Top Ten Raspberry Pi Projects (Part 1)

12/5/2012 2:52:43 PM

He peeks at some of the most imaginative and original uses for the tiny, lightweight personal computer.

The Raspberry Pi has turned out to be a terrific success. Despite minimal third party software support and manufacturing delays, it remains a bestseller, with buyers waiting weeks to receive their orders as production is ramped up to meet demand. Over the following pages, we discover exactly what people are doing with all these Pis and explore what future revisions may bring.

1.    The Raspberry Pi supercomputer

As a computer, the Raspberry Pi itself is hardly the equal of the average desktop or laptop, yet some buyers have been investigating its suitability for high performance computing if only as an educational exercise. Professor Simon Cox of the University of Southampton, in partnership with fellow computational engineers and his six year old son, recently unveiled the first large scale supercomputer cluster to be constructed entirely from Raspberry Pi hardware.

Description: Professor Cox and his son with a cluster of Pis that link together to form a supercomputer

Professor Cox and his son with a cluster of Pis that link together to form a supercompute

“As soon as we were able to source sufficient Raspberry Pi computers, we wanted to see if it was possible to link them together into a supercomputer,” explains Cox. “We installed and built all of the necessary software on the Pi, starting from a standard Debian ‘Wheezy’ system image, and we’ve now published a guide so that you can build your own supercomputer.”

At a cost of $3,750, the system boasts 64 nodes, 16GB of memory, 1TB of SD card storage and a Lego chassis. While its performance lags behind that of traditional supercomputers, Cox’s creation provides a low cost platform for experimenting with computing cluster technology something that normally requires a hefty server environment and software simulation.

2.    Translation goggles

Wearable computing has been “just around the corner” for decades now, but beyond the odd bulky wristwatch, little usable technology has hit the open market. Google’s Project Glass is due to appear in shops sometime next year, but for now the Pi is helping to fill the gap thanks to its small size, light weight and low power draw so low it will run for hours from a cheap lithium ion battery.

The most impressive wearable Pi effort so far has to be Will Powell’s project, which turns two Raspberry Pi systems and a pair of digital glasses into the closest thing the world has seen to the universal translator of Star Trek fame. Combining a Vuzix STAR 1200 wearable display and a Jawbone Bluetooth microphone Pi, the system performs on the fly voice recognition and translation through Microsoft’s publicly accessible application programming interface (API).

“I can have a conversation with Elizabeth, who speaks Spanish to me and I return with English,” explains Powell. “I have never learnt Spanish, but using the glasses I can have a full conversation.”

3.    Solar-powered distributed computing

Another area where the Pi’s low power demands are proving popular is distributed computing. Through projects such as Folding@home and SETI@home, computer users across the world have for years been contributing spare processor cycles to create a powerful supercomputer. Inevitably, those cycles have come at a cost of increased energy usage.

The Raspberry Pi, however, can run from a solar panel, giving distributed computing fans a means of contributing environmentally friendly processing power to their favourite projects. The business of attaching a solar panel isn’t particularly challenging, and Andrew Back has tackled the other half of the equation by porting the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) distributed computing client to the Pi’s ARMv6 instruction set.

“The idea of a self-contained, solar powered BOINC appliance is attractive,” Back writes of his experiments, “as it would not only address concerns over energy consumption but could take a novel and even decorative form, perhaps with a small E Ink screen to display computation statistics.”

Details on how to install BOINC on the Raspberry Pi, and how to set up the SETI@home client, which analyses radio telescope data for signs of alien intelligence.

4.    Musical instruments

Electronic synthesisers are incredibly versatile instruments, but they’re frequently priced at the top end of most amateurs’ bank balances. Given a little extra hardware and some clever software, however, a Raspberry Pi can be turned into just such a device and that’s exactly what the Piana project aims to do.

Taking its name from a portmanteau of “Pi” and “analogue”, the project aims to create a MIDI-addressable software-based analogue synthesiser along the lines of the popular Moog Slim Phatty, with up to eight voices and an OpenGL ES-accelerated user interface that includes a live oscilloscope and adjustable component connections.

