When it comes to DIY maker technology, few bits of hardware have had the versatility and outright longevity of the Raspberry Pi. Launched in 2012, the Raspberry Pi is a silent, energy-efficient, single-board computer that fits inside the palm of your hand—or inside just about anything you might want to make computer-controlled.
The Pi planet has seen four main releases of Raspberry Pi boards, along with various mods and variants, over the last decade, with the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B the latest and greatest revision. (That will stand, at least, until the Raspberry Pi Foundation reveals the next rumored Pi model in 2022 or 2023.)
Some of the older pre-Pi 4 models, though, are still available for less than the cost of an entrée at your local diner, and the creativity they have spawned is near limitless. Let’s take a look at some of the best Raspberry Pi projects we’ve seen in 2021.
Raspberry Pi Intercom
While social distancing might have become less of a priority for many as 2021 has drawn to a close, this DIY project helps bring the distant members of your household (including kids or spouses working from home) a little closer. It started as an effort to keep a quarantined-for-weeks father in touch with his daughter in the same house.
Thanks to the creative use of a Telegram voice-chat bot, you can use Raspberry Pi to call family members to dinner or let them know that Daddy or Mommy (hopefully, not both at once) is leaving the house for a mental health day. All that is needed here is a Raspberry Pi board, a USB microphone, a USB speaker, a few buttons, and a willingness not to shout at family members who don’t respond immediately.
Raspberry Pi Automated Temperature Check With Mask Detection
Another ingenious way that Raspberry Pi has been tweaked to help individuals and communities during the pandemic: How about as a COVID cop? By using facial landmarking software and infrared temperature sensors, this Pi project makes for an affordable, touch-free kiosk that provides contactless temperature checks and confirms that each person that passes is wearing a mask.
Because fever is the leading symptom of COVID-19, temperature checkpoints have been staples in some schools, offices, and other workplaces. It’s not always possible, though, to manually check temperatures using a contactless thermometer (you need the personnel to do that), and they place the person testing temperatures at risk of exposure.
To solve these problems, 19-year-old Saksham Bhutani designed a kiosk that automates the process of temperature checks by using facial landmarking, deep-learning tech, and an IR temperature sensor. Behold, above, the TouchFree v2: Contactless Temperature and Mask Checkup. His model was made with a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, a Pi Touch display, a Pi Camera Module, and several other bits, supplemented by a 3D printed structure. The Raspbian variant serves as the OS.
Raspberry Pi LED Art
Although this project seems simple, it’s a fantastic way for beginners to work on basic logic, or for more advanced makers to show off their skills. Using LEDs to go from simple patterns to complex transitions, you can create a stunning visual-accent piece for your home.
Add a microphone, and you can even program the LEDs to alter their color or pattern based on sounds, reacting to voices or music in your home. The LumiCube project shown above is projected to be available as a kit in 2022 via an Indiegogo push (preceded by a Kickstarter) that was running at this writing. (In this design, you would bring your own Pi to the kit.) The “project source” link further up showcases the build and programming behind it. You can also find a much more hands-on/DIY approach to a luminous cube at this Hackster.io page. (Registration may be required to view.)
Raspberry Pi Vintage Laptop
One of the most popular uses for Raspberry Pi hardware is to breathe new life into older technology that would have otherwise joined a landfill. Take that dead old Apple laptop out of your closet or grab that ’90s-era IBM ThinkPad from your parents’ attic, and use any of them as a housing for a Raspberry Pi!
Older laptops are ideal for this project, as their chassis’ larger internal volume provides enough space for the hardware you need. Most of the Pi hardware can be placed under the keyboard after gutting the original internals. In the example project above, the user hollowed out an older MacBook laptop and showed off the project at this Reddit thread.
Mind you, none of this will be easy. The original onboard batteries may need to be replaced or modified to power both the Raspberry Pi and the display, with careful selection of a voltage regulator or switching power supply to ensure the Raspberry Pi sees just 5 volts of input. Also note that external controllers will be needed to get the laptop screen acting as the Pi display. (Assuming that that part of the laptop still works!) Not one for the faint of heart or hardware.
Raspberry Pi Retro Game Console…in a Cartridge?
Many resourceful gamers have created retro-gaming consoles using emulation software running on Raspberry Pi. (Here’s a guide we did a few years back, trying exactly that.) The newest variation on this theme is creating mobile game consoles the same size as the original Nintendo Game Boy, or fitting an entire retro gaming console inside a single SNES game cartridge. How’s that for a dramatic meta-illustration of how far things have come in video gaming?
