Celebrating the weird and wonderful Raspberry Pi projects of the last decade
2012 was an interesting year. The world was predicted to end, according to interpretations of the Maya Doomsday Calendar and an Austrian thrill seeker base-jumped from the edge of space, smashing the speed of sound in the process.
Meanwhile, in Cambridge, United Kingdom, the original Raspberry Pi – a tiny credit card-sized computer launched on 24th February, 2012, bringing a second wind to accessible programming.
Since then, it has bought affordable tech to an entire generation of young people, as well as a passionate community of like-minded tech enthusiasts.
From wide-ranging humanitarian education initiatives to tweeting catflaps, Raspberry Pi has been at the heart of some inspiring and even bizarre experiments over the last 10 years.
Here’s a handful of some of the weird, wonderful, and fantastic Raspberry Pi creations!
Top 10 Raspberry PI Projects
1) DeMoor Orrery Planetarium
That’s no Moon…
The first creation on our list is this remarkable planetarium, created by Raspberry Pi enthusiast Chris de Moor.
Inspired by the Eise Eisinga Planetarium in the Netherlands, the world’s oldest working sky theatre, the project was originally designed to simply be a ceiling art installation. However, after experimenting with a Raspberry Pi Zero, de Moor widened the scope of his project.
This fully functional orrery is powered by six Raspberry Pi Zero devices – one for each planet included in the project scope – with each board attached to a car that moves along a circular track which keeps the planets moving.
You can read more about this project on RaspberryPi.com.
2) Astro Pi
To infinity and beyond…
In 2015, British astronaut Tim Peake travelled to the International Space Station with a couple of Raspberry Pis, beginning the Astro Pi programme.
This fantastic initiative is designed to promote coding in schools and drum up interest in young people. Essentially, students design python programmes which are transmitted to the Astro Pi, with data sent back from the ISS for the students to use in their research.
Recently, the ESA (European Space Agency) sent updated Raspberry Pi 4B devices, designed to capture images of earth from the ISS.
Drumroll please! It's our first Earth observation shot! Taken by the new visible light camera through a nadir window on the @Space_Station. Can you work out where it is from the Lat & Long shown? pic.twitter.com/c1eYjQnk2H
— Astro Pi (@astro_pi) February 3, 2022
Check out this amazing shot – we’re massively impressed!
3) Build-Your-Own NASA Rover
Ground control to Major Tom…
JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), the research & development wing of NASA, has created an open-source model of the Curiosity Rover, which launched in 2011. With the original rover designed to be roughly the size of a small SUV, the model is significantly scaled down.
Published on GitHub, the JPL Open Source Rover can be built for as little as $2,500 and is highly customisable. Once again, this is a fantastic project for schools, as well as space enthusiasts.
4) Brick Pi Bookreader 2
We love projects that focus on accessibility, and this Brick Pi Bookreader is a fine example of this.
The Bookreader will not only read the book for you, but it’ll even turn the pages too. The standard audio narration is a little basic, but if you’re willing to invest in a higher quality text to speech tool, the Brick Pi is a fascinating option for opening up reading to visually impaired readers.
The second of two Raspberry Pi projects, creator Dexter Industries wanted to see if it was possible to create a Raspberry Pi project that can read actual paperbacks following success with an e-reader.
How Brick Pi Works
Using a Lego motor, powered by Raspberry Pi, this is now possible. A camera photographs the pages, before transcribing them into a digital language, which is then spoken aloud to the reader. Meanwhile, an arm is programmed to turn the page once the narration has finished, with a wheel included to stabilise the process.
At the end of the day, sure, you could simply listen to an audiobook. But this is much cooler.
5) RACHEL by World Possible
The one with the power to change lives…
World Possible is a non-profit company, borne from a Raspberry Pi-based product called RACHEL (Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education & Learning).
Essentially, RACHEL is an offline educational server that delivers information resources to people in impoverished countries who don’t have access to formal education.
The product was designed pre-Raspberry Pi way back in 2008 on a regular server, but it was less practical than required and struggled to get off the ground. When Raspberry Pi was released, its small form factor was a major enabler in the rejuvenation of the project.
