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10 Impressive Raspberry Pi Zero Projects

In November 2015, the Raspberry Pi Foundation expanded its single-board computer family with the Raspberry Pi Zero. This special version has equipment which is generally very similar to the Pi-1 model A+, but the Zero edition is only about half as wide and half as high as the previously published version. This guide will outline exactly what exactly lies behind this mini edition computer and which impressive projects have already been brought to life with the Zero.

What is the Raspberry Pi Zero’s background?

The aim and background for developing the Raspberry Pi Zero was primarily the desire to use the minicomputer for projects which require making use of every last bit of space. To this end, the Raspberry Pi Zero, which weighs only 9 grams, has a reduced board width of 35mm. All other models are almost twice as wide at 56mm. Furthermore, the Mini Edition is just 5mm high – compared to Raspberry 2 and 3 which have a height of 20mm, the Zero offers a lot more leeway. To save space, the HDMI connector was replaced with a mini HDMI input, and the USB-A replaced with micro USB jacks.

In terms of performance, the Raspberry Pi Zero, costing only £5, is between the first and second generation of minicomputers: it features a gigantic 1 gigahertz processor, up to 40% faster than the Raspberry Pi 1. For a while it was also the leading first-generation device on storage memory, with 512 available. However, in August 2016, the foundation increased the Pi 1 (A+) storage capacity from 256MB to the same as the Raspberry Pi Zero.

Unlike the Pi 1 (B/B+) and the second and third-generation microcomputers, the Pi Zero has no ethernet port. The model Pi Zero W, costing £10, has also included the Cypress CYW43438 wireless chip since the beginning of 2017, which provides support for WiFi (802.11 b/g/n) and Bluetooth (4.1). The technical specifications of the Raspberry Pi Zero can be seen in tabular form below:

Raspberry Pi Zero
Publication 26. November 2015  
Price (excluding sales tax) £5  
Dimension (Length x Width x Height) 65 x 31 x 5 millimeters  
Weight 9 grams  
Processor 1 gigahertz single core processor  
Architecture ARMv6 (32-Bit)  
Video Output Composite Video (FBAS); Mini-HDMI (Typ C)  
Sound Output HDMI (digital)  

Raspberry Pi Zero: Exciting Projects and Ideas at a Glance

Demand for the Pi Zero was huge from the beginning, so the minicomputer was quickly sold out at numerous Raspberry dealers. The same thing happened with an issue of the magazine The MagPi, published at the same time, which featured a free version of the Mini Pi. Since so many people could get their hands on one so quickly, it is no wonder that many new interesting projects are being created with the help of the Raspberry Pi Zero. From practical, everyday helpers, to drones, to entertainment devices, it seems like amateur hobbyists have no limit to their creative imagination, as the following examples illustrate:

The Musical Tesla Coil

The first example proves the minicomputer’s flexibility quite impressively. Electronics-savvy programmer Derek Woodroffe has redesigned the Raspberry Pi Zero as part of his “Extreme Electronics” project, allowing him to control one or more Tesla coils. As if this idea was not crazy enough, the visual marvel is also accompanied musically by a MIDI file being played, which is located on the single board computer. He reveals what software and hardware he used to create this masterpiece on his website:

Pi0drone: the £200 drone from the Basque country

A Spanish development team led by Victor Mayoral – co-founder of robotics startup Erle Robotics- has garnered interest on the online Hackster platform with his Raspberry Pi Pi0drone project. It is a drone that can be controlled with a standard remote control, thanks to the Raspberry Pi Zero. The material costs of this home-made aircraft came to about £200, the majority being spent on the required autopilot board PXFmini (approx. £70). The operating system is a Debian-based distribution that Erle Robotics has put together for this purpose. The Hackster project webpage does not just provide information about the project, but also gives instructions on how to construct one of these drones yourself, including a list of hardware and software required.

PiZero Cluster – 16 Raspberry Pi Zeros as a test environment

The Japanese startup Idein relies on the Raspberry Pi Compute Module to develop its multifunctional hardware Actbulb. Actbulb is designed for a variety of devices or components that use computational and data analysis – like lightbulbs, network cameras, microphones, or VR/AR equipment (virtual and augmented reality). For some time now, however, Idein has not been testing the product on these devices, but rather on a composite of 16 Raspberry Pi Zeroes. The “PiZero Cluster” board has 32 micro USB ports for power and data-input, as well as 16 USB A ports and 16 ethernet interfaces. Incidentally, due to delivery bottlenecks, the Japanese company relied on donations from other Pi owners to complete the cluster.