The SNES:Pi Zero runs the RetroPie operating system. RetroPie can emulate thousands of games. (Of course, you need to download the game ROMs separately.) The Raspberry Pi Zero W at the heart of the SNES cartridge can run the majority of console games released prior to the N64. Hardware inside comprises a USB hub, the Pi Zero, and a micro SD card. You will, of course, also need an external display or TV.
Raspberry Pi Ad Blocker
Stop wasting time installing ad blockers on every device and every web browser in your home and use the power of Raspberry Pi to block ads across your entire home network. The Pi-hole is a DNS-based filtering tool that runs on the super-cheap Raspberry Pi Zero and blocks ads before any other device on your Wi-Fi network gets involved.
If you’re concerned about blocking ads that you need to see (maybe your boss wants you to confirm that ads are working on the company website) you can also whitelist specific URLs so those ads remain untouched.
Raspberry Pi Smart Doorbell and Video Intercom
You want to block door-to-door salespeople or other solicitors. Or maybe the pandemic has left you unready to deal with actual humans at your front door quite yet. Then try a Raspberry Pi-based smart doorbell with video intercom. For this project, you’ll need an LCD screen, a call button, a speaker, a microphone, and a camera so you can video chat with people at your front door. (It can also be implemented as a room-to-room intercom.)
With this project, you can implement a simple script to send a Gmail notification to your phone whenever someone presses the doorbell/intercom button. From there, the Raspberry Pi can use a free video conferencing service like Jitsi Meet to enable a live video chat. The bits include a Pi 3 Model B; LCD, camera, and mic components; and a host of internal connectors.
Raspberry Pi Porch Pirate Alarm
No one appreciates having their Amazon deliveries stolen from their front porch. You can find a variety of cheap alarms online that use motion detectors, but then you have an alarm that goes off every time someone approaches your front door.
This porch pirate alarm project uses Raspberry Pi and artificial intelligence to identify when packages have been delivered and then sounds an alarm only when a package has been removed. You can even set up the camera to send you footage of the thief so you can provide that evidence to local authorities. The model demonstrated here is built off of a Raspberry Pi 4 and a Wyse video camera.
Raspberry Pi HAL 9000
Why use a boring Amazon Echo with Alexa or a Google Home device when you can use Raspberry Pi to bring HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey to life? Hal won’t be a fictional artificial intelligence after you’ve finished this project.
Okay, the guts may be a bit less impressive than the film may suggest they should be: At its core, this Raspberry Pi HAL 9000 is just a humble Pi Model 3 or 4, a speaker, a USB microphone, and a red LED with some creative window dressing. The maker here also has the HAL-alike serving as a NAS. Just remember to run if HAL starts singing “Daisy Bell.”
Raspberry Pi Pet Treat Dispenser
Why should we hominids be the only ones to benefit from cheap DIY tech? You can use the power of Raspberry Pi, a button, and a simple motor to build a dog treat dispenser so humanity’s best friend can reap the rewards of artificial intelligence. (Granted, the pegboard-mounted design is a bit rustic.)
Of course, the only thing better than pressing a button to deliver dog treats is to have it happen automatically. This Reddit user set up his Raspberry Pi as a web scraper to detect when his Instagram account gets a new follower. The follower addition then triggers the motor, which, in turn, activates the treat dispenser.
Raspberry Pi Smart Security Camera With Face Detection
Yes, before you ask: Of course Ring cameras already exist. Those and other cheap security cameras are a great way to keep an eye on your home, but now you can use Raspberry Pi and some creativity to identify family and friends, and send you an alert to let you know if, say, a buddy or your mother-in-law drops by when you’re away, but doesn’t leave a note.
The basic setup consists of a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B, a micro SD card, a camera with enclosure, and a power supply. Once you’ve set up the camera, you can send the footage to another client device or send it straight to your phone. With some additional programming, you can use facial recognition to identify specific people and have the Pi send you an alert when an unknown person visits your home.
Raspberry Pi Smart Mirror
Get rid of that boring old mirror in your living room and replace it with a modern version of the mythical magic mirror! A smart mirror displays web-based applications that let you check local news, the weather, your daily calendar, and more while you preen, pluck, shave, apply makeup, or dress. The Pi comes into play as the compute source and the driver of the built-in video.
This project involves some basic carpentry (for the mirror frame) and benefits from a 3D printer for some of the framework, but you can keep it simpler: You can use an old LED desktop monitor, an acrylic see-through mirror, and a Raspberry Pi as the basis for your own smart mirror.
Daunted by all this creativity? If you’re new to Raspberry Pi, you can check out our starter guide here to get in on the ground floor.