These days, the RACHEL-plus device allows up to 50 users at a time, making it even more practical. Meanwhile, World Possible serves just under 50 countries worldwide.
6) DIY Glass (Wearable Pi Glasses)
Remember Google Glass?
Back in 2014, Google attempted to bring smart glasses into the mainstream, but it was unsuccessful and ultimately canned as a consumer product less than a year later. (As an aside, Google Glass still exists in the form of an Enterprise product used primarily in manufacturing).
Still, the idea was an interesting one, albeit with some well-documented security and privacy issues, so it was inevitable that someone would try to create a similar product using the highly mobile Raspberry Pi.
The ‘DIY Glass – Wearable Video Display’ whilst not the catchiest name, is a great way to experiment with Google Glass-like technology. Almost all the parts can be 3D-printed, and then attached to your existing pair of glasses with a simple plastic clip.
It’s a little limited, only displays composite video, and requires you carry a small battery pack around in your back pocket. Still, it’s nonetheless one of the more interesting Raspberry Pi projects and could a solid baseline for future smart technology.
7) LED Aquarium Lighting (With Real-time Weather Simulation)
You’re going to need a bigger tank
This extraordinary Raspberry Pi project draws weather information from the Cayman Islands at 2-minute intervals, simulating the lighting and weather within the tank.
These include, sunrise, sunset, various moon phases, and wind speed, all of which are captured and relayed using a combination of Arduino and Raspberry Pi technology.
Fish tanks aren’t always the easiest to maintain, let alone reef tanks, but with this neat piece of technology, it’s simple to maintain the optimal environment for the fish within.
You can even control the tank climate from your phone, using a dedicated Raspberry Pi-enabled app!
8) Internet of Lego
The Internet of Bricks
Adoption of IoT (Internet of Things) technology across urban infrastructure is on the rise as we all become more connected. However, it’s still very much in its infancy – certainly in the UK anyway.
For a glimpse of the future, check out this Lego city.
Each aspect of the city, from the rail infrastructure to the traffic lights are entirely automated by Raspberry Pi-based programming. Sensors are fitted all over the city, gathering data, and relaying information to the right places, bringing an ordinarily static scene to life.
It’s a fascinating microcosm of the future, and a brilliant instructional tool on how smart cities can work in practice.
9) Brew Pi
Homebrew beer has been around for thousands of years, dating all the way back to the Neolithic era. Stone age breweries were comparatively primitive, as one might imagine, with hops fermented in enormous room-length troughs. This meant that beer brewing was saved mostly for feasts and social events.
These days, it’s straightforward to concoct a beverage from the comfort of your own home.
And now it’s even easier, thanks to Brew Pi – a neat Raspberry Pi product that allows you to automate your brewing through the tiny credit-card sized device.
Brew Pi allows for mashing temperature control, as well as the opening & closing of valves throughout the process. They’re also updating their firmware so that, in the future, you’ll be able to control an unlimited number of sensors, outputs and PIDs.
10) Magic Mirror
Who’s the fairest one of all?
Saving possibly the best ‘til last, here’s the Magic Mirror which was voted the best of all Raspberry Pi projects in the 50th Issue of MagPi.
Essentially this is a smart mirror – a reflective display that allows you to powder your nose, comb your hair, or look up the definition of myrmecophilous* by voice command.
But the true beauty of Magic Mirror lies in the fact that it’s open-source – the possibilities are endless in terms of potential applications.
In fact, much like widgets on your mobile device, you can add applications to the Magic Mirror, including quotes of the day, commuting information, stock market prices, news headlines, sports results… or anything else you might think of.
*which if you’re remotely curious, Merriam Webster defines as “fond of, associated with, or benefited by ants”.
Quirkiest Raspberry Pi Projects
And now for some of the stranger, less practical but nonetheless fantastical entries in our ten-year celebration of Raspberry Pi projects.
1) Musical stairs
Stairway to… Heaven?
Ever walked up a set of stairs and wondered if you could play Mozart’s Sonata No. 11 on them?
Nor have we.
Still, this is a really creative use of Raspberry Pi and it’s deceptively simple.
