Graph Sensor Data with Python and Matplotlib

Contributors: Shawn Hymel
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Python is a wonderful high-level programming language that lets us quickly capture data, perform calculations, and even make simple drawings, such as graphs. Several graphical libraries are available for us to use, but we will be focusing on matplotlib in this guide. Matplotlib was created as a plotting tool to rival those found in other software packages, such as MATLAB. Creating 2D graphs to demonstrate mathematical concepts, visualize statistics, or monitor sensor data can be accomplished in just a few lines of code with matplotlib.

Graphing temperature data with Python and matplotlib

The Raspberry Pi is a great platform for connecting sensors (thanks to the exposed GPIO pins), collecting data via Python, and displaying live plots on a monitor.

Notice: This tutorial was written with Raspbian version "June 2018" and Python version 3.5.3. Other versions may affect how some of the steps in this guide are performed.

Required Materials

To work through the activities in this tutorial, you will need a few pieces of hardware:

Optional Materials

You have several options when it comes to working with the Raspberry Pi. Most commonly, the Pi is used as a standalone computer, which requires a monitor, keyboard, and mouse (listed below). To save on costs, the Pi can also be used as a headless computer (without a monitor, keyboard, and mouse).

Note that for this tutorial, you will need access to the Raspbian (or other Linux) graphical interface (known as the desktop). As a result, the two recommended ways to interact with your Pi is through a monitor, keyboard, and mouse or by using Virtual Network Computing (VNC).

Raspberry Pi LCD - 7" Touchscreen

Raspberry Pi LCD - 7" Touchscreen

Multimedia Wireless Keyboard

Multimedia Wireless Keyboard

$29.95 $19.95

SmartiPi Touch

8 Retired

At the bare minimum, you need a breadboard and some jumper wires to connect the Pi to the TMP102 sensor. However, the Pi Wedge and some M/M jumper wires may make prototyping easier.

SparkFun Pi Wedge

SparkFun Pi Wedge

Jumper Wires Standard 7" M/M - 30 AWG (30 Pack)

Jumper Wires Standard 7" M/M - 30 AWG (30 Pack)


Suggested Reading

If you aren't familiar with the following concepts, we recommend checking out these tutorials before continuing:

Serial Terminal Basics

This tutorial will show you how to communicate with your serial devices using a variety of terminal emulator applications.

Raspberry Pi 3 Starter Kit Hookup Guide

Guide for getting going with the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B and Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ starter kit.

Getting Started with the Raspberry Pi Zero Wireless

Learn how to setup, configure and use the smallest Raspberry Pi yet, the Raspberry Pi Zero - Wireless.

Python Programming Tutorial: Getting Started with the Raspberry Pi

This guide will show you how to write programs on your Raspberry Pi using Python to control hardware.
Please note: If you have trouble seeing any of the images throughout this tutorial, feel free to click on it to get a better look!
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