If you don’t already know, a Raspberry Pi is a small, fully-functional computer on a circuit board about the size of a playing card. The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B contains onboard WiFi, Bluetooth, HDMI video, a microSD card reader for operating system(s) and storage, four USB ports, a 1.2 GHz quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, and several other audio and video interfaces.
It was originally developed for computer classes in Third World or developing countries but it has become a favorite hobby computer for techies, programmers, Linux enthusiasts, and innovators. At under $40, this incredible, tiny computer is perfectly priced for tinkering and customizing. Here are some of the more ingenious ways in which Raspberry Pi can be used:
While Raspberry Pi can not handle the requirements of later-generation game consoles like the PS4 or Xbox One, it is more than capable of emulating retro game consoles like the original NES, Sega Genesis, Atari 2600, Nintendo 64, and the like. Some people have hollowed out old upright or table top arcade cabinets and installed a Pi-based MAME (Multi-Arcade Machine Emulator) gaming system.
Others have 3D printed small, portable cases complete with directional pads and game controller buttons. Still others have replaced the insides of original game console units with their Raspberry Pi. The possibilities are endless!
There are many accessories and add-ons available either specifically for or easily utilized by Raspberry Pi. If you purchase a small LCD video monitor, a small keyboard with a touchpad, a power supply, a CCD chip camera, and various other components you can build a full-featured, portable computer. Some have used 3D printers to create palmtop computer cases.
Some have created wearable computers that strap to your forearm. Some have used Legos to build a case for their Pi. And some simply drill some holes into a standard clipboard and attach each component to it. Again, there are a plethora of different ways you can turn Raspberry Pi into a portable computer.
Christmas Light Controller
This being America, we’re no longer content with simply putting Christmas lights on our houses and plugging them in. Now, using a Raspberry Pi you can create a control box capable of making all of those lights dance to your favorite Christmas songs.
A quick YouTube search will show how truly awe-inspiring these light displays can be. Obviously, this use of the versatile Raspberry Pi can extend past Christmas light displays. You could also use it for night clubs, at music venues, in retail shops, etc. You can even use it for home automation purposes, making lights dim or brighten at specified times.
A few hobbyists have attached customized Raspberry Pis to quad-copters purchased at hobby or toy stores. The added functionality allows the drone to fly itself without human control and scan an area for targets (if you wire a camera up to it, of course).
A Raspberry Pi drone could potentially be programmed to collect aerial footage for filmmakers, search areas for useful information (for purposes of hunting, fishing, etc.), or even assist in search and rescue efforts. Various other tactical, military/law enforcement usages are also possible but be very careful to observe and follow local, state, and federal laws!
Because of the included HDMI port, Raspberry Pi can be easily customized to be act as a media center for your home theater. You can play or stream your favorite movies, music, and picture albums. You can also play games, browse the Internet, and sync with your Android-based mobile devices.
A free, open-source software suite called Kodi (formerly XBMC) is a Linux-based media center operating system which runs perfectly on Raspberry Pi. In order to make the unit aesthetically pleasing (A base model Raspberry Pi is an exposed circuit board) there are many after-market manufacturers of Raspberry Pi cases.
Most classic computer operating systems can be easily run on Raspberry Pi. These include but aren’t limited to MS-DOS, early Windows versions, Commodore 64, and Macintosh Plus. You can generally find old, non-working computer cases online for cheap. If you replace their innards with a Raspberry Pi, you can create a carbon copy of the original computer.
If you are really trying to nail that authentic feel, you can even wire those old, monochrome monitors and floppy disk drives to work with your retro Pi machine. Imagine having an original Macintosh computer (the one with a built-in, 9-inch screen) running exactly as it did when it was new. If you are a programmer, you might even dabble in programming modern applications to run on your retro machine.
When hackers want to sound like they’re not hackers they use the term “Penetration Testing” to give their skills a more official-sounding flair. You can easily load a penetration testing OS like Kali Linux on your Raspberry Pi and use it to crack WiFi passwords, test network security, spoof accounts, utilize exploits to gain access to other computers, and more… you know, in order to beef up your security and show paying clients the weaknesses in their systems. Again, be sure not to do anything illegal!
Homemade Mobile Device
Several hobbyists have managed to use touch-screen monitors and Raspberry Pi to create their own mobile devices. By installing Android, Firefox OS, Ubuntu Mobile, or any number of mobile-optimized OSes you can design your own Pi-based tablet. If you install a GSM module you can take it a step further and create a fully-functioning cell phone. Your new, homemade mobile device won’t be as thin or light-weight as the models available through Apple or Samsung, but you’ll spend a lot less money.
Because the processing requirements for most robotics are relatively low, there is practically no limit to how much you can do with Raspberry Pi and a working knowledge of robotics. People have created everything from gardening robots to beer-brewing systems to children’s toys using Raspberry Pi as a base. A quick search online will reveal hundreds of examples of Raspberry Pi controlled robots, along with video or forum tutorials to set you on your way.
Using a Raspberry Pi does require a certain degree of familiarity with computer operating systems, Linux distributions, and a working knowledge of programming (depending on what you’re trying to do). However, there are many tutorials and kits available if you are a novice. The low price of each unit and after-market accessories together with the availability of free, open-source programs and OSes make the Raspberry Pi an affordable and fun hobby for computer enthusiasts!