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Raspberry Pi projects: Insanely innovative, incredibly cool creations

The most thrilling examples of makers getting creative with the $35 Raspberry Pi.

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raspberry pi 3
Brad Chacos/IDG

A heaping helping of Pi

The Raspberry Pi’s very existence can be chalked up to creativity. Ebon Upton and the Raspberry Pi Foundation created the $35 mini-PC to inspire students to learn computer science and to enable tinkerers to dream up wild projects without breaking the bank.

And they have! Here are some of the most creative, surprising, and downright fantastical Raspberry Pi creations crafted in recent years. Even better, most of the creators share full details on how to replicate these crazy innovative projects in your own home or secret mad scientist’s laboratory. 

Updated 3/16/18 with four new super-cool projects.

(Looking for more everyday uses? Check out these 10 surprisingly practical Raspberry Pi projects that anybody can do.)

homeassistant
Home Assistant

Hass.io

Hass.io is an operating system that uses Home Assistant, the open source home automation platform, to turn the Raspberry Pi into a smart home hub. You can use Hass.io to integrate with Google Home or Amazon Echo, as well as directly control a wide variety of smart home devices. With some extra hardware it can even be a generic ZigBee or Z-Wave controller.

Hass.io is a little on the hackerish side requiring you to tweak your configuration files using YAML. That may sound off-putting, but really we’re just talking about switching “No” to “Yes” under the right heading, or making similarly minor adjustments.

dashsonos
Ravi Sawhney

Dashing Sonos Playlists

In mid-2017, the Raspberry Pi foundation showed in a blog post how an Amazon Dash button could be repurposed to work with a Raspberry Pi over a home network. You could, for example, turn the Dash button into a one-click option for playing a Sonos playlist at home as developer Ravi Sawhney did. This is a great idea for quick-and-easy options to start music during a party or to let small children start their favorite playlist without asking an adult.

All it takes is a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, a Dash button, and some Sonos speakers.

gnkdroidrpi
Paul Trebilcox-Ruiz

Raspberry GNK

Hackster.io user Paul Trebilcox-Ruiz came up with the idea to create a Star Wars GNK droid for fun and to take to local comic cons and other events near his home. The finished product is essentially some modified storage bins with a Raspberry Pi inside; a few lights and buttons for effect; and usable power outlets. The finished droid is running Google Assistant and has some preset sound effects to play during public outings at local cons for that authentic “galaxy far, far away” feeling.

raspbinator1 0
Michael Darby

The Raspbinator 1.0

Sometimes people take on a Raspberry Pi project just because it’s a cool idea and to gain some knowledge in the process. That’s what Hackster.io user Michael Darby did when he came up with the Terminator-inspired Raspbinator. Darby took a skull-shaped tealight holder, and stuffed it with a Raspberry Pi 3, a Raspberry Pi Camera module, and some other peripheral hardware.

In the end he had a “robot” head with facial recognition, chatbot functionality, and a moving “eye” with a red light. Check out the video on YouTube to see the finished product in action. It’s a little rough but really neat. Darby is already looking at upgrades for version 2.0; hopefully liquid metal isn’t part of his plan.

doorjam

Doorjam

It’s a classic high school moment. You’re hanging out with friends, and someone has this profound insight: Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could walk around to our own personal soundtrack? A permanent soundtrack hasn’t happened yet, but thanks to the Raspberry Pi, we now have the technology to give everyone their own entrance music at least.

Doorjam is that project. From creative agency Redpepper, the project takes a portable stereo, a Raspberry Pi, Bluetooth iBeacon receiver, and a customized smartphone app. Once everything is put together all you do is pick your entrance music via the Spotify API in the app; when the setup detects that you’ve entered the office, your theme song starts playing. It’s like professional wrestling, but for accountants and data analysts.

pi 3dscanner

3D Scanner

Sure you can use Paint 3D in the Windows 10 Creators Update to make a nice-looking 3D fish, and maybe one day we’ll finally be able to use our smartphones to scan a 3D model. But Netherlands-based Richard Garsthagen had a different idea.

Garsthagen, who works for Oracle as the director of cloud business development in the EMEA region, built his own life-size 3D scanner. This giant monstrosity uses 98 Raspberry Pi units hanging off 19 poles and a mess of Raspberry Pi cameras. The scanner would be right at home in a Terminator movie, but fear not—it can’t send you back in time. It can, however, capture the raw data to create a 3D model of a human being. Pretty awesome, but this little project is not cheap and would take some serious technical chops.

fisher price phone raspberry pi

Talking toy

Inspired by the talking Fisher-Price Chatter Telephone in Toy Story 3, UK-based Grant Gibson decided to use a Raspberry Pi to improve on the actual toy. He took a special Toy Story edition of the Chatter Telephone (equipped with sound clips from the movie) and added a Wi-Fi-enabled Raspberry Pi B+ to it. The result is a “Talking Chatter Smartphone” that can tell you the current weather, let you know what’s playing at local theaters, or listen to the radio. It even has geo-fencing notifications: When the owner leaves the office, the toy is alerted at home and lets everyone else know.

