September 25, 2020

Anyone for Pi? Mods and hacks for the Raspberry Pi


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by Nick Heath

An enthusiastic modding community has been playing with the $40 Raspberry Pi Linux computer for the past couple of months and they’ve not been wasting time.

Hacks and mods for the credit-card sized device range from speech-controlled robots to systems for controlling your house over the internet.

TechRepublic delved into the forums on the Raspberry Pi website ( to find the projects that really showcase the device’s capabilities – starting with this initiative to build a robot drone.

There are plenty of Pi-powered drones in the pipeline, but this Pi in the sky could save lives by helping map disaster zones.

The lightweight Pi board will be the brain of the autonomous plane, which will take aerial footage of disaster-struck areas.

The drone is being built by OpenRelief, an international project, to develop better communications tools for disaster relief efforts. The project was inspired by difficulties mapping the Tohoku area of Japan following the earthquake that struck the region in March 2011.

The drone will use open-source image-recognition software that can spot features such as smoke, roads or people. The plane will also include Arduino-based sensors to take measurements relating to weather and radiation. Information collected by the drone will be processed by the Pi and shared with disaster-management systems such as Sahana Eden.

The drone will be able to navigate and land unaided. OpenRelief expects the plane to be ready for production by December 2012.

Forgot to turn off the bathroom light in the morning? That’s not a problem with this home-automation project.

Here the Pi is being used to connect to a home fitted with sensors and switches that allow the house to be remotely monitored and controlled.

The system can monitor data such as the temperature in individual rooms, the electricity consumption of the house, or how much oil is in a heating system tank. It also allows the user to control electrical fittings, performing tasks such as switching on and off lights, towel rails or even a fountain.

The house, seen here, is on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England and can be controlled and monitored via a mobile phone app or web interface.

In a demo of the project, lights and the fountain are switched on and off using a web interface, by someone based 50 miles away in Basingstoke.

The Pi-based system is using the Liberty Profile for IBM’s WebSphere application server to interface with telemetry based on the MQQT messaging protocol, which is handled by IBM’s Really Small Message Broker (RSMB) messaging server.

The project has been set up by Andy Stanford-Clark and Simon Maple, of IBM, who used Stanford-Clark’s house as a testbed for the system.

As the one of the leads for this project puts it: “Massive 25-foot waves, 60mph winds, torrential rain, lightning – none of these things should be put anywhere near a Raspberry Pi”.

Yet that hasn’t deterred the team behind the FishPi, an automated boat, from attempting to take the Pi into uncharted waters by having it guide a vessel across the Atlantic.

FishPi will be capable of autonomous navigation and will take environmental observations and measurements as it crosses the ocean.

The FishPi will be battery powered and charged by a 130W solar panel, utilising a ducted propeller to maximise its efficiency.

So far, the team has constructed the proof-of-concept version of the FishPi, seen above, which is smaller than the finished device.

The Pi, which will sit inside a waterproof container, will work with associated electronics to control the boat, including GPS, a servo-controller board and a compass.

The Pi is powerful enough to carry out speech recognition, and this was demonstrated by using a voice-controlled robot arm.

The system is using the Julius open-source speech-recognition engine running on the Pi with the Linux Debian Squeeze distro.

In the demo the creator used a microphone to command the arm to manoeuvre and open and close its grip.

Fancy a cut-price tablet? It might still be a prototype but the guts of a Pi-powered slate are there.

The enhanced lifestyle module device was made by hooking a Pi to a cheap in-car LCD screen and adding a touchscreen controller overlay and other components. The device has a spare USB port for adding wireless or 3G connectivity.

The creator, known as capulet2kx on the Raspberry Pi forums, says the finished device will be more compact, because it will be without many of the wires and powered by battery rather than the mains.

A hack turned the Pi into a musical maestro on the glockenspiel.

The Pi-powered musician was created by hooking up a Raspberry Pi to a buffer board that is attached to a glockenspiel controlled by a solenoid – a coil of wire that acts as an electromagnet. The Pi controls the flow of electricity to the solenoid so the bars of the glockenspiel are struck in time to a tune.

A Raspberry Pi project was designed to help the blind and visually-impaired to use elevators.

The wearable computer system can recognise which floor the elevator is and can tell users when they have arrived at their desired floor.

Video from the camera is analysed to retrieve the floor number and a synthetic voice gives feedback to the user.

The project was devised by a group of students from the computer vision lab of the City College of New York.

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