Description: The Piana project turns the Raspberry Pi into an analogue synthesizer

The Piana project turns the Raspberry Pi into an analogue synthesizer

“All this oscillators being alias managed, bonkers modulation, Moogy roll-off filters, GPU[-powered GUI] interface with tons of oscilloscope vertices bouncing around in real time all of this runs on a stock 700MHz Raspberry Pi,” project founder Omenie explains of his creation.

Piana is already capable of some impressive effects but it isn’t the only effort to turn the Pi into a synthesiser: others are working to port the open source Pd software synthesiser to the Pi’s ARM processor.

Marine robotics with the FishPi

The general-purpose input output (GPIO) port on the Pi provides an easy means of interfacing with external hardware, and for many technical types that spells “robotics”. Several small scale projects have seen the Pi mated to off the shelf remote control cars and the like, but the FishPi project goes a step further in its aims.

The brainchild of Greg Holloway, FishPi looks to create a fully autonomous marine surface vehicle capable of crossing the Atlantic Ocean without human intervention. As well as making heavy use of the Raspberry Pi’s inter-integrated circuit (I²C) connectivity for the electronic speed controller, servo controller, GPS and electronic compass, the FishPi takes advantage of the Pi’s low power draw in order to run the entire system from a solar panel.

Description: It’s still in the early stages, but Greg Holloway is hoping to develop his FishPi into an autonomous marine surface vehicle, able to perform tasks such as environmental monitoring

It’s still in the early stages, but Greg Holloway is hoping to develop his FishPi into an autonomous marine surface vehicle, able to perform tasks such as environmental monitoring

The intention is eventually to produce a kit that will allow anyone to turn a Pi into a fully autonomous marine vehicle for purposes including environmental monitoring, detailed mapping, development of autonomous navigation systems and, as Holloway himself puts it, just “something to geek out to”.

The FishPi project is still very much at the early stages of development, with Holloway actively seeking input on its development and production through the official website at

5.    Bare-metal programming

The processor at the heart of the Raspberry Pi, a Broadcom BCM2835 system on a chip, is certainly slower than a desktop processor, but being a Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) chip it’s also more accessible for beginners to the subject. Taking advantage of this fact, the University of Cambridge located conveniently close to the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s headquarters has launched a free online course dubbed Baking Pi, designed to teach anyone how to program an operating system from scratch in assembly language.

Although the example operating system components used in the course, created by Alex Chadwick, aren’t going to rival Windows 8, it’s a useful starting point for learning assembler.

Description: A close-up of the Broadcom BCM2835 system on a chip at the heart of the board.

A close up of the Broadcom BCM2835 system on a chip at the heart of the board.

“I have tried not to assume any prior knowledge of operating systems development or assembly code,” Chadwick explains in his course introduction; he warns that “it may be helpful to have some programming experience, but the course should be accessible without.”

For those who have been thinking of dabbling in assembler for a while, perhaps after working with higher-level languages such as C and .NET, the free course provides a great introduction and the lessons learned can be quickly applied to developing software for the Pi and for other ARM-based devices such as smartphones and tablets.

PS4 game trailer XBox One game trailer
WiiU game trailer 3ds game trailer
Top 10 Video Game
-   Poly Bridge Early Access Trailer
-   Rodea The Sky Soldier Trailer
-   CABAL 2 Launch Trailer
-   The Smurfs Trailer
-   Act of Aggression Pre-Order Trailer
-   Project X Zone 2 [3DS] Trailer
-   Minecraft: Story Mode Debut Trailer
-   Minecraft: Story Mode Reveal Trailer at Minecon 2015
-   Suidobashi Heavy Industry | Response to Robot Duel
-   Goliath [PC] Motion Comic Trailer
-   WWE 2K16 [PS3/PS4/X360/XOne] Stone Cold Steve Austin Cover Reveal Trailer
-   Netflix Original | An Unfortunate Teaser
-   The Horrors of KYN unleashed
-   The Endless Cylinder [PC] Debut Trailer
-   Need for Speed (Reboot) (Gameplay PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Game of War | Kate Upton Commercial