Five Basic Raspberry Pi Projects

The Conservative Party Annual Conference
Oli Scarff / Getty Images

At $35, the Raspberry Pi is almost an impulse purchase. Once its in your hands, its basic nature calls out for it to be used in some great projects. While its always tempting to jump in and build something completely mindblowing, it pays to start with a few easy projects and learn the system before jumping in to the deep end and experiencing frustration.

Easy Project Criteria

We classified easy, basic Raspberry Pi projects as ones that required a limited amount of programming expertise and required only hardware that might be owned already.

We definitely recommend a monitor, keyboard and mouse when working with the Raspberry Pi as it makes things much easier, especially when just starting out.

1. Webcam Server

Turning the Raspberry Pi in to a webcam server for remote access, or monitoring or recording events while you are away is a great use of the capabilities of the Raspberri Pi. This project builds off adding Wifi capabilities to the Raspberry Pi and adds a webcam to the mix, claiming all of the onboard USB ports. The project does require at a minimum a USB wireless adapter and a webcam, items that you may have laying around your house. There are several documented webcam server projects using a variety of operating systems, wireless adapters and features. Some projects have gone as far as adapting the project to run off batteries for remote monitoring.

2. Add Wifi

The onboard 10/100 ethernet on the Raspberry Pi is a good start for providing basic internet connectivity, but today we expect our devices to have wireless capabilities.

Luckily adding Wi-Fi to the Raspberry Pi is relatively painless, both on the wallet and stress levels. You will need a USB Wirless adapter for this project. Some USB Wifi adapters require more power than the Raspberry Pi can provide, so a powered USB is required. This project can be done with or without an external monitor, but everything is always so much easier with a monitor.

3. Interface with Hardware

Combining the Raspberry Pi with additional hardware adds more sensor, control, and capability options to the already capable Raspberry Pi. The concept of interchangable hardware shields from the Arduino family of microcontroller development boards has lead to an Arduino Shield adapater for the Raspberry Pi, making the Raspberry Pi a high speed master control platform to drive nearly any project. To make use of Arduino Shields easier, a arduPi library was created that allows the Raspberry Pi to use the existing code bases for the Arduino Shields. Full conversions of the Ardunio interfaces, including I2C, SPI, UART, analog and digital, have been implemented. Through the right shield, this allows the Raspberry Pi to:

  • Add various wireless capabilities including XBee, ZigBee, RFID, NFC, Bluetooth, Wifi, GSM/GPRS, and 3G
  • Connect to simple and complex sensors
  • Use Arduino sensor shields
  • Control motors

4. Digital Displays

The display options on the Raspberry Pi make it a prime candidate for driving digital displays. Several types of projects can be made by tying in a digital display, from news or stock tickers, RSS feed displays, digital picture frames and even touchscreen kiosks.

One of the easier display projects is a personal digital picture frame showing a slideshow of saved pictures or for a more advanced take on the project, a live slideshow from Deviant Art, cycling through your favorite digital art pieces.

5. Custom Cases

While not a project utilizing the Raspberry Pi, many projects will need a sturdy protective enclosure for the bare circuit board that is the Raspberry Pi. Custom cases has been a big thing among PC users for years and that trend among enthusiasts has carried over to the Raspberry Pi. Several cases are available for purchase online, from screwless cases to stylish display pieces.

Of course, designing your own case requires only some basic tools, some standard PC motherboard standoffs and time. Users have designed some amazing cases, from Lego based cases to custom woodworked pieces of art. Since the more advanced Raspberry Pi projects tend to involve fabrication, its good to get your hands dirty on a few simple projects.