Check out the full story, along with some tools to help you build your own, on Grant Gibson’s blog.

magic mirror raspberry pi

Magic mirror

Developer Michael Teeuw came up with a neat idea for a home project: Create a high-tech mirror that shows you the weather, time, and the day’s headlines while you’re getting ready for the day.

For his project Teeuw took a one-way mirror, attached a display and Raspberry Pi to the back, and put it all together in a custom-made case. It’s a killer concept, and his “magic mirror” inspired others to create their own versions. You can find full details on how he built the mirror on Teeuw’s blog, along with another post showing off other mirrors from around the world.

rpiskateboard

Raspberry Pi-powered electric skateboard

Why shell out hundreds of dollars for an electric skateboard? With a little effort, a few bucks, a Raspberry Pi Zero, and a Wii Remote, your old cruiser can go electric. The project comes from UK-based Matt Timmons-Brown, who goes by The Raspberry Pi Guy on YouTube. The DIY version may not look as slick as a store bought electric skateboard, but it’s a pretty sweet ride nonetheless, capable of reaching 18 miles per hour with a battery-powered range of at least six miles. The project’s details are available on GitHub.

mintypi2

MintyPi 2.0

One of the top uses for the Raspberry Pi is as a retro gaming console. (Intrigued? Check out PCWorld’s detailed tutorial on how to create a Raspberry Pi game emulation machine at home.)

But some tinkerers take it a step further and turn their creation into a portable gaming console. Take this tiny console called the mintyPi 2.0 on Sudomod.com. Creator Warner Skoch, who goes by the online name Wermy, crammed a Raspberry Pi Zero, a disassembled Nintendo DS Lite controller, and a few other parts into an Altoids tin. Add some 3D-printed parts to cover up the wiring and the result is a pretty neat-looking miniature gaming setup that would be very easy to tote around in your pocket.

Wermy first showed off the mintyPi 2.0 in April, but he hasn’t published a detailed how-to guide yet due to some trouble sourcing parts. Nevertheless, some of the 3D printed parts for the device are available for sale from the Sudomod market.

windowsiotdoor

Windows IoT smart door

The Raspberry Pi isn’t just for Linux anymore. For just over two years, Microsoft has offered a version of Windows 10 that works on the Raspberry Pi called Windows IoT Core. In January 2016, Microsoft created a project that uses Windows IoT and its Project Oxford facial recognition technology to create a smart home door lock.

All you do is stand in front of the door, press the buzzer, and if you’re recognized the door unlocks. Microsoft actually used an Intel MinnowBoard Max for its example, but a Raspberry Pi would work as well, as detailed by Microsoft on Hackster.io. Microsoft’s setup was only a proof-of-concept and therefore something of a kludge, but anyone wanting to do this at home could easily make it look much nicer with a little effort.

That said, we can’t vouch for the system’s security, as Project Oxford is about detecting faces in images—which means a person with a picture of you might be able to defeat the system. Nevertheless, it would be a fun home project and shows off what you can do with a Raspberry Pi and some extra hardware.

raspberry pi microwave

Picrowave

Why bother owning a traditional microwave when you can swap out some innards and create your very own Pi-powered food nuker?

Developer Nathan Broadbent took his microwave apart, redesigned the touchpad, and added some new functions like voice control, a barcode scanner to access an online database of cooking times, a web-based interface for remote access, and auto-tweets for when the timer is done.

pi hole

Pi-hole

It’s easy enough to block ads on your browser with a simple ad-blocker plugin, but anyone who really hates ads should look at the Pi-hole project.

The idea behind Pi-hole? Create a network-wide black hole from which no advertisement is fast enough to escape. Or at least that’s the claim—we haven’t tried this out ourselves yet. Pi-hole acts as your own DNS server. From there, it eats up ads across all devices on your network. You’ll have to make some adjustments on your router, but the instructions are available on the Pi-hole website.

Pi-hole works with the Raspberry Pi’s Raspbian OS and several standard Linux distributions including Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, and CentOS.

pi quadrocopter

Semi-autonomous quad-copter

This is a more expensive and mechanically intense project, but what’s more rewarding than building your own Raspberry Pi-powered miniature vehicle?

UK-based Pi enthusiast Andy Baker has a breakdown of how he built his own semi-autonomous quad-copter that comes programmed with its own flight plan. There are quite a few articles to read through, but this one is probably your best starting point. Also be sure to check out the new quad-copter project that he just started in February.

flightawarekit
ModMyPi

Raspberry Pi 3 kits

Clearly, the Raspberry Pi can be the foundation for all sorts of imaginative projects. If you’re intrigued to jump into the DIY waters, but also feeling overwhelmed at the prospect, a Raspberry Pi project kit could be the answer.

Take, for example, the PiAware Aircraft Tracking Kit (pictured here), which lets you make a ground station for receiving real-time air traffic data, using the included antenna. 

There are kits for all sorts of projects and all sorts of skill levels. See our roundup of some of the best Raspberry Pi 3 kits for inspiration.