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Your Raspberry Pi is versatile and at times amazing, but are you harnessing the full power of that little box?

Don’t be limited by those two USB 2.0 ports – the Raspberry Pi has a whole collection of official and third party expansions and components that can be connected via GPIO and other purpose-built connections.

We look at five examples that will take your Raspberry Pi projects to the next level.

Why Expand?

The Raspberry Pi is a great piece of kit, but it isn’t capable of doing everything we might want. For many components to be added, you might need a breadboard, connected to the Pi’s GPIO array, where the component can be placed.

Without a built-in camera, microphone, sound amplifier and other useful but non-essential components, you’ll be limited to standard computer-centric tasks (although you can enhance things considerably by connecting the Pi to an Arduino Home Automation with Raspberry Pi and Arduino Home Automation with Raspberry Pi and Arduino The home automation market is flooded with expensive consumer systems, incompatible with one another and costly to install. If you have a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino, you can basically achieve the same thing at... Read More ).

You’ll find that there are many components that can be added to your Raspberry Pi. Here’s a selection of five to get you started, all of which are available via Amazon.

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Raspberry Pi Camera Module ($24.00)

Probably the most well-known of all the Raspberry Pi’s expansion options is the camera module, launched in May 2013 and ideal for featuring in a range of camera-based projects, from building a security camera system Build a Motion Capture Security System Using a Raspberry Pi Build a Motion Capture Security System Using a Raspberry Pi Of the many projects that you can build with the Raspberry Pi, one of the most interesting and permanently useful is the motion capture security system. Read More to stop motion or time lapse How To Capture Time-Lapse Photography With Your Raspberry Pi and DSLR or USB Webcam How To Capture Time-Lapse Photography With Your Raspberry Pi and DSLR or USB Webcam Time-lapse photography can really give you a sense of how the world works on a macroscopic level, beyond anything conceivable to the normal human experience of time. Read More projects.

muo-rpi-expansions-webcam

It’s a compact 1.3 MP camera mounted on a small PCB around 1 square inch in size. This might seem a little bulky or inelegant when compared to other webcams, but this doesn’t stop it from being useful.

A piece of forward-thinking design means that the camera doesn’t use either of the much-needed USB ports. Instead, the webcam slots into a video-in connector intended specifically for this expansion. To use the camera you’ll need to be using an up-to-date version of Raspbian Optimize The Power Of Your Raspberry Pi With Raspbian Optimize The Power Of Your Raspberry Pi With Raspbian As befits a man with too much tech on his hands, I’ve been playing with my Raspberry Pi recently, configuring the device so that it works to its fullest potential. It continues to run as... Read More .

Also you might be interested in the nighttime version of the camera, a Night Vision Camera Module with the IR filter removed, which will need to be used in conjunction with an IR lamp. This is available for $35.99.

Electret Microphone Amp ($8.27)

Another component available for the Raspberry Pi is the Adafruit Electret Microphone Amp, a tiny microphone that connects via an inexpensive analog input (costing around a dollar) and a breadboard.

muo-rpi-expansions-mic

Various applications for the microphone exist, but be aware that it isn’t a multimedia mic. If you one for say, voice input – you should be looking at a standard USB microphone.

Instead, the electret microphone is more of an audio sensor than anything else, and can be used to detect noise to influence actions, from adjust the brightness of an LED to detecting footsteps or the presence of someone (sufficiently noisy) nearby.

TFT+Touchscreen ($29.64)

Ever thought of going portable with your Raspberry Pi, or find the use of SSH or VNC to be sluggish or just frustrating? If so, you’ve probably wondered how easy it would be to add a small LCD monitor to your device to gain instant visual access.

muo-rpi-expansions-tft

You’re not alone! Pimoroni stock the PiTFT Mini Kit, which comprises a 320×240 2.8 inch capacitive TFT+Touchscreen display, designed to sit on top of your Pi. Once connected (some soldering is required), all of a sudden your Raspberry Pi becomes a portable computer 3 Portable Options For The Raspberry Pi 3 Portable Options For The Raspberry Pi The Raspberry Pi – I just can’t stop tinkering with it. Fresh from setting it up as a media centre and a retro games console, I've recently started looking at the possibilities of the device... Read More , capable of playing back video using the touchscreen as an interface. Combined with the webcam, it could be a compact portable video camera.

Some customization of the touchscreen will probably be required, and the display is best suited for custom projects where a wireless connection and lugging a monitor around are impossible or inconvenient.

