the pins on the selected port. The least significant bit or the one nearest the right represents the lowest pin number while the most significant bit or the one nearest the left represents the highest pin number. If we wanted to set pins 1 to 4 as inputs and 5 to 8 as outputs we could send the binary number 00001111. If we wanted just pin 7 to be an input and everything else to be an output we could send the binary number 01000000.
When working in python or most other languages it it’s the normal convention when dealing with bytes to use hexadecimal rather than binary numbers so 00001111 would become 0x0F while 01000000 becomes 0x40. If you are not very good at converting between binary and hexadecimal in your head there are plenty of online converters available.
As we want all of the pins to be outputs we will send the binary number 00000000 which converted to hexadecimal is 0x00.
Next we will turn off all of the pins on port 0 with the write_port method.
As with set_port_direction, write_port takes two variables, the first is the port to write to 0 or 1 and the second is the value to send to the port. Sending a 0 turns a pin off while sending a 1 turns the pin on.
The Expander Pi is now set up for blinking our led with all of the pins on port 0 set as outputs and switched off. So how do we make an LED blink?
The first thing we are going to need is a loop so that the same commands can run over and over. This can be done with a simple while loop.
As True is always true the while loop will keep running until you exit the program with a Ctrl-C.
We have an LED connected to pin 1 so we only need to talk to pin 1. We could use the write_port command but that would update every pin on the port so if we have anything else connected to the other pins it would affect them as well. What we need is a way to write to just one pin at a time and we do that with the write_pin method.
write_pin take two variables, the first is the pin you want to talk to, 1 to 16, the second variable controls the state of that pin. 1 will turn the pin on and 0 will turn the pin off.
We could now use another write_pin command to turn the led off but the program will switch the led on and off so fast you will just see a glowing LED. What we need is a short delay between turning the pin on and off, for that we use the time.sleep method.
time.sleep takes one variable, a number which represents the number of seconds to wait. 1 will make the program sleep for 1 second while 0.1 would wait for 100ms.
Next we add another write_pin command to turn the LED off and another sleep command to wait another second.
That is everything we need to make an LED blink, your program should now look like this.
io = ExpanderPi.IO()
Save your program and run it in a command terminal using
If everything goes as planned your LED should now be turning on and off every second.
Stage 2 – Making a binary counter
Now we have one LED that blinks lets expand on that and make an LED counter that counts from 1 to 255 in binary.
Connect your remaining 7 LEDs and resistors to pins 2 to 8 as shown in the picture.
We will modify the previous program to make it display numbers on the LEDs, first save your program to a new file called tutorial1a.py.
Everything up until the while loop can stay as it was, we still need to set all of the pins to outputs and turn them off. Remove all of the commands after while True:
We want to make a counter that counts from 0 to 255, the easiest way to do that is with a for loop.
for x in range(0,255):
The for loop will loop through the numbers in the range of 0 to 255 and store the current number in the variable x.
Next we will write out the current number to port 0 using the write_port command.
This will send the variable x to the port and display it on the LEDs as a binary number. Now we want to make the program sleep for half a second between each count so we get a chance to see the numbers increase.
Once the for loop has finished counting to 255 it will jump onto the next command in the program. We will finish off by sending a final write_port command to turn all of the LEDs off before the while loop starts the counter again.
That is everything, you program should now look like this.
io = ExpanderPi.IO()
for x in range(0,255):
Save the program and run it at the command prompt with.
You should see the leds change counting from 1 to 255 in binary. It will take about 2 minutes to count to 255, if you want it to go faster change the time.sleep with a smaller number.