Hardware

10 coolest uses for the Raspberry Pi

As the $40 Raspberry Pi computer ships we round up the 10 projects to try on your new Pi.

The $40 Raspberry Pi computer has finally shipped, and if you were lucky enough to get one, what exactly should you do with it?

Hackers are buzzing with ideas from Pi-powered arcade machines and drones to the home automation and low-cost tablets. TechRepublic has delved into the Raspbery Pi's developer forums, and here's our round-up of the best ideas so far, ranging from the eminently achievable to the massively ambitious.

1. Media streamer

Setting up a media centre using the Raspberry Pi is a popular choice, perhaps unsurprisingly given how easy it is to connect the board to a TV via composite or HDMI.

Setting up a Pi-based streamer will be relatively straightforward using the free open source media centre software XBMC. The software can stream music and video stored online or locally, and can be configured to work with TV catch-up services like BBC iPlayer, as well as being completely controllable using a remote control.

The team behind XBMC has a video of it playing 1080p video without any difficulty.

However there is one rather large drawback, the on-demand film streaming services offered by Lovefilm and Netflix are both currently incompatible with XBMC running on the Pi. Anyone wanting to stream content wirelessly will also have to add a USB wifi adapter.

2. Arcade machine

Do you yearn for days spent in dingy arcades, pumping change into cabinets and battling pixellated 16-bit foes?

The Raspberry Pi will help greying gamers relive their misspent youth thanks to a number of projects to bring classic arcade game and 1980s computer emulators to the system.

Projects range from recreation of full arcade cabinets, using a Raspberry Pi running MameWAH emulator on a Linux OS under the hood, to running the Pi as the classic Commodore 64 or BBC Micro computer.

If handheld games are more your thing then you could always follow in the footsteps of this more ambitious project, which involves connecting up the Pi to a 3.5-inch TFT screen to create a portable gaming system.

3. Tablet computer

The end result might not give the iPad a run for its money but a number of modders are already working out how to pair the Pi with a touchscreen.

While not a straightforward task, modders have already identified LCD touchscreens and batteries that could be used. The main challenge seems to be keeping costs down and finding a touchscreen-enabled distro of Linux that works with the Pi's ARM 11 processor.

And while it might lack the sleek lines of a MacBook Air, this idea for a Raspberry Pi laptop, or more accurately a Raspberry Pi computer crossed with a suitcase, is starting to take shape on the Raspberry Pi.org forums.

4. Home automation

Too lazy to press a light switch? Can't be bothered to open the curtains in the morning? Then the Raspberry Pi could be just what you're waiting for.

Doing the rounds are various Pi-based home automation projects, which hope to use the board as a ZigBee home automation server.

ZigBee systems can be set up to support a range of tasks, including remote controlled air conditioning and lighting, and checking whether doors are open or closed.

5. Carputer

Creating a touchscreen, in-car tablet computer based on the Pi is another popular goal among modders.

Tech hobbyists want a Pi carputer to be a media player and GPS that can run off the cigarette lighter, and have pulled together a list of specs for the device.

There is even talk of further adding a web cam to the device to create a black box that would record the car's journeys or, even more ambitiously, hooking it up to the car's diagnostic system to provide a real time display of the engine's state.

6. Internet radio

Internet radios still cost a pretty penny, so why not pair up the Pi with a low-cost LCD screen, some speakers and create your own.

Various Pi-based internet radio projects already exist and are piecing together the components and code needed to create a Pi-based internet radio, and it seems only a matter of time before this becomes a reality.

7. Controlling robots

Robots and Raspberry Pi seem to be a match made in heaven, if hobbyist projects are anything to go by.

Projects include controlling quadroceptor drones (the jury's still out on this one), an autonomous plane, a voice controlled Star Wars R5-D4 droid and a robot boat.

Messing around with robots and the Raspberry Pi will be helped by expansion boards for the Pi like the forthcoming Gertboard, which will make it easier to hook the computer to a range of motors and sensors.

8. Cosmic computer

As far fetched as it sounds, the Raspberry Pi is even being considered for a trip into space.

Universities are examining whether an array of Pi boards could serve as an onboard computer system for mini satellites, Eben Upton, director of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, told TechRepublic earlier in the year.

The idea is that Raspberry Pi computers could provide a low-cost, off the shelf alternative to the bespoke hardware used normally in spacecraft and satellite systems. Using scores of Raspberry Pi boards would build redundancy into the platform, allowing one board to take over if another fails.

The University of Surrey is already trialling the use of off the shelf computing in the place of bespoke hardware, by sending an Android smartphone into orbit on board a 4kg nano-satellite.

Another space-bound Pi project in the works is sending a board to the edge of space by weather balloon to use it as an eye in the sky.

9. Hunting for meteorites

Even if the Pi doesn't make it in to space it seems likely that it will be watching the cosmos.

A high school project in Australia is looking to use the Pi to spot meteorites blazing across the Antipodean skies.

Pi boards would analyse feeds from low-cost web cams and grab timestamped images of any suspected meteorite trails.

10. Coffee and Pi

Slightly less ambitious than some of the projects in the pipeline, but no less deserving of a mention is the MoccaPi.

The MoccaPi is a Raspberry Pi controlled coffee machine designed to conjure up the perfect brew via a few typed commands.

All you need is a Python controlled microcontroller, a coffee machine and some relays cables and an SDcard, which all told shouldn't cost much more than $100.

Tell TechRepublic what you plan to do with your Raspberry Pi by emailing nick dot heath at techrepublic.com.

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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