Recently, I was on a call where it was said that the open source community is a combination of curiosity and a culture of solutions. And curiosity is the basis of our problem-solving. We use a lot of open source when solving problems of all sizes, and that includes Linux running on the supremely convenient Raspberry Pi.
We all have such different lived experiences, so I asked our community of writers about the most curious use of a Raspberry Pi they've ever encountered. I have a hunch that some of these fantastic builds will spark an idea for others.
Experimentation with the Raspberry Pi
For me, the Raspberry Pi has been a great tool to add extra development resources on my home network. If I want to create a new website or experiment with a new software tool, I don't have to bog down my desktop Linux machine with a bunch of packages that I might only use once while experimenting. Instead, I set it up on my Raspberry Pi.
If I think I'm going to do something risky, I use a backup boot environment. I have two microSD cards, which allows me to have one plugged into the Raspberry Pi while I set up the second microSD to do whatever experimenting I want to do. The extra microSD doesn't cost that much, but it saves a ton of time for the times when I want to experiment on a second image. Just shutdown, swap microSD cards, reboot, and immediately I'm working on a dedicated test system.
When I'm not experimenting, my Raspberry Pi acts as a print server to put my non-WiFi printer on our home network. It is also a handy file server over SSH so that I can make quick backups of my important files.
— Jim Hall
The popularity of the Raspberry Pi
The most amazing thing I've seen about the Raspberry Pi is that it normalized and commoditized the idea of the small-board computers and made them genuinely and practically available to folks.
Before the Raspberry Pi, we had small-board computers in a similar fashion, but they tended to be niche, expensive, and nigh unapproachable from a software perspective. The Raspberry Pi was cheap, and cheap to the point of making it trivial for anyone to get one for a project (ignoring the current round of unobtainium it's been going through). Once it was cheap, people worked around the software challenges and made it good enough to solve many basic computing tasks, down to being able to dedicate a full and real computer to a task, not just a microcontroller.
We've got a plethora of good, cheap-ish, small-board computers, and this gives way to tinkering, toying, and experimenting. People are willing to try new ideas, even spurring more hobbyist hardware development to support these ideas.
Honestly, that is by far the most amazing and radical thing I've seen from the Raspberry Pi: how it's fundamentally changed everyone's perception of what computing, at the level of what the Raspberry Pi excels at anyway, is and given rise not only to its own ecosystem but now countless others in diversity.
Raspberry Pi for the bees
In 2018, my younger brother and I used to have several beehives and used a Raspberry Pi and various sensors to monitor the temperature and humidity of our hives. We also planned to implement a hive scale to observe honey production in summer and measure the weight in winter to see if the bees had enough food left. We never got around to doing that.
Our little monitoring solution was based on a Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, ran Raspbian Stretch (based on Debian 9), and had a temperature and humidity sensor connected (DHT11). We had three or four of those sensors in the hives to measure the temperature at the entrance hole, under the lid, and in the lowest frame. We connected the sensor directly to the Pi and used the Python_DHT sensor library to read the data. We also set up InfluxDB, Telegraf, and finally, Grafana to visualize the data.
If you want to know more about our setup, we published an article on our little monitoring solution in Linux Magazine.
Go retro with the Raspberry Pi
One thing I would love to create with the Raspberry Pi is a simulation of how to program machine language into an old-style computer using "switches and lights." This looks to be fairly straightforward using the GPIO pins on the Raspberry Pi. For example, their online manual shows examples of how to use GPIO to switch an LED on and off or to use buttons to get input. I think it should be possible with some LEDs and switches, plus a small program running on the Raspberry Pi to emulate the old-style computer. But I lack the free time to work on a project like this, which is why I wrote the Toy CPU to emulate it.
— Jim Hall
Build a toy with the Raspberry Pi
When my daughter was four, she asked for a "Trolls music box" for Christmas. She could picture it perfectly in her head. It would be pink and sparkly with her name on it. When she opened the box, the theme song from the popular movie would play. She could store her trolls and other treasures in the box. After searching everywhere online and in stores, I could not find one that measured up to her imagination. My husband and I decided we could build one ourselves in our own toyshop (i.e., his home office). The center of it all was, of course, the Raspberry Pi. He used light sensors and a Python script to make the song play at just the right moment. We placed the tech discreetly in the bottom of the music box and decorated it with her aesthetic in mind. That year, holiday magic was made possible with open source!