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Explore the possibilities with these 10 Raspberry Pi projects

At first glance, Raspberry Pi makes rather an unspectacular impression; it seems to be nothing more than a circuit board, approximately the size of a credit card, fitted with various components. But Raspberry Pi’s compact size makes its vast range of options all the more impressive.

Developed by the British company, the Raspberry Pi foundation, this little computer is great value for money, one of many factors that have contributed to it becoming the best-selling British computer of all time. Originally designed for young people with an interest in web design, Raspberry Pi’s reduced features and lack of casing make it particularly well suited for beginners to learn about the hardware structure of a computer, as well as the basics of programming.  

This innovative mini-computer soon caught the attention of imaginative programmers and hobbyists, who were keen to explore Raspberry Pi’s many potential uses and try out new ideas. This spawned many of the original Raspberry Pi applications and projects. In this introduction to the small form factor PC, we present 10 useful and successful Raspberry Pi projects to do at home.

What is Raspberry Pi?

Roughly the same size as a credit card, Raspberry Pi is an example of a single-board computer, which has all the basic hardware components of a computer (processor, memory, etc.) as well as various extensions (USB, HDMI, video, sound, etc.). A micro SD card is inserted into a slot, and this acts as a hard drive while also providing the operating system. For this, the Debian-based Raspbian is recommended, but other Linux distributions and special Windows versions can also be used. For the power supply, a micro USB charger (i.e. a smartphone charger) can be used. An internet connection can be set up via a network cable over the Ethernet interface. Various external devices can be connected to the USB sockets, including a mouse, keyboard, external hard drive, and many more, while the HDMI connection is the simplest way to connect a screen to the Raspberry Pi device. The device also has several pins, which can be given further functions via programming.

Components vary depending on the model. The very first edition, Raspberry Pi 1, appeared on the market in February 2012. Since then, more models have followed, with their face value continually set at a maximum of $35, making them incredibly cost-effective computers. The latest model, Raspberry Pi 3 was launched in February 2016. This edition has a 64-bit CPU and for the first time, offers WiFi and Bluetooth low energy.

Apart from being a wordplay on the beloved dessert, the name, ‘Raspberry Pi’ falls in line with the tradition in IT companies to incorporate fruit in the name (like Apple, Blackberry, and Acorn), while also indicating its functions. Here, ‘Pi’ is an abbreviation for ‘Python interpreter’, as Python is considered to be Raspberry Pi’s main programming language. However, those with no experience with Python can also use Scratch, which is an even simpler, more visual programming language.

10 useful Raspberry Pi projects to do at home

Raspberry Pi’s applications are wildly diverse. In addition to the many common purposes it was designed to fulfil, the mini-computer has evolved to also perform more unusual tasks. To implement a Raspberry Pi project, users sometimes require a lot of preliminary knowledge, sometimes barely any. With enough interest in the project, however, a lack of knowledge shouldn’t be an obstacle at all. Quite the opposite: the whole concept behind the computer involves experimenting with the circuit board and developing new computing skills.

The internet has a wealth of information on Raspberry Pi’s various uses, as well as how to implement different applications and projects. The following examples illustrate the range of possibilities the mini-computer offers. You can also find links to some of the most popular and helpful projects, along with brief guides on how to implement them.

Web server

For many users, Raspberry Pi functions as a web server. There are many different web server programs available (such as lighttpd and nginx. However, in most cases, Raspberry Pi’s performance is insufficient for hosting extensive, dynamic web content, hiccup-free. The mini-computer is instead far better suited to performing as a local testing environment. However, simple websites with low visitor counts may be hosted by a Raspberry Pi server. Learn how to set up a Raspberry Pi web server here.

Mail server

When used as a mail server, e-mails are saved exclusively on Raspberry Pi, so no other provider or server has access to your messages. With a Raspberry Pi mail server, users have complete control over their mail system, as well as the ability to set up any number of e-mail addresses with their own domain. For a step-by-step guide on how to set up a Raspberry Pi mail server, visit our Digital Guide article.

VPN server

With a Raspberry Pi VPN (virtual private network), you can encrypt all data traffic in one network. This is particularly useful for creating a secure connection when using public WiFi; without encryption, sensitive, personal data is at risk of being intercepted at any time. Using a Raspberry Pi VPN server is a relatively easy way to prevent this. Find out exactly how this works here.

DNS server

The name resolution of a domain in an IP address takes place over a DNS server, also known as a name server. This process can be accelerated in the home network by setting up a private DNS server with Raspberry Pi. Having your own DNS server brings several other advantages. Check out this article for additional information on the benefits of using Raspberry Pi as a DNS server, and how you can implement it yourself.

ownCloud

The mini-computer enables users to create their own private cloud service with the free software, ownCloud. Here, Raspberry Pi functions as a server, where files can be uploaded and accessed. A personal cloud server offers one massive advantage against commercial file-hosting services like Dropbox or iCloud: users have full control of the server and the files stored within it. Users can therefore store very sensitive data there with peace of mind. Check out this article to learn exactly how ownCloud works, and all the advantages it presents, such as access via an app.

Home server

Users who wish to make their data available across all devices can do this by setting up a home server from the comfort of their own home. A home server is a fileserver that can host any kind of file (documents, images, videos, music, etc.), and can provide access to any device connected to that server (PCs, laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc.). This can either take place via a cable or over WiFi.  

Media center

One of the most popular applications of Raspberry Pi is as a media center; the mini-computer can display images and play films and music from the hard drive, as well as use various streaming services such as YouTube and Spotify. Kodi is an especially popular software for managing Raspberry Pi media centers, as all files are organized according to type, and clearly displayed with images.

Video game console

Raspberry Pi’s abilities enable it to play arcade games or in the style of an early-generation games console. Enthusiasts have managed to replicate arcade machines both in a miniature form as well as in their original size – sometimes even with a coin slot, as you can see in this YouTube video. 

Magic Mirror

Magic Mirror is a Raspberry Pi project created by the Dutch developer, Michael Teeuw. This is a one-way-mirror, which conceals a monitor and the mini-computer. The time, weather, upcoming appointments, and much more can be displayed on the mirror’s glass. View images of the first Magic Mirror and find a guide on how to build your own on Michael Teeuw’s blog. The innovative design of the Magic Mirror found great success and now has many imitators around the world

Voice command for garage door

As this 2012 YouTube video shows, Raspberry Pi can also be used to create a voice command function to open a garage door. This thread on the official Raspberry Pi forum describes how to implement this function using Apple’s voice recognition service, Siri.

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