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From keeping tabs on your baby to brewing your own beer, here’s a dozen DIY jobs for a Raspberry computer
In a world of polished computers, the Raspberry Pi has arrived to remind us that, with nothing more than time, patience and an exposed circuit board, you can create almost anything. Here are a few of the projects RPi pioneers have devised over the past year.
1. NIXIE CLOCK
You will need an RPi and SD card, a self-assembly Nixie Clock kit (or digital clock capable of accepting GPS or microcontroller data), a Wi-Fi dongle or ethernet cable.
Nixie tube clocks, with their neon digits, are popular with nostalgic electronics fans. One such enthusiast, Martin Oldfield, has built a clock that receives Network Time Protocol data from the internet via the RPi, and is accurate to ten-thousandths of a second. Online instructions: mjo.tc/atelier/2012/08/ntp-nixie. html
2. ROBOT SLAVE
You will need an RPi and SD card, and (for a voice-recognition robot) a USB robotic arm, a USB microphone, a USB hub and voice-recognition software such as Julius.
Robots are a talking point across the RPi forums. One precocious aerospace engineer has used an RPi to run a voice-recognition program and now has a robotic arm literally at his command, while another developer has built “Roberta”, a highly sophisticated two-wheeled RPi robot who perpetually responds to gyroscopes to balance herself.
3. WEATHER STATION
You will need an RPi and SD card, a home weather-station, a monitor and a USB cable.
Britain’s amateur meteorologists are already using the RPi to process weather data, highlighting once again the immediate, perhaps unsurprising proclivity felt by the hobbyist community for the tiny computer. With the RPi, having a single computer dedicated to a weather station is neither extravagant nor physically awkward, and several tutorials already exist to explain the necessary coding to prepare a web-accessible, personalised weather forecast.
4. ROCKET LAUNCHER
You will need an RPi and SD card, a powered USB hub, a USB rocket launcher.
This invention is designed to intimidate and humiliate co-workers who make mistakes while writing code. When set up in an office environment, the RPi detects errors in software development and automatically fires a foam missile at the offending employee. The program, nicknamed Retaliation, is described by its creator as working on “a deep psychological level to offer productivity improvements”. Its credentials are listed online, with a video showing it in action.
5. PORTABLE/IN-CAR PC
You will need an RPi and SD card, an adapted power supply to run off a dashboard cigarette lighter or a battery pack and a small monitor.
It is said that Julian Assange used to travel with a desktop PC in his rucksack. He could have done with the RPi, which weighs 45g (1.6oz) and can be adapted to function as a portable or in-car computer. One motorist has already linked up his RPi to a nifty sliding screen, and several others are working on ways of accessorising their dashboards to incorporate RPi-run GPS and media systems.
You will need an RPi and SD card, a mini-speaker, a powered USB hub, a USB battery, various free media software.
The giddy hope of building an iPod replacement from an RPi has yet to be completely realised, but a French computer science lecturer named Tarek Ziadé has designed a portable, self-contained jukebox which can be controlled remotely from other computers. His website dispenses coding tips so the end product can run smoothly, and he has built a Lego case to contain the components.
You will need an RPi and SD card, a USB Wi-Fi adapter, various free media software, a battery-powered speaker and an Adafruit “Cobbler” (see glossary, right below).
The proliferation of internet radio stations allows those with even the most outlandish music tastes to find their fellows out there in cyberspace. One exhaustive blogger named contractorwolf has built a successful RPi radio which shuffles between his favourite stations at the touch of a button. Hearteningly, he had no experience of programming in Linux before he built his radio so there is hope for the rest of us.
8. ARCADE GAME
You will need an RPi and SD card, a monitor, a cabinet to contain them, gaming software.
Shea Silverman of Florida has demonstrated his love of vintage video games by building an RPi into a miniature replica of an arcade game circa 1991, complete with a fully functioning version of Street Fighter II. Thousands of old arcade games have been preserved through an application called MAME, and Silverman’s blog outlines how to install MAME on the RPi as well as some more recent games including Cave Story and Quake III.
9. BABY MONITOR
You will need an RPi and SD card, a webcam with microphone, an ethernet cable or Wi-Fi dongle.
The keenest parents on the internet are scrambling to design the first RPi-powered baby monitor with a live audio and video stream so they can check on their offspring from the office. The most enterprising have suggested plugging the RPi into the TV, so if you hear a cry through the speaker, you can simply flip over to the “baby channel” rather than go all the way upstairs.
10. HOME-BREWED BEER
You will need an RPi and SD card, an Arduino, temperature sensors, a fridge, yeast, hops.
Making beer is a delicate process requiring vigilance and tenacity. During fermentation, if your beer slips one degree above or below the correct temperature, the whole batch will be spoiled and it’s back to square one. Which is why a Dutchman named Elco Jacobs has designed an intricate program, run off the RPi, to detect the temperature of his nascent brews and automatically correct the temperature of his fridge accordingly. BrewPi is an open-source project so there is a website with in-depth instructions explaining how to adapt the RPi and build the program, which includes a function by which you can track the progress of your beer and even adapt the temperature over the internet. Jacobs himself has already set about creating his first computer-moderated beer, which he plans to name Raspbian Wheaty.
You will need an RPi and SD card, a Pi-Face (see glossary), 2 infrared LEDs and two light detectors, a small webcam and a wooden box with a compartment to contain the RPi.
The students and staff of the University of Manchester’s Computer Science department, the Raspberry Pi’s most innovative trailblazers, have designed a DIY nesting box which can photograph birds and amalgamate data relating to their behaviour. They have even written a function which can send you a tweet whenever a bird enters or leaves the box. Their online video shows the finished birdbox and explains how to power the RPi and the Pi-Face as well as providing them with internet access using only one ethernet cable.
12. NEAR-SPACE CRAFT
You will need an RPi and SD card, a hydrogen balloon, a USB webcam, a GPS, a heatsink, a battery pack, permission from the Civil Aviation Authority.
As keen on puns as it is on programming, the RPi community has produced nothing so spectacular as the Pi in the Sky, a huge hydrogen balloon carrying an RPi to an altitude of 40,000 metres – a full kilometre higher than the top of Felix Baumgartner’s Red Bull Stratos descent. Thanks to a webcam, it boasts the highest live images – picked up by receivers run by zealous enthusiasts all over the country – ever recorded during an unmanned amateur flight. Designed by Dave Akerman and friends, it was launched in Berkshire, and after its balloon burst at the edge of space, the RPi “safely landed in long grass” somewhere near Didcot. If the wiring and programming, itemised on Akerman’s website, seem too dauntingly complex, the flight should at least illustrate the possibilities available to any RPi fanatics whimsical enough to pursue them.
Adafruit “Cobbler” A special printed circuit board with a ribbon cable, custom-designed to simplify the Raspberry Pi’s otherwise fiddly and confusing hardware pins.
Arduino A microcontroller computer which, combined with the Raspberry Pi, allows you to control a wider range of hardware.
Heatsink A hardware component which helps cool the computer and keep it stable.
Linux A secure open-source operating system which runs on the RPi in a distribution package called Debian. A version of Debian called Raspbian has already been developed with modifications specific to the RPi.
Open-source Open-source software is software which is distributed with accessible and visible source code so that you can see how it works and even adapt it yourself.
Pi-Face:An interface chip designed by the University of Manchester to improve the RPi’s auxiliary capabilities.
SD card The hard-drive of an RPi is provided by an SD card, which must be bought separately.
USB hub A splitter to turn the RPi’s single USB port into as many as you need.