Build HAT Brings Lego Into the Raspberry Pi Ecosystem

Enthusiasts often describe building a PC as playing with Lego for adults. Both rely on components that were designed to work together regardless of the box they came in; computer parts simply cost more than most Lego brick sets. Now these paradigms--adult Lego and, well, actual Lego--have come together in the newly announced Raspberry Pi Build HAT ecosystem.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation says it collaborated with Lego Education to bridge the gap between the former's single-board computers and the latter's Technic line of mechanically augmented Lego sets. This collaboration resulted in the Raspberry Pi Build HAT expansion board, Build HAT Power Supply, Build HAT Python library, and tutorials for example projects that use these parts. Starting with the hardware: The £25 Raspberry Pi Build HAT is compatible with every Raspberry Pi via a 40-pin general purpose input/output (GPIO) connection.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation says it can be used to control up to four Lego Technic motors and sensors found in the Lego Education Spike Portfolio thanks to the addition of its custom RP2040 microprocessor. The Raspberry Pi Build HAT can be closely mounted to the corresponding SBC via the attached header to ensure the most stable fit, the foundation says, or it can be used with a taller header to leave the other GPIO pins accessible to other devices. It also leaves room up top for Lego minifigures (or a miniature breadboard) to "hitch a ride" without getting in the way of anything.

A Lego minifig sits atop the Raspberry Pi Build HAT

Most of the motors and sensors that can be used with the Build HAT will require more power than the default Raspberry Pi's power supply can offer, though, which is where the new £15 Build HAT Power Supply comes in.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation says this new power supply is supposed to be "reliable, rugged, and perfect for making the most of those motors." The Build HAT Power Supply will be required for projects using Lego Technic motors, color sensor, or distance sensor. Projects that only use motor encoders or the force sensor (along with the rest of the setup) can use a standard Raspberry Pi power supply.

This new hardware--along with the corresponding Python library and tutorials to help get people started--are meant to help Raspberry Pi extend the existing Lego Education Spike Portfolio. That product line is intended to give grade school students the tools they need to further their Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) education.

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The Raspberry Pi Foundation wasn't alone in making new hardware. Lego introduced a £109.95 Spike Prime Expansion set that includes what the foundation calls "an exclusive Lego element, the first-ever designed to connect to something that isn't another piece of Lego: the Maker Plate," which is "designed to make it super easy to add a Raspberry Pi to your Lego construction."

But it's worth noting that Lego doesn't say the Maker Plate was designed specifically for the Raspberry Pi. Instead the product's description explains that it's meant "for easy building with your choice of single board computing (SBC) devices." Lego didn't immediately respond to our request for clarification regarding the Maker Plate's compatibility with other devices. The Raspberry Pi Build HAT, Build HAT Power Supply, and Lego Spike Prime Expansion are available now from their respective online stores.

Lego Education also provides a grants and funding guide for teachers and administrators looking to bring Spike into the classroom. For everyone else, eh, at least it doesn't cost quite as much as the biggest Millennium Falcon set.

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