Using an Arduino sensor and a set of LED lights, simply find a set of stairs (preferably your own) and create a light-based sensor, which alerts your Raspberry Pi to play a certain tune upon being triggered.
And bingo – you’ve got a dance mat for the FitBit generation.
2) Live-Tweeting Catflap
It would be remiss of us not to feature one of the most famous Raspberry Pi inventions – Daphne’s Tweeting Catflap.
In short, this is a contraption that takes a photo and generates a Tweet every time Daphne, said kitty cat in question, enters or exits her catflap.
This idea was the brain child of Kate Bevan, a tech journalist, who ‘provided the idea, the hardware, the felineware and the words’ for software designer Bernie Sumption, who brought it to life using a mains-powered Raspberry Pi running Linux, hooked up to a webcam, with a reed switch attached to the cat flap, detecting movement as Daphne passes through the cat flap.
Amazingly, this project also uses pre-programmed generative grammar, meaning that all the Tweets sent out via the DaphneFlap Twitter account are automatically generated.
Here’s an example:
Gadzooks! It’s Floof Empress, so lustrous is your glossy coat. Hurray!. pic.twitter.com/HanxKYsoL8
— Daphne's Catflap says WASH YOUR PAWS (@DaphneFlap) February 11, 2022
3) Sending a Potato into Space
Channel 4’s Heston’s Great British Food featured an episode on pies. So, naturally, the folks over at Raspberry Pi were involved in the creation of a rocket that sent a potato into space.
More specifically, Dave Akerman – a record holder in high-altitude ballooning – built a rocket powered by Raspberry Pi, designed to launch a potato into space in commemoration of the potato being the first vegetable in space.
With three GoPros attached, Channel 4 filmed the whole journey from ground to the Earth’s outer atmosphere – and then back. It’s worth a watch – check out the video on YouTube.
4) Literature Dispenser
All the world’s a page
Are you an author looking for some inspiration? Or are you waiting in a queue in an Argentinian bank?
Apparently you’re not allowed to use electronic devices whilst waiting in a bank in Argentina. So, author Roni Bandini, came up with the idea of a literature dispenser, administered by the bank, that prints off short stories to keep waiting customers occupied.
It’s an eccentric application for Raspberry Pi, but one we’re very taken by – especially John, our marketer, resident book blogger, and author of this very article you’re reading right now.
To create this literary vending machine, Bandini fitted a thermal printer with an SD card and a Raspberry Pi. Simply press a button and the machine prints out a full short story. Excellent.
5) Oracle Supercomputer
“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”
Pretty simple, this is an Oracle supercomputer running on Linux. Except it uses 1,060 Raspberry Pis.
Yep. Over 1000. All hooked up to a server and powered by numerous USB power supplies. Not exactly practical, nor particularly economical in terms of power.
So why did Oracle do this? According to a spokesperson, they simple thought ‘a big cluster is cool.’
Fair enough – who are we to argue with that?
Our electronics design and software engineers have brought Raspberry Pi to the centre of several cutting-edge customer solutions. And as an Approved Raspberry Pi Design Partner, we’re proud of our association with such an historic tech organisation.
Ahead of the 10-year anniversary, we spoke to Roger Thornton, Director of Applications at Raspberry Pi, who praised the role of design partners in bringing the low-cost technology into industrial markets.
“In ten years of Raspberry Pi we have given people and businesses access to low-cost, general-purpose computing.
Raspberry Pi computers have recently been complemented by an in-house designed microcontroller giving enthusiasts and professionals a low-cost, high performance for deeply embedded applications. In recognition of the growing demand in industrial markets where Raspberry Pi technology is built into customer products a group of Approved Design partners has been formed (Ignys included) to help customers get expert support when doing so.
The continued success and growth of Raspberry Pi will involve building strong connections with these partners to help everyone build in low-cost, high-performance computer into their products.
We look forward to the next ten years working with you all!”
Roger Thornton, Director of Applications
Many thanks to Roger for his work over the years, and a very happy 10th anniversary to our friends at Raspberry Pi – we already can’t wait to see what inventions the 20th anniversary brings!
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