Raspberry Pi Projects: The tastiest Raspberry Pi 3 and Pi Zero projects to start baking today.
From giving the tech of yesteryear a modern spin to smartening up household appliances, there are few things the Raspberry Pi credit-card-sized computer can’t achieve with a little ingenuity and elbow grease.
From fun starter projects to intermediate builds you can work up to, I've corralled 10 of my favourite Raspberry Pi 3 and Raspberry Pi Zero projects.
First, though, a quick rundown of what's featured here. In my guide, I'll highlight the easiest ways to use a Raspberry Pi to build:
- An electric skateboard
- A disposable GIF camera
- An electronic chess board
- A Kodi media centre
- A DIY NES Classic Mini
- A digital DJ system
- Automated entrance music
- A robot arm
- Multiroom audio for under £100
- A walkie-talkie
Related: Raspberry Pi Zero W review
Best Raspberry Pi Zero projects
Quite unbelievably, the thumb-sized Raspberry Pi Zero is more powerful than the original Pi (2012's Raspberry Pi 1 Model B) and costs just $5/£4.
The Pi Zero has fewer connectivity options than the Pi 3, but there are plenty of accessories to make up for this, and the newer Zero W board adds Wi-Fi to the fray.
The result is cheaper projects in even smaller packages – and these are some of the best...
1) Electric skateboard
Here’s a Raspberry Pi Zero project to assist your pursuit of the great outdoors: an electric skateboard that zooms around town at 30kmph (19mph).
The brains is the £5 Raspberry Pi Zero, while your speed is controlled by a Nintendo Wii Remote over Bluetooth. There’s a motor from Alien Power Systems attached to the rear axle, plus a speed controller from the same company, and a battery offering a range of 10km.
2) Disposable GIF camera
The Pix-E, created by Nick Brewer, is a disposable camera that can be used to create animated GIF files.
It uses a Pi Camera module and a custom build complete with shutter and a battery pack. A little software wizardry via tools such as PiCamera, GraphicsMagick, and GifCam and – hey presto! – homemade GIFs that can then be easily processed and shared.
The case is 3D-printed and there are even some paper wrappers to print out to give the camera a '90s retro feel.
You’ll need some intermediate engineering, soldering and bread-boarding skills to achieve this, but all of the parts and instructions can be found on hackaday.io.
Related: Best cameras
3) Electronic chess board
The art of playing chess is studying the board, seeing things from different angles, and keeping your finger on that piece until you’re absolutely sure you’re not walking into a trap. A computer chess program just doesn't come close.
Well now, thanks to the Raspberry Pi Zero – plus a touchscreen, a few magnets, some LEDs and some software wizardry – you can play against a computer on a real wooden board.
It uses an open-source chess engine called Stockfish, which allows players to choose the difficulty level – novice to grandmaster – and set the personality of the opponent, as well as register all of the moves.
Each piece has a magnet connected to the bottom, which tracks it from the beginning of the game. The computer responds by lighting an LED under the piece it wishes to move, as well as the square to which it wishes to move it to.
This isn't an easy build by any stretch of the imagination, but you can find the instructions here.
4) Kodi media centre
Streaming boxes loaded with Kodi are flooding the market, but you can build your own with the Pi Zero and save money.
This version has fewer connectivity options than builds that use a full-fat Pi, but a £6 starter kit overcomes most of the limitations.
The operating system featured here is called OSMC – it has Kodi built in – and it's loaded via a microSD card using the installer for your Mac or PC.
You'll add connectivity to your Pi Zero with a USB Wi-Fi adapter (or just use the slightly more expensive Zero W), which makes setup relatively straightforward and also enables you to configure a smartphone remote that lets you control media, install add-ons and navigate content.
Items may take a little longer to load, but it’s worth it for the portability. Android Central has a good guide to the whole process.
5) DIY NES Classic Mini
The NES Classic Mini is a huge hit, but it’s still pretty hard to come by and – without some serious hacking – is limited to the 30 games it comes pre-loaded with.
