Raspberry Pi: Top 37 projects to try yourself

The best projects to try with the Raspberry Pi and Raspberry Pi Zero

For those looking to learn more about computers, software development and building tiny machines, we recommend purchasing a Raspberry Pi and letting your imagination run wild.

It's a reasonably well-priced device, considering what you can do with it. It can help teach coding, or be a foundation for more advanced programming. As such, many people, from school kids to fully-fledged developers have used the device to build a variety of machines and functions.

According to the Raspberry Pi foundation, more than five million devices were sold by 2015, making it one of the best-selling British computers. It's extremely popular in schools where children, or older students, can build up computer skills. 

It's also, unfortunately, a pretty nifty bit of kit for hackers, due in part to its size, portability and power. But really, that just goes to show how impressive it is.

For the more morally sound users, it's a route into robotics, software development and a whole host of technical skills that would otherwise cost thousands of pounds in education fees.

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If you're looking for inspiration to start your own Raspberry Pi project, then you've come to the right place because we have compiled some of the best use cases around to give you some ideas.

If you're interested in learning more about Raspbian, the operating system that powers the Raspberry Pi, we've put together this handy explainer.

Create a portable security box

The portability and affordability of the Pi has made it a popular tool for red-teamers (people paid to break into security systems), penetration testers and other security personnel. Because it has a built-in Ethernet port, minimal power requirements and the ability to run any Linux software, it's ideal for sneakily integrating with target networks.

The software of choice for security operatives aiming to use the Pi in this manner is Kali, a Linux distro that's specifically built for hacking tasks. There's a purpose-built version of Kali for the Raspberry Pi, and installing it is relatively easy: check out our tutorial for a full guide to installing Kali on Raspberry Pi.

Once you've got Kali installed, not only can you use it in your security operations, you can also use it as a safe space to play around with new tools without risking damage to your primary machine - although, as always, you should only be hacking targets that have given you express permission.

Host a Wordpress site on Raspberry Pi

Hosting your own website is a great project for familiarising yourself with the Raspberry Pi. Running a Wordpress server will teach you how to work with MySQL, PHP and Apache software, as well as the practicalities of working with Linux.

WordPress app icon on iOS device

Not only that, but at the end of it, you'll also have a working Wordpress website that you can use to host your own content on! You'll need to register a domain name if you want it to be a proper website, but it's a great place to display things like CVs, creative portfolios or something as simple as a personal blog. For a comprehensive and in-depth guide to getting Wordpress up and running on the Pi, check out the Raspberry Pi Foundation's tutorial.

Install full Windows 10 on Raspberry Pi 3

The Windows on ARM (WoA) installer, available on GitHub, can be used to install Microsoft's operating system on the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B or B+ boards. Previously, only the stripped-down Windows IoT Core operating systems were available on Raspberry Pi devices, but this new package offers the functionality of a full Windows 10 OS.

The installer is available on GitHub and is designed for simplicity and ease of use, requiring bundled binaries and the WoA core package.

YouTuber Novaspirit Tech posted a tutorial for installing Windows 10 on Raspberry Pi 3.

You'll need a set of binaries and software, all available on the GitHub page. You'll also need a Raspberry Pi 3 B or B+, a Windows 10 ARM64 image, which can be found linked on the GitHub page, and a decent microSD card with at least 16 GB of storage and an A1 rating.

Run Windows 10 IoT Core on Raspberry Pi

Fancy running an internet of things version of Windows 10 on your Raspberry Pi? With Windows 10 IoT Core, you can run a stripped back version of the operating system on the microcomputer.

Although it would be great to run the full version of the operating system on the Raspberry Pi Model B+, it doesn't have the processing power with just a 1GB of RAM and a 1.4GHz ARM-based processor.

So enter Windows 10 IoT Core, a basic version of Microsoft's OS that has been designed for running on less powerful platforms. It's actually a lightweight IoT app that allows you to run a single UWP app at a time. You don't need a licence unless you want to commercialise your creations and only very limited equipment is needed.

First up, you'll need Raspberry Pi 3 and a spare microSD card - plus a separate Windows computer with a microSD card reader. You'll also need Visual Studio, a text editor, the SDKs, add-ons, and certificates.

OK, so this may seem quite a lot, but at least you won't need to spend too much cash to start running Windows 10 IoT Core.

First, you'll need to set up the memory card for the Raspberry Pi you're using. You can make this easier with the New Out Of Box Software (NOOBS) installer. Create a bootable card from a Windows PC or laptop using Microsoft's IoT Dashboard app.

You can now set up the device using the Broadcom Raspberry Pi 2 & 3 option and OS build (Windows 10 IoT Core), then specify a password, choose a Wi-Fi network and install the OS onto the Raspberry Pi-compatible memory card.

Insert this into your Raspberry Pi and then you're ready to boot your device with the latest version of Windows IoT Core. For full instructions, follow our in-depth guide.

Set up Raspberry Pi as a VPN server

A VPN allows you to mask your online identity so your activity can't be tracked as you browse the internet, download content or participate in conversations. VPNs can be used on regular computers too and the process is pretty much the same when using a micro-computer like Raspberry Pi. There are lots of VPN programs available for Raspberry Pi, including Express VPN, HideMy Ass, IPVanish and  SaferVPN. 

But what takes this to the next level is using your Raspberry Pi as a VPN server creating a personal VPN hotspot to stop information about your identity being passed on to any website used on your network. By installing a client on the Raspberry Pi, connect it to your router and it'll scramble your identity before it hits the external network.

