Explore the possibilities with these 17 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 17 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.

17 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 Apache, 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 static websites with low visitor counts may be hosted by a Raspberry Pi server. Learn how to create a Raspberry Pi web server here.

Smart Home Headquarters

Networking all your domestic technology and household appliances is becoming increasingly popular. The smart home approach, and allows you to centrally control and management home heating, lamps, blinds, refrigerators, washing machines, etc. It doesn’t just improve your quality of life, but also contributes to efficient energy consumption. Thanks to it’s low price, internet capability and status as a fully functioning system with excellent hardware support, more and more hobby craftsmen are relying on Raspberry Pi to implement projects for their own homes. The required software basis is formed by open source tools like openHAB or Home Assistant.

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. As the central platform for your electronic communications, the mini computer offers you the best possible privacy and security (since all data is in your own hands), as well as a high degree of flexibility. A more detailed list of the advantages and possibilities of this kind of home server, as well as step-by-step instructions for setting one up using Rasbperry Pi can be found You can find a step-by-step guide on how to set up a Raspberry Pi mail server here Article on this topic “Setting up Raspberry-Pi mail servers.

Interactive LED surface

The hobbyist Vincent Deconinck has proven, impressively, that Raspberry Pi is not just for amateur practical projects: For around €130, he equipped a standard IKEA table with an interactive display that reacts to parked objects with colourful animations and even allows Tetris to play. At the heart of the project is a Raspberry Pi that processes all interactions recorded by Arduino microcontrollers and converts them into your chosen animations using Glediator software. On his website, Deconinck has published a detailed guide to building one.

LED windows

The combination of LED units and the Raspberry Pi is not necessarily limited to a playful, game-like project: User dannyk9 has published a guide to building a handy LED window that fakes sunlight on instructables.com. Rooms without windows, like basements, can literally be put in a new light and subsequently create a whole new mood in the room. The “Fake” window can be controlled through a web interface, whereby the brightness can either be adjusted manually or automatically according to time of day and weather (through the Yahoo! API).

If you are interested in the individual components and steps and are curious about the result, you should definitely take a look at the corresponding instructibles forum 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. As a central authentication and switching instance for VPN clients that access individually, the minicomputer cuts a good figure in both the private and corporate environment. Find out exactly how this works works.

Binary Clock

If you’ve always dreamed of owning a binary clock, Simon Monck’s Raspberry Pi project is the one for you. The developer and writer has equipped the mini computer with a Unicorn Hat – an expansion board with 64 RGB LEDs – which displays the current time in a binary code, thanks to the appropriate software. Viewed from top to bottom, this special watch displays year (the last two digits), month, day, hour (24-hour format), minute, second and even hundredth of a second. A detailed manual was published in issue 42 of The MapPi magazine, and can also be found in a condensed form on the Raspberry-Pi-Homepage.

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 about How to use Raspberry Pi as a DNS server. for additional information on the benefits of using Raspberry Pi as a DNS server, and how you can implement it yourself.

“AirPi” mobile weather and air measuring station

Air pollution can quickly become a health hazard. However, it is often very difficult to maintain consisntent air quality in your own home environment. The AirPi is an effective solution: Raspberry Pi combined with various sensors allows for the measurement of values like temperature, humidity, air pressure, UV level, carbon monoxide or nitrogen dioxide content. In addition to information about air quality, the Raspberry Pi application also provides information about the weather. Thanks to the minicomputers internet capability, the measured values can be compared immediately on a web interface.

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 tutorial.to learn exactly how ownCloud works, and all the advantages it presents, such as access via an app.

Advice Machine

Nick Johnson’s Advice Machine proves that good advice does not always have to come at a high price. The home-made speech automat, which is operated with the help of a Raspberry Pi, provides a range of advice for a fee. The quality of this advice, which is handed over on a small piece of paper (thanks to a thermal printer), depends on how high the coin contribution was. This advice is usually in the form of humourous tips, pearls of wisdom and jokes which it gets from the Fortune database, who usually provide humourous content on Unix and Linux systems.

Home server & Media Center

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.  You can also go a step further and use the Raspberry Pi as a complete media center. The minicomputer not only serves as a storage location for your media content, but also as a central platform for playing movies, music and pictures from hard disk, or for using streaming services like various online media libraries, YouTube or Spotify.  

One of the most commonly used applications for running a Raspberry Pi media center is the open source software Kodi, which sorts media by type, amongst other options.

3D Printer

The Pi 3D Scanner, developed and perfected by the Dutch man Richard Garsthagen over the last couple of years, is a very expensive but equally breathtaking Raspberry Pi project. One hundred Raspberry Pis, each with its own SD card and camera modules, form the basic structure of this two meter high, full-body scanning machine. Thanks to home made 3D scan management software, the recorded values can be optimised and then used to print a 3D model.

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 to create the ultimate authentic arcade feeling. The combination of Raspbian and the emulator application RetroPie based on it is particularly popular as a software basis for these Raspberry Pi projects.

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. Due to the popularity and publicity the developer has experienced since publishing his DIY manual, he has created a second, optimised version of MagicMirror, which can be extended almost endlessly, thanks to it’s modular structure. Since the code is completely open source, the MagicMirror has developed into a huge community in recent years, with the page magicmirror.builders serving as a central exchange platform and contact point for all interested parties.

Zelda Automated Home

The YouTuber Allen Pan, aka Sufficiently Advanced came up with a very special Raspberry Pi project: He has also created a “Smart Home” environment, granting him convenient control of the technical devices within his own four walls, all operated on a Raspberry Pi. However, this home automation system is not operated through voice control, text commands or a web interface, but instead by playing melodies from the Nintendo classic “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”. Like Link (the hero of this groundbreaking video game), the YouTube star uses an ocarina to play “Zelda’s Lullaby” to open his front door, for example.

Voice command for garage door

Towards the end of 2012, the individual Dark Therapy showed that Raspberry Pi can be used to open a garage door in just a few steps. In his Official Raspberry Pi forum editorial, the amateur enthusiast explains how he converted his iPhone to work as a remote control using a Raspberry Pi and Siri proxy software. The voice recording application on the iPhone is Siri, the standard speech recognition software that comes preinstall.