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Working with pi-blaster for PWM on the RPi

20 Sep 2016

The pi-blaster program allows for efficiently generating PWM outputs from GPIO pins on the RPi.

Pi-Blaster is not as efficient or flexible as using hardware PWM timers, but there are only two hardware timers and they are only available on a few pins.

The upstream version of Pi-Blaster defaults to a PWM signal with a period of 10 ms.

For my particular project, I wanted to drive an SG-5010 servo and the default 10 ms period is just too fast. The servo motor runs continuously.

Unfortunately there is no command line switch to change the period, but the pi-blaster project README does explain how to modify the PWM period in the source.

I changed the pulse period to 50 ms with the following patch

diff --git a/pi-blaster.c b/pi-blaster.c
index 7507651..57d33ce 100644
--- a/pi-blaster.c
+++ b/pi-blaster.c
@@ -107,8 +107,8 @@ static uint8_t pin2gpio[MAX_CHANNELS];
 // will use too much memory bandwidth.  10us is a good value, though you
 // might be ok setting it as low as 2us.

-#define CYCLE_TIME_US  10000
-#define SAMPLE_US              10
+#define CYCLE_TIME_US          50000
+#define SAMPLE_US              50
 #define NUM_CBS                (NUM_SAMPLES*2)

Confirming the bug described here Limits on CYCLE_TIME_US vs. SAMPLE_US, I needed to keep the SAMPLE_US at a value where NUM_SAMPLES stays at 1000.

If you prefer to keep the default CYCLE_TIME_US = 10 ms and SAMPLE_US = 10 us you could remove the 0002 patch from the pi-blaster_git.bbappend recipe

scott@fractal:~/rpi/meta-rpi/recipes-devtools/pi-blaster$ cat pi-blaster_git.bbappend
FILESEXTRAPATHS_prepend := "${THISDIR}/files:"

LIC_FILES_CHKSUM = "file://README.md;beginline=223;endline=247;md5=86d10e4bcf4b4014d306dde7c1d2a80d"

SRCREV = "d2869cee24903998a6e8baf3387b6238064e874b"
SRC_URI = "git://github.com/sarfata/pi-blaster \
           file://0001-remove-initscript-lsb-dependency.patch \
           file://0002-Set-period-to-50-ms-and-resolution-to-50-us.patch \
           file://0003-Fix-init.d-start-script-so-args-work.patch \
           file://default \

PR = "r1"

do_install_append() {
    install -d ${D}${sysconfdir}/default
    install -m 0664 ${WORKDIR}/default ${D}${sysconfdir}/default/pi-blaster

FILES_${PN} += "${sysconfdir}"

In my builds, the pi-blaster daemon is disabled by default.

Set ENABLED=yes in /etc/default/pi-blaster to enable pi-blaster at boot.

root@rpi3:~# cat /etc/default/pi-blaster
# See the project README for possible arguments
#   https://github.com/sarfata/pi-blaster
DAEMON_ARGS="--pcm --gpio 17"

You can also modify the following file at build time to enable pi-blaster


The DAEMON_ARGS are also set for my particular use case.

See the project pi-blaster README about your options and change the value to suit your needs.

If you are modifying the default file in meta-rpi, make sure to rebuild pi-blaster afterward.

bitbake -c cleansstate pi-blaster && bitbake pi-blaster && bitbake <your-image>

When pi-blaster starts you should see the following in the boot output

Starting Daemon for PWM control of the Raspberry Pi GPIO pins pi-blaster
MBox Board Revision: 0xa22082
DMA Channels Info: 0x7f35, using DMA Channel: 14
Using hardware:                   PCM
Number of channels:                 1
PWM frequency:                  20 Hz
PWM steps:                       1000
Maximum period (100  %):      50000us
Minimum period (0.100%):         50us
DMA Base:                  0x3f007000
Initialised, Daemonized, Reading /dev/pi-blaster.

And to make sure your args made it, check the command line

root@rpi3:~# ps -ef | grep pi-blaster
root       318     1  0 14:02 ?        00:00:00 /usr/sbin/pi-blaster --pcm --gpio 17

With my configuration and the pi-blaster daemon running, the following will start a ~1.5 ms servo signal on pin 11 of the RPi3 header (gpio 17).

root@rpi3:~# echo "17=0.03" > /dev/pi-blaster

Use the following formula

<desired pulse width> / 50 = <value-to-write>

A 2.5 ms pulse width would be

2.5 / 50 = 0.05


root@rpi3:~# echo "17=0.05" > /dev/pi-blaster

And the scope verifies a 2.5 ms pulse.

I haven’t done extensive testing with pi-blaster, but so far it is working well for my project.