So, you’re starting to learn how to use your Raspberry Pi 4 board, and you may be wondering: what can you do with your Pi? What fun project can you start, and what can this project teach you so you’re progressing while building something?
In this post I’ll give you some things to do with Raspberry Pi, some project ideas that can help you decide how and where to start.
Note: even if this post is targeted to Raspberry Pi 4, most of the projects still work with previous versions of the board, such as Raspberry Pi 2 & Raspberry Pi 3.
The following projects do not follow any particular order, feel free to skim through and see what you like!
Learning Python 3 programming
If your project is simply to learn Python 3 – which is a very good and smart first step when you’re a complete beginner, then you can do this directly on your Raspberry Pi board!
In fact, the environment on the Raspberry Pi OS is already fully ready for you to use Python3, and you can start to write code on a very easy-to-use IDE (Integrated Development Environment), called Thonny IDE. Setting up Python can be a real pain, but not with Raspberry Pi OS.
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This is great because not only you will learn how to program with Python3, but also you will become familiar with the Raspberry Pi, its functionalities, and this will help you see what you like doing for your next project.
Robotics with ROS
The Raspberry Pi board is the perfect computer to embed in your robot. The footprint is very small – credit card size – and it’s powerful enough to run some advanced programs, algorithms, and frameworks, for example ROS, OpenCV, etc.
ROS, which means Robot Operating System, is a middleware/framework you can use to kick-start any robotics application. And the good news: ROS is fully supported for the Raspberry Pi!
Instead of using the default Raspberry Pi OS, you’ll have to install Ubuntu on your Pi. Don’t worry, Ubuntu is officially supported and working without any problem.
Using Raspberry Pi 4 + ROS2 (ROS2 is the new version of ROS) will allow you to program any robot: mobile robot, robotic arm, drone, boat, etc.
So, if you like robotics or mechatronics, then your Raspberry Pi may become your best ally in your future projects!
Home Automation and IoT
The goal here is to be able to control electrical appliances in your home: lights, TV, audio system, shutters, and so on.
You can also connect your Pi to existing systems such as Alexa or Google Home.
If you can manage to connect devices to your Pi, then you have a centralized place to decide what to do to synchronize them. The result can be quite impressive and your house will become “smarter”.
For home automation you can also use existing software systems provided by home automation companies – some of those systems might be free (and open source), others not.
So, the most basic thing you can do is to install such a software on your Pi. And if you want to get more control and more fun trying to understand how things work, you can implement a solution by yourself.
Home automation is one example of a practical project you can do with IoT (Internet of Things). Now, IoT goes much further than this. In fact, almost all Raspberry Pi projects listed in this post can be considered IoT projects.
Security and alarm system
With a movement detection sensor – such as a PIR (Passive InfraRed) sensor – you can easily detect movement from your Raspberry Pi and take some actions accordingly:
- Take a picture using the Pi camera module.
- Send an email with Python programming.
- Send a notification to your phone.
- Take some other action such as turning on a light (related to the previous part on home automation and IoT).
This Raspberry Pi project is a very fun project to work on when you begin. It will make you learn a lot about some of the best features of the Raspberry Pi.
If you also get the Pi camera module with your board, then the amount of projects you can do is multiplied tenfold.
For example you can implement a face recognition system, using the camera, Python3, and OpenCV.
This system can be used to unlock stuff (ex: a locked drawer, a door, a session on a computer) depending on who is in front of the camera. Or to sort your personal photos, one album for each person of your family or friends. You can use face recognition in a live situation with the camera, or through a set of already existing pictures and photos.
This project is more expensive, but also very cool. With a smart mirror you can combine many different projects: face recognition, home automation, etc.
The basic idea is to make a mirror “smarter”, by adding dynamic information on it. That can be the weather, some reminders or todo list for the day, etc. But also you can personalize what’s displayed on the mirror depending on the person – using face recognition. If you have multiple people living in your home, then every one can have their own “profile” on the Raspberry Pi smart mirror.
Also you could go further and use augmented reality. For example, when you look on the mirror, you could add filter, or even virtual clothes, just like you would set clothes in The Sims video game.
Small server hosting + VPN
You can also host a server in your Raspberry Pi, and get access to it from anywhere in the world.
You are developing a web or a mobile application, and you want to test it quickly? Host it on your Pi!
You can even host a Minecraft server if you want to.
And you can also host a VPN server, so you can safely connect to your web server from anywhere in the world.
Doing this Raspberry Pi project will teach you a lot about network – IP addresses, DNS, VPN, etc.
Raspberry Pi NAS
If you have some hard drives and you don’t know how to easily get access to the files – photos, videos, music, etc – stored inside, then you can use your Raspberry Pi to do just that.
Connect the hardware drives to your Raspberry Pi and use the Pi to monitor the content from the drives.
Then, you will be able to access those files at anytime, either by being connected to the same Wi-Fi network as your Pi, or through the Internet, using a VPN for encryption.
If you want to get into ethical hacking, the Raspberry Pi is a great board to start with. You can easily switch between different operating systems and environments, by using multiple micro SD cards. Or also install multiple OSes on the same SD card.
The Raspberry Pi is really affordable to start doing some hacking, and it’s also very easy to take your Raspberry Pi anywhere with you.
To start, you can first look at how to install and configure Kali Linux. This OS contains a lot of hacking tools ready to be used.
Retro gaming console
Many people have worked to make this happen, and now you can find free and open source emulators for old gaming consoles. So, what you need is to build the mechanical setup, install an emulator, and start playing!
For example, the RetroPie software turns your Pi into a retro gaming machine. You can install RetroPie on top of an operating system (for example Raspberry Pi OS), or directly download and install an image containing everything you need.
Replace home and cast assistants
You have an Alexa, a Google Home ? Or you’re using a Chromecast to cast videos to your TV?
Well, if you have a Raspberry Pi, you can easily configure it to replace any of those assistants. You will have to use a proper connector (ex: HDMI cable for the TV), install some software (some are free, others not) on the Pi, and start running it.
Then, because you’ll have much more control, you can go further and add any functionality you want. You can find many open source projects for home assistants, which are highly customizable.
Basically, the more control you want, the harder the project will be, because you’ll go off the beaten path. But also, the more things you can learn!
Raspberry Pi 4 project ideas: now pick one and get started!
Well, that’s a lot of different projects you can start with your Raspberry Pi 4 board.
Some projects are easier, others make you learn a lot, some are less/more expensive, etc.
This list is not exhaustive, you can find (and also imagine!) many more projects. But if you were looking for things to do with Raspberry Pi, here you have a good starting point. There is at least one project on that list made for you: now you just need to choose one and put in the time and energy to make it happen!
Also, for most of the projects, you can usually go the easy way – which is installing already existing software – or the hard way – building the whole system by yourself. This is great because you can get results, whether you prefer having something that just works, or building things by yourself. The latter option will of course make you learn and progress more with Raspberry Pi, programming, web development, hacking, network, and so on.