Raspberry Pi’s summer guide

Summer is that time of year when we tend to relax and do nothing, but also when we have more free time. We can take advantage of this free time to do all those things we normally have no time to deal with during the rest of the year like summer projects and learn new things. And, if we have children, we can plan a summer workshop for Raspberry Pi with them and have some memorable holidays learning about computers and doing a thousand things together.

In this post we will see a few projects for Raspberry Pi, alone or with in company with others, and enjoy our free time while having fun and learning a few things.

Learning programming with Scratch

We should bear in mind that Raspberry Pi is a complete computer, and not so long ago desktop computers were less powerful than the board created by Eben Upton. Learning to program and make a simple game can be an excellent project and, although it may seem difficult a priori, Scratch is available as a visual programming language and it’s been created precisely for kids to take their first steps into IT.

If you want to know more things about Scratch, there’s nothing like checking these tutorials for all ages or directly at Scratch to see some examples and even modify them at their own website.

The good news is that at Raspbian official image Scratch has been already installed, so that we can easily get to learn this programming language once we burn the image on the SD card and we put it in the Raspberry Pi.

Creating our own computer

Let’s not forget that in order to operate the Raspberry Pi as a desktop computer we will need a keyboard, a mouse, and a screen. Another interesting project would be creating our own computer, and there are actually some kits to complement Raspberry Pi with everything you need. For example, there’s Kano, that includes a keyboard with trackpad, the cables, a box, a pre-installed SD card and even a loudspeaker so that the children can mount everything and have their own computer built by themselves.

Thanks to Raspberry Pi 2 increased power we can enjoy decent Internet browsing, using freeware office communication software and many other things.

And if we’re looking for something more professional, I already wrote at Xataka Smart Home how thanks to Motorola’s Lapdoch being more affordable, we can have a good keyboard, a good screen and even the battery to supply the power for our Raspberry Pi at a low cost. You can take a look at the whole process at the entry on Lapdock, the first steps , and the final configuration.

Timelapse and Raspberry Pi

I’m still busy with the project I started during my last holidays. Raspberry Pi offers a couple of very interesting cameras, a infrarred one and a normal one, so that we can make timelapse videos.

Yes, those videos where everything seems to move faster than normal, clouds travel very fast across the sky and we change our timescale to see the world with different eyes. The trick is to program Raspberry Pi with a script to take pictures with one of the cameras and the frequency we choose, and then using all those pictures as frames and make a video. We can even create the video in the Raspberry Pi. Here is my last holiday’s timelapse.

The project is perfect for working with children. We can create a junction box to avoid a summer storm ruining our project (a meal box would be okay), we can choose locations for the pictures and set the weather. After that we can check how often we want to take the pictures and the length of our video, take a look at the weather, the sunrise and the sundown, etc.

Even if we don’t want it to be too complicated by programming the Raspberry Pi, there are some apps for iOS and for Android to control the camera that simplify the process. We only need a Raspberry Pi, a memory card, a high-quality cell phone battery, and Raspberry Pi’s camera, as well as a box that protects our project from varying weather conditions and that is stable enough not to move with the wind. I can also guarantee unique summer memories that will last forever.

Observing nature with a real-time surveillance camera

Do you find yourself in the middle of the country and you want to take pictures when you spot an animal? Or do you want to go away for holidays without worries by making a home surveillance system that uploads pictures in case of detecting movement? No problem. That’s what they suggest at Pubnub, a surveillance system with a few elements and easy to mount and program.

Besides, we will have the chance to connect the PIR detector to the Raspberry Pi GPIO pins and even use OpenCV for face detection. At Pubnub they have used this for fun, changing the faces of those spotted in the pictures. Interesting.

We set up a FM broadcasting station

My colleague Javier Pastor talked about in this Xataka entry how to set up a FM station with the Raspberry Pi. It’s indeed an interesting project to make with the children and also to use that FM receiver we have at home and get rid of summer hits. To set up our little FM broadcasting station we will need a regular cable connected to one of the Raspberry Pi GPIO pins, SD card where we’ll install the PiFM software at Raspbian, and we’ll have our station ready, which can work in frequencies from 1 MHz up to 250 MHz, although it’s recommended to stick to the standard FM band from 87,5 to 108,0 MHz so that we don’t interfere with other frequencies.

Mounting and programming our first robot thanks to Raspberry Pi

There are numerous robotic kits with more or less elements but there is much more to be done if we’re taking the first steps in this field. Just by searching “Raspberry Pi Robot Kit” at Google a lot of kits appear with different prices and possibilities, like for example this one from 4Tronix or there ones from PiBorg or GoPiGo.

Taking to our holiday resort a lot of funny films in a media center

One of the main uses for Raspberry Pi, besides its clear educational vocation, is to be used as a multimedia center. Raspberry Pi, and especially its second version, is powerful enough to play full HD video through its HDMI connector. We have two main options: KODI and PLEX.

KODI is a complete player, as within the software we have the possibility to play audio and video, let alone a lot of additional plug-ins that complement KODI’s functionality. I myself prefer Openelec‘s distribution, because of its support and optimization, but other options are XBian and OSMC.

RasPlex in Raspberry Pi is a distribution ready to be burned in a SD card that comes with a PLEX client. The client will connect to our computer or network disk where PLEX server program will be run, playing video contents by streaming and coding on the go.

We can even add an LCD display to our media center and put it in a box to give it a professional look. You can also check the guide I wrote at Xataka Smart Home about it in this entry. For this purpose, I used a display with USB connection, so that if you don’t feel ready to just plug cables to the Raspberry Pi you won’t have any issue here.

Learning to play Minecraft together

I have to say I haven’t spent much time on Minecraft. But it’s one of the games with the most followers in the world, a lot of books and guides have been written about it and if Microsoft bought it for only 2,5000 million dollars there must be a reason behind it. Minecraft runs well on Raspbian and it’s even pre-installed in the Raspberry Pi recommended operating system, so that it will be pretty easy to start enjoying this game.

You can find a lot of guides and information to make the most of this game. I recommend to check this guide included in the Raspberry Pi official guides and resources.

Retro video games with Raspberry Pi

Showing to the kids those video games we used to play when we were their age and play with them surely brings back nostalgia and also provides a lot of unforgettable together this summer. Besides many other distributions, LAKKA or RetroArch, two excellent options to play retro games that simplify the whole installing process, are available. Actually, if we have some random input devices at home, like XBOX360 or PS3 ones, we just have to plug them per USB, add the ROMs of the games we want to play and enjoy as never before.

A thousand ideas for the holidays

The possibilities of this little computer seem to multiply during summer, especially if the kids are at home. We shouldn’t forget that’s Raspberry Pi’s main aim, to learn IT to children and that they enjoy themselves while doing so. With all these projects, you will succeed and have fun. We have chosen those ones that have no difficulty whatsoever when it comes to connections and hardware, but you should know there are many others online and thanks to the network of networks many others are possible.

I’ll just name a few, like a voice assistant with Raspberry Pi, a music player with Spotify controlled by the cell phone, and my current summer project, using Raspberry Pi to make a multi effect pedal for electric guitar using Guitarix and Jack.

For just a $40 Raspberry Pi, and some stuff we already have at home like a memory card and a cell charger, we have the foundation for many hours of entertainment and learning.


Originally published at www.xataka.com on August 8, 2015.