Luckily, you can build yourself something even better using a Pi Zero and the excellent RetroPie software.
The solution is so dinky that you can place it inside an original NES cartridge for additional retro chic. Check out the guide in the video above for step-by-step instructions.
You can even sit the entire console inside an original Xbox controller – or just use the official case.
Once you've nailed this project, check out our complete guide to building a retro Raspberry Pi gaming centre for even more emulatory goodness.
Best Raspberry Pi 3 projects
The Raspberry Pi 3 is more powerful than ever, offering a little more oomph for your projects. In most cases, you won't require that level of power, but the additional connectivity options and increased processing speed compared to the Pi Zero are often essential.
1) Digital DJ system
The PiDeck is a Raspberry Pi 3-powered solution that enables DJs to play digital music files through a turntable, while still enjoying analogue-style scratching.
With this setup at a party or event, all a DJ needs is a USB stick loaded with tunes, rather than an expensive laptop full of music, or a box full of vinyl.
It’s just a case of popping in the USB stick, selecting the tracks from a connected touchscreen, and then dropping the needle on a control vinyl. The Raspberry Pi 3 offers real-time performance that's easily a match for a laptop-based system, according to creator Danial James.
The PiDeck is easy to build, the proprietary software is freely available on GitHub, and the end product promises to provide an affordable (build cost is $182, or about £150) solution for starter DJs.
Head over to the PiDeck website for more information, or watch the video below.
2) Automated entrance music à la WWE
Since first witnessing Randy 'Macho Man' Savage walk down the aisle to 'Land of Hope and Glory' at WrestleMania VIII, I’ve dreamt of having my very own entrance song. Now, thanks to the the geezers at redpepper, the dream is real.
Doorjam connects a web-connected Pi to the aux-out of a speaker. A little bit of coding nous then taps into Spotify’s web API to provide the tunes, while the Pi uses Bluetooth to assess your proximity.
If the iBeacon tech recognises the unique signature of the bespoke Doorjam smartphone app, it will blast the track of your choosing through the Pi-connected speakers.
Now that's how you enter a room!
3) Build a robot arm
If you’re after a more straightforward, yet equally rewarding build, the MeArm Pi is a great place to start. This robotic arm project has been created specifically for the Pi, and comes in the form of a kit that’s easy for both kids and adults to assemble.
It can be controlled via built-in joysticks, or remotely via software. Recentlly funded on Kickstarter, it should start shipping to backers this summer.
You’ll be using a Pi to dunk your biscuits in no time.
4) Multiroom audio for under £100
Although there are now more affordable multiroom audio solutions – such as using multiple Chromecast Audio dongles – they aren't cheap. Thankfully, one Pi enthusiast has put together a four-room setup for under £100.
Thanks to a Raspberry Pi loaded with the Pi-MusicBox software, a USB digital-to-analogue converter and some wireless receivers, jezsinglespeed can now stream Spotify tunes to the existing speakers around his home with minimum fuss.
Full instructions for this “simpler than expected” project are available here.
Related: Ultimate multiroom audio guide
5) Raspberry Pi walkie-talkie
By now, you've probably seen Stranger Things on Netflix, in which case you'll have been reminded of how unspeakably cool walkie-talkies are.
This walkie-talkie build, complete with LEDs and a push-button to activate the microphone, was created by Daniel Chote for his children.
The talkiepi has been built using a Raspberry Pi 3, USB speakerphone, some basic electronic components (push-button with LED, GPIO header connector, resisters, wires, and so on) and a super-cool, retro-looking 3D-printed case.
An external battery pack makes the walkie-talkie portable, but it will need to remain within the Wi-Fi network, meaning no late-night excursions searching for missing friends.
Chote uses the open-source Mumble voice-communication protocol, which powers in-game chat between PC gamers.
The full installation guide is listed on GitHub.
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