10 of the Best Raspberry Pi Zero Projects So Far

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Revolutionizing pretty much every Raspberry Pi project so far, the Pi Zero’s compact form factor but lack of full-size USB and Ethernet ports make it attractive and challenging in equal measure. But despite it only being available since December 2015 (and even then, in short supply), the Pi Zero has had a huge impact.

If you managed to get one, and you’re looking for projects or inspiration for your $5 personal computer, here are ten great Raspberry Pi Zero projects to get you started.

PiSaber

With this Python script, a pool noodle and some LEDs, you can take the first step into becoming a Jedi by building your own lightsaber! Richard Hayler shows you how.

pisaber construction photo

The idea is simple: you mount the Pi Zero plus a battery into one end of the pool noodle, along with a few LEDs to create the appearance of an illuminated lightsaber. Safer than the plastic toys, this is a great bit of DIY fun that you can enhance by decorating the “handle” end and if you have enough length, you might be able to build two pool noodle PiSabers.

This is the Droid You’re Looking For

While you can’t quite squeeze the PiSaber into it, this R2-D2-inspired project is another favorite with Star Wars fans.

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Known as R2P10, this features the Pi mounted on the back of a robotized R2-D2 toy (it appears to include the wheels and motors from the CamJam3 kit) and utilizes the Explorer pHAT board, which sits atop the Pi Zero (connecting to the GPIO, so make sure you have soldered the pins on!)

Teaming up the Pi Zero with a HAT and a toy like this is a great way to get started with robotics, and with the Explorer pHAT sensors, you should be able to program the droid to move autonomously and avoid objects.

A Compact Pi Laptop

We’ve already seen how the Raspberry Pi can – in some circumstances – be used as a desktop computer. So you won’t be surprised to learn that it can also become the heart of a laptop. Various projects have come to light, from a Motorola Lapdock that has had a Pi Zero retro-fitted to the chassis.

Indeed, it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that any old laptop could be given new life with the help of a Raspberry Pi Zero.

Meanwhile, to see just what can be achieved with a portable Raspberry Pi Zero, take a look at the Pi Top project, which is a ready-to-buy Raspberry Pi 2 laptop.

Make an FM Radio

Possibly one of the most audacious, ground-based Raspberry Pi projects yet, the FM Radio we demonstrated previously can be adapted for the Pi Zero. All you need to do is ensure you have soldered pins to the GPIO, and then follow our earlier guide.

Above, the folk at MAKE demonstrate how to adapt the project.

The MakeUseOf team would urge you to take care where you build this project, as in many parts of the world transmitting on the FM band is a serious offence, carrying heavy fines and possibly imprisonment.

Word Clock

Developed by David Saul, this Word Clock project uses Python code (available from GitHub) to display the time on an 8 x 8 LED matrix, with clever use of a printer to create the characters to sit on the matrix. A MAX7219 is included to drive the 8 x 8 LED matrix, while another small component, the RTC, ensures the Word Clock keeps the right time.

PiBorg 4Borg

Robot builds have enough to worry about when it comes to weight and battery power, so the almost feather light qualities of the Pi Zero are obvious.

We’ve seen several robotics projects, from the R2-D2 clone above to one using the CamJam3 kit to power a Raspberry Pi Zero controlled matchbox. No, you read that right.

But we think the PiBorg 4Borg shown here is the best Pi Zero robot yet, and while the components might be expensive at around $70, you’re paying for good quality that you should be able to get years of enjoyment from.

Remote Controlled Smart Drone

Drones are all the rage (even if you have to pay silly money to get one with a >2MP camera), and in the video below you can see one that features a Raspberry Pi Zero and PXFmini, an autopilot shield.

Using the APM flight stack (software for managing the flight and in-air control of a drone or other RC craft), this drone is a superb example of how the low weight of the Raspberry Pi Zero (just 9 g/0.32 oz compared with 45 g/1.6 oz for the Raspberry Pi 2) is used to the advantage of the project.

USB Hub

While it might not have the glamour of Star Wars or the convenience of a clock, this USB hub is actually quite important because it makes the Raspberry Pi Zero instantly more usable.

Sure, the slimline dimensions of the tiny Pi Zero might be very useful when it comes to projects like the Smart Drone, where weight and size are major factors, but in most other cases, having an immediately accessible hub of USB inputs will prove very useful for things like a keyboard, mouse and wireless Internet. You might even connect other USB devices, perhaps Bluetooth to adapt the PiBeacon project, or a USB webcam.

Pi Zero and the IoT

We’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating: the little Raspberry Pi Zero is revolutionizing projects, none more than those in the smart home/Internet of Things sphere.

Various sensors are available for the Raspberry Pi, and by connecting them to the GPIO on the Pi Zero you can make good use of them. One such example is the Energenie Pi Mote, a Raspberry Pi Hat that can be paired with the standard Energenie remote socket and MiHome monitor.

The result is that as well as being able to control the socket remotely, the energy used by appliances connected to it can be monitored (thanks to the pyenergie library), and behaviors altered appropriately.

Compact AirPlay Speaker

We’ve already shown you how to make an AirPlay speaker with a Raspberry Pi, and thanks to the Raspberry Pi Zero you can make it even more compact.

Using a Pimoroni pHat Dac running Shairport, regular Pi hacker and YouTuber Stuff with Kirby creates a wireless AirPlay speaker, enabling him to stream sound from iTunes to a speaker across the room. The beauty of using the Raspberry Pi Zero for this rather than a standard Pi is that the smaller computer means you can co-opt smaller speakers. While the Pi Zero requires some soldering – the pHat utilizes the GPIO pins which don’t come attached – this is a fun project that will keep you entertained long after you’re done. If you’re not using an existing speaker, meanwhile, you can build your own, as demonstrated here.



That’s ten from us, but have you stumbled across a great Pi Zero project? Perhaps you’re working on one yourself? Share it with us in the comments!

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