DIY electro-skateboard

Another exciting project using the Raspberry Pi Zero is the Raspberry Pi Guy electronic skateboard. The young man from England provides numerous tutorials on using the microcomputer on his YouTube channel and made developing the power-driven skateboard his summer holiday project, achieving a remarkable result. Equipped with a single motor (120 amp, 2.2 kilowatts), the vehicle reaches a maximum speed of up to 30 kilometers per hour. To accelerate or slow down the skateboard, you use an ordinary Nintendo Wii controller. For a complete list of the components used, see GitHub.

Automated Indoor Gardener

A particularly exciting home project with Rasbperry Pi Zero is the Hacker House indoor gardener. The developing team – two former students from Iowa State University – have taken advantage of the minicomputer’s computing power to drastically simplify caring for houseplants. To do this, the two have installed the Raspberry Pi Zero as a central component to regulate a peristaltic pump (12 volts) and an LED plant light (5 volts), which supply the plants with water and artificial sunlight. The “automated gardener” script can be used to configure intensity and timing. At Hackster.io there is a detailed guide on how to build your own household helper.

Game Boy Zero

In 1989, Nintendo released the Game Boy, one of the most successful portable game consoles of all time – until it was replaced by the colour-coded Game Boy Color (1998). Nearly 120 million copies of the console have been sold. For more than a quarter of a century, Game Boy rewrote gaming history and dominated the market with games like Tetris or Super Mario. Now, a hobbyist who goes by the pseudonym “wermy” has breathed new life into an old classic, with the help of Raspberry Pi Zeroes. His “Game Boy Zero” project not only has a colour display, but also a USB A and micro USB jacks, a mini HDMI slot, and two additional control buttons.

The console runs on the operating system RetroPie, a distribution that contains emulators for different consoles, making it possible to play other classic games (including SNES, NES) that only need to be downloaded as ROM. A converted game plugin module, including SD card, finally ensures that the minicomputer can access the Game Boy’s hardware. Wermy documented his development steps and published them on Imgur on April 6th, 2016.

Raspberry Pi Zero R2-D2

If you’re a fan of the Star Wars movie series, you’ve probably dreamed about having your own R2-D2. British man Les Pounder fulfilled this dream and recreated the little astromechanical droid that is a mechanical genius in George Lucas’s movies. The crucial main component: A Raspberry Pi Zero. In combination with the Explorer pHAT board and two micrometal geared motors that provide the necessary engine power, Pounder has used the minicomputer to bring an ordinary R2-D2 toy to life. The operating system is the current version of the Debain derivative Raspbian. A more detailed description of the project and the required software code is available on Techradar for free.

Raspberry Pi Zero AirPlay Loundspeaker

To stream music from Apple devices like the Mac, iPad, or iPhone to external speakers without using a cable connection, your device must support Apple AirPlay. This technology is no longer just reserved for in-house hardware like the Apple TV, there are now a huge selection of devices that have that support capability. The Belgian Frederick Vandenbosch, however, did not let that stop him from making his own AirPlay-enabled loudspeaker. To do this, he expanded a Raspberry Pi Zero with a pHAT DAC board from Pimoroni and enabled audio playback.

In addition to the Raspbian operating system, he installed the ShairPort software on the single board computer, which acts like an AirPlay emulator. The fine-grained finish is provided by a meranti wood cabinet, a loudspeaker grille made using a 3D printer, and two sidebars. Those interested can view the entire development process on hackster.io.

PIX-E: the camera for moving pictures

The Raspberry Pi Zero was also used in Nick Brewers Project for the World Maker Fair 2016 (Festival for inspiration, creativity and innovation). Brewers from the USA developed the PIX-E as a camera that takes several second-long GIFs instead of ordinary photos. He makes use of the Raspberry Pi camera module, as well as the minicomputer itself. All components of the camera body come from a 3D printer.

Various software components are installed on the Rasbperry’s SD card to enable GIF photography. These include the image processing program GraphicsMagick, the module user interface PiCamera, and the software GifCam, specially programmed for PIX-E. The user can, for example, use the application to set the duration of the GIFs, decide whether to save them on the SD card or in the cloud, or upload them directly to a social network.

JavaWatch – the coffee bean assistant

Terren Peterson has developed a homemade Raspberry Pi Zero assistant that does a crucial job: the wizard, named JavaWatch, makes sure you can always have your morning cup of joe by keeping an eye on current coffee bean stock and automatically ordering supplies from Amazon when the supply is nearing the end. The built-in pi-camera module records the amount of beans at regular intervals and sends the result to the Amazon cloud applications S3 Bucket and Rekognition, which process the resulting image data. The Lambda rule is the deciding factor on whether a new order needs to be placed or not.

Once the camera has been set up, the user just needs to register on javawatcher.com, select the desired coffee bean type, and will then subsequently receive new deliveries in plenty of time without having to do anything. A detailed guide, including all the necessary program codes, of how to implement the project is available on Hackster.

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