December 19, 2013

Top 10 Raspberry Pi Hacks of 2013

With over two million Raspberry Pi's in the field, the number of Pi-based hardware projects has mushroomed accordingly. Scores of websites and YouTube videos show how to use the Linux-based embedded boards to do everything from water your lawn to power your next Halloween costume. While the Pi may not be the most open source single board computer available, the infinitely creative ways people use it -- and share their designs so freely -- reflects the true spirit of open source.

No more woof Raspberry Pi for dogsThe Top 10 slideshow published here highlights inspired, yet affordable, Raspberry Pi based projects that go beyond the typical baby cams and rolling camera robots. Sometimes this extra effort results in utility -- often by providing a much more affordable alternative to a mainstream technology -- and some could form the basis for a successful consumer or industrial product. More often, the projects verge on the artistic, the conceptual, the obsessed, or the absurd. Whatever the motivation or goal, they've got our attention.

As a prime example of projects that straddle brilliance and lunacy, this week we learned of an Indiegogo project called No More Woof. This Raspberry Pi based EEG headgear set for dogs aims to translate canine thoughts into human speech. Perhaps the developers could combine it with the inspired, yet demented, CD-ROM eject helmet, which can perform tasks like ejecting the tray every time one's tweets have been retweeted.

Speaking of all things "insanely great," but not quite useful enough to make our list, why not spend the dark winter months building a Mini Mac? This "world's smallest working Macintosh" runs a Mac emulator on a well-disguised RasbPi. (Ashton Kutcher bobblehead not included.)

Pyrotechnics, bullet cameras, and a Toiletcam

Those for whom danger is a middle name might consider building the FireHero 3, a complex system that shoots flames up to 100 feet in the air for a synchronized pyrotechnic backdrop to a rock show. (The rig might be accessorized nicely with's Pi-based gesture detecting air guitar glove.) Despite the FireHero 3's built-in safety features, my buzzkill attorney advises me I should not include it in the Top 10 list. I won't even bother to try to convince him of the twisted genius of the Toiletcam, which uses light detection to alert outsiders when the loo is free.

The parts list for the FireHero 3 may be a little pricey for the above-average, but less than affluent, hobbyist hacker we have in mind. For similar reasons, I'll skip some of the more advanced -- and undeniably cool -- Pi-based devices like the 48-Pi Frozen Pi "bullet-time" effects camera, the 36-Pi Pi 3D Scanner, and the 15-Pi Twitter-triggered Photobooth. Other interesting Pi-array extravaganzas include the 18-pi, 18-Arduino FM Stream radio rack for streaming radio content to the Internet, and the University of Southhampton's 64-Pi Raspberry Pi Supercomputer.

Fire hero Raspberry PiSadly, I'll also have to bypass the Mens Amplio sculpture, which debuted at the latest Burning Man. This 15-foot tall model of a human brain features Pi-controlled light and flame affects derived from real-time input from an EEG headset.

The top 10 slide-show winners shown below are similarly inspired, but are more affordable. Almost all have a parts list in the hundreds of dollars, if not the tens of dollars. I'm omitting a few cool expansion shields that require custom PCB manufacturing, such as the OpenSprinkler Pi (OSPi) lawn-watering computer or the student-built AirPi weather station. (Fortunately for us lazier types, both are available for sale.) I'm also skipping the many cool projects that are primarily firmware based, such as the Onion Pi Tor proxy device or the Casandra cluster for the Pi.

Most of the projects shown below were published with full specs and source code, almost always accompanied by a YouTube video. Most can be found on the Raspberry Pi Foundation blog. Other good sources for Pi hacks include the Raspberry Pi Reddit page, the Makezine Raspberry Pi page, and the MagPi zine.

Top 10 Raspberry Pi Hacks

Below are links to source pages for this year's Top 10 Raspberry Pi Hacks, in alphabetical order. For the slideshow, click the Gallery button:


View Gallery

Bitcoin-operated Pool Table-- Liberty Games

CNC Laser Engraver-- Daniel Chai

Coffee Table Pi-- Graham Gelding

Feeder Tweeter-- Manifold

Fireball HD Pinball-- Ian Cole

Jack the Ripper Bot-- British Ideas

Ping Pong Robot-- Will Jessop

R2D2 Robot Powered by Raspberry Pi-- Lingxiang Xiang

#Upstagram-- Hackerloop

Ted Bull Stratos -- Dave Akerman 

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