Since its first appearance a couple of years ago, the Raspberry Pi has been used in ways that its creators could never have imagined. Intended as an educational device, in the tradition of the venerable BBC Micro, the tiny computer found favor with the burgeoning maker and hacker cultures, who exercised their ingenuity and put the Raspberry Pi to use in many imaginative scenarios.
While the Pi’s use by hobbyist hackers is impressive in its own right, it’s also a bellwether for the growing utilization of ARM SOCs outside of their traditional application in mobile devices like the iPhone and Android smartphones. These powerful yet low-power systems on a chip are being hailed as the solution to everything from excessive power-consumption in the data center to nascent Internet Of Things.
If you’ve not yet grasped the potential of these low-cost yet relatively high-powered devices, take a look at some of the projects people have been using their Pi’s for.
Alright, this one’s not so unexpected. A Pi makes for an excellent web server. If you’re a follower of the InterWorx blog, you’ll be aware that this is how we used our pair of Raspberry Pi’s. The pi.interworx.com site runs on a pair of Pi’s clustered with InterWorx. Of course, a web server needn’t be merely for serving a website; it’s also a convenient way of accessing the device to send it commands and configuration instructions, which is exactly what several of the other application we’re going to look at do.
While it is possible to set up a Raspberry Pi server at home, and use dynamic DNS to keep it connected, if that’s not enough for you, there are companies, like Edis, offering Raspberry Pi colocation.
High-Altitude Photography Image: Dave Akerman
This is one of our favorites. Dave Akerman, a high-altitude ballooning enthusiast, coupled his Pi with a radio transmitter, a GPS receiver, and a webcam, hitched the whole shebang to a high-altitude balloon, and sent it to the edge of space — an altitude of just under 40 km (24.8 miles). Impressively, the Pi was recovered unharmed.
A Lego Super Computer Cluster
While each Pi is not super powerful on its own, they can be easily clustered together to make a powerful machine. And, if you’re going to cluster a bunch of tiny computers, what better way to house them than Lego.
Professor James Cox, of the University of Southampton, and his son constructed a fairly powerful machine by clustering 64 Raspberry Pi’s in a Lego framework. It’s not going to find its way onto the super computer Top 500, but it’s an interesting example of a technique which is being explored by server manufacturers like Calxeda, who are building powerful enterprise-grade clusters of ARM SOCs for the data center.
Home automation has long been a dream of geeks, and the Raspberry Pi has made it fairly inexpensive to deploy the small computers and sensors that a good home automation system requires. One of the most interesting projects uses a program called SiriProxy running on a Raspberry Pi to enable voice control of various home automation functions.
If you created a Venn diagram for beer brewers and hardware hackers, there’d be a significant intersection, so it’s no surprise that Pi’s have been put to work monitoring the progress of fermentation. The Pi’s ability to be connected to a range of different sensors make it perfect for monitoring and controlling the brewing process, one example of which is the BrewPi temperature controller.
If you’d rather be drinking than brewing, there’s also a project for creating a Pi-based beer tap list.
We’d love to hear about how you are putting your Raspberry Pi to work. Let us know about your projects in the comments.