To set your Raspberry Pi up as a VPN server, first install Raspbian to access the command line and then you can use the PiVPN script to install a VPN client to protect your communications. We recommend using OpenVPN as your VPN client, although it can be used with lots of others too. For more detailed instructions to set your Raspberry Pi up as a VPN server, you can follow the guide on our sister site, Cloud Pro.

Host an Apache server

One of the easiest and most practical uses of the Raspberry Pi is as a low-cost web server, which you can use to host simple websites. Cloud-based hosting is arguably easier and more practical, but setting up a basic server is an excellent way to get to grips with server and networking technology.

You'll need to pick which software you use to power your server, and Apache is one of the most popular options. Apache is open source, and free to download and use - the software is estimated to power almost 40% of all of the active websites in the world. The raspberry Pi foundation has created a handy guide to setting up an Apache server on the Pi, which you can find here.

Create a captive portal for your guest Wi-Fi

Captive portals are pieces of network software that restrict access to a network until the user who's attempting connect has undertaken some action - usually logging in, or agreeing to a set of terms and conditions. If you've ever used the guest Wi-Fi at a hotel, airport or coffee shop, you've almost certainly used a captive portal.

You can use a Raspberry Pi to create a captive portal for your own guest Wi-Fi network, which can be used to increase security, collect data and add an air of polish and professionalism to your network. You can use this in-depth guide to set up your captive portal, but be warned that it's a fairly complex process.

Give Pi some facial recognition

This project uses a Raspberry Pi to carry out facial recognition. Using a camera module add-on and some code, you can quickly set up a Raspberry Pi to recognise someone's face. In this case, the developer used a number of images of his face and also those of actor Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park to train the system.

Unfortunately, this one isn't for beginners, as you need to have knowledge of coding, or at least some basic principles. Fortunately, this project follows on from a tutorial on how to set up a facial recognition system using OpenCV, Python and deep learning.

More details on how to set this up can be found in this pretty comprehensive, but easy to follow guide.

Build a PiBot

Arguably one of the most impressive of all the amazing projects you can undertake is the fact that you can put together a Raspberry Pi-powered robot. You'll need a couple of things to get started, but can shortcut the process by getting a ready-made kit.

Such kits can take many forms, of course, and ranges from cheap and cheerful models to the highly technical professional creations that really bring the 'wow' factor. For instance, one team created a PiTank with a functioning ping-pong ball cannon, in a bid to demonstrate the potential for PiBots.

You can find out more in our guide to building a Raspberry Pi robot, including a breakdown on the components you need, and step-by-step instructions.

Build your own Raspberry Pi-powered laptop

Understanding how computers work is the whole idea behind the Raspberry Pi, so what better way to do so than by constructing your very own laptop? You need to check out the Pi-Top, a creative kit that allows you to build your very own laptop powered by the little Raspberry Pi.

It includes a 14in 1080p screen, a complete full-sized keyboard, a trackpad and an internal cavity where you can fit in your own electronic creations. The Pi-Top is great for absolutely anyone who wants to jump into the world of hobby computing. And the best part? You get a fully-functional laptop at the end of it to play around with.

Create a home-made Nintendo Switch

Nintendo's newest console, the portable Nintendo Switch, has made a huge splash with fans anxious to get their hands on it. However, limited supplies of the device have meant that many have been sadly disappointed. If you haven't been lucky enough to pick one up, fear not you can simply follow in one enterprising student's footsteps and build your own home-made version out of a Raspberry Pi!

The 'NinTIMdo RP' uses a 3D-printed case to house a 7in touchscreen and controller buttons, and runs the popular RetroPie emulation software. It may not actually play Nintendo Switch games or feature any of the fancy features like removable motion controllers, but as portable retro consoles go, it's one of the more inventive ones.

Make the Raspberry Pi 3 10mm thinner

A well-known hardware hacker called 'Node' has managed to shrink the Raspberry Pi 3 down from 17mm thick to 7mm, calling his invention the Raspberry Pi 3 Slim. Node explained he wanted to create a device with more power than the Pi Zero, but the same rough size and this meant removing the majority of the ports and unnecessary components from the microcomputer.

To ensure the modified Raspberry Pi 3 could still achieve Node's target of allowing it to operate without a display, keyboard, or mouse attached, he sawed off the existing USB and Ethernet ports and replaced them with three micro USB ports soldered inside the case.

"The main point of this, besides my obsession with making electronics smaller, is to create an easy, plug and plug headless computer," Node explained on his blog.

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"Depending on what you're doing it could work well for a general headless system or server application. The small size also means it's more portable, and I could imagine it working well for some kind of wireless access point, piratebox or a general node of some sort."

He's now made the designs available to download for those who have a 3D printer and wish to reduce the size of their Raspberry Pi 3.

Build a miniature camcorder

You can use the Raspberry Pi Zero to build a tiny camcorder. Devised by Wayne Keenan, the PiCorder uses a Pimoroni HyperPixel screen, Pi Zero camera module, and Zero LiPo plus LiPo battery pack

With a bit of soldering, you have the hardware gubbins ready to go. All you need then is to install the HyperPixel driver on the Pi, and you are ready to record. The HyperPixel also sports a touchscreen, so you can add a graphical user interface to control it better if you like. 

What it could do with, perhaps, is a case to protect the components. That would be an extra project for anyone looking to build a camera like this.

Image Credit: Wayne Keenan

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