Amplified Stereo Speakers ($9.99)

The Adafruit Stereo Amplifier is an inexpensive board that connects to your Raspberry Pi, providing a link to any small (3-8?) stereo speakers you may have.

muo-rpi-expansions-amp

This can prove particularly useful if you use your Pi as a media centre How To Make Your Raspberry Pi Into a Home Theater System How To Make Your Raspberry Pi Into a Home Theater System Four weeks on and I’ve been playing with my Raspberry Pi in various ways, from using it to browse the web and standard day-to-day computing tasks to playing around with the various configurations that are... Read More (probably running XBMC or OpenElec) as the HDMI audio channel can be quiet. Using this amplifier requires a breadboard and some headphone cable stripping in order to create a suitable connection to your Raspberry Pi.

With the amplifier connected to your Pi’s VDD and GND pins, the headphone jack to the L and R channels, you’ll get some much-improved volume (here’s the wiring instructions).

Monitor & Predict The Weather ($9.95)

A final option to expand your Raspberry Pi into the world of sensors is the Adafruit BMP180, a barometric pressure sensor that is combined with a temperature sensor.

muo-rpi-expansions-weather2

 

As you’ve probably guessed, this enables you to monitor the weather and use prediction techniques (some based on probability) to forecast weather, short-term.

If home meteorology isn’t your cup of tea, however, you might use it as a trigger, setting it up for home automation to close windows when it starts to rain or open them when the temperature of your home is too high.

You’ll need a breadboard to connect the BMP180 to your Raspberry Pi.

What Did You Use To Take Your Raspberry Pi To The Next Level?

This is just a small selection of the options that are available for anyone interested in extending the capabilities of their Raspberry Pi.

Have you used the webcam, or setup the amplifier with some speakers? Perhaps you’re using the pressure and temperature sensor to build an AirPi weather station, or the electret microphone to create basic sound instructions that prompt a Pi-mounted robot to move.

Whatever your project and whatever the third party component, tell us about it below.

  1. Andy
    October 7, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Hi.
    If you want ultimate power saving (One of mine's gonna get stuck in a forest, powered by solar to photo. squirrels and maybe a bear...) checkout the SleepyPi http://spellfoundry.com/products/sleepy-pi/

  2. James Bruce
    October 4, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    test comment, should be submitting fine now and bypassing mod queue http://randomink1.com

  3. Evan Greenwald
    October 3, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    I haven't gotten one yet, but am curious since it is so small what are the power requirements? I have an idea, kinda stolen from someone else, about using it to program lights remotely so I can make signs and such, but there is no A/C power there...Can I use a DC/Battery source that can power it?

    Thanks All

  4. Ronald
    October 2, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    I'm using the rpi to control my model railway, through i2c with mcp23017 port expanders.
    Quite a lot of soldering, but great results.

    • Michael
      October 2, 2014 at 11:47 pm

      Once it's set up, is it pretty easy to use? If so any chance I could get some details on how you set that up? Would love to do that for my father-in-law, his whole basement is a train but he's not very computer literate.

    • Ronald
      October 5, 2014 at 11:58 am

      Well, first of all, my system is designed for dc analog, so if your father in law is using ac trains, like Marklin, or a digital system, it is not going to work.
      There is a lot of soldering resistors, transistors and diodes involved.
      And once it is set up, the Pi runs it's program, that needs to be programmed, and that's it.
      With a maximum of 8 mcp23017's, you have 128 i/o ports, so you could read for instance the occupance of 32 blocks and have 96 ports left to switch 48 signals or switches.
      I am putting instructions on my website, http://www.ronaldwilmink.nl, but they are in Dutch so far.
      If you are still interested, I will be happy to give you details.

      • Dave Presuhn
        August 23, 2016 at 4:57 pm

        I'm doing something similar, for Marklin. You are correct in that controlling direction, etc, is going to be challenging. However, I am using photocell sensors to detect train movement and a relay module to control switches. I am also planning on using the output module to control LEDs for an occupancy indicator.

        Soldering wire to the IoPi is a lot of work, however. I also labeled and tested each connection, which adds to being a little more fiddly.

    • Ronald
      October 6, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      I replied yesterday, but that comment didn't make it it seems.
      The way I do it you just have the Pi and electronics, no keyboard, mouse or monitor. You start the Pi, it automatically starts its program to control the railway. So once it is set up, yes, it is very easy to use.
      I'm putting details on my website ronaldwilmink.nl (in Dutch), there you will find my email address for questions and details.

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