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The Raspberry Pi: a beacon of British engineering, perhaps even a pinnacle of digital achievement, and based in Cambridge (where I interviewed Raspberry Pi Foundation lead Eben Upton back in 2013).
Doctor Who: a beacon of British television and certainly a pinnacle of storytelling on many occasions throughout its 52 year history, with strong links (including an abandoned, partly shot 1979 serial) to Cambridge.
Each are accutely British phenomena, crystallizations of the drive to achieve great results with minimal resources. They are, of course, a match made in heaven, so it’s no surprise to find that the popular Raspberry Pi has been used in several Doctor Who-themed projects.
K-9, The Shooty Dog Thing, Pi-Style
Back in 1977, influenced by Star Wars‘ droids C-3PO and R2-D2, Doctor Who’s producers decided to introduce a new robot companion for the Doctor in The Invisible Enemy (an episode written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin; Baker would later co-create Wallace & Gromit).
The robot, a dog punningly christened K-9, starred alongside the fourth Doctor Who, Tom Baker. It had a good run into 1981, and has since appeared in Doctor Who and even his own TV show, imaginatively called K-9.
Originally, K-9 was a radio-controlled prop. Over the years various toy versions have been released, and fans have built their own props, using bulky motors and servos, and little in the way of a brain. The Raspberry Pi, of course, changed all that.
Most notable, we think, is the supreme home-built K-9 from Richard Hopkins, which features a Raspberry Pi camera module and has a monitor mounted on the side, along with a wagging tail.
If you want to build your own K-9, you’re strongly advised to check Richard’s blog, where you will find everything you need to get started.
Beware: this is not a project for the faint of heart!
Also worth a mention, however, is William Reichard’s wood-built K-9 complete with a nose-mounted thermal printer; on TV back in the 1970s, the original K-9 had a ticker tape printer which output results as needed.
Doctor Who and the Daleks
The Daleks, created in 1963 by future MacGyver writer Terry Nation, are synonymous with Doctor Who, so a Raspberry Pi/Dalek mashup was somewhat inevitable.
Alan O’Donohoe‘s Twitter-powered Dalek is a sight to behold:
Details on how to achieve this are thin on the ground, although we suspect you would need to start with a Twitter-configured Pi that is able to respond to Tweeted commands.
Of course, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t extend this functionality to build a Twitter-powered K-9…
Open Doors with a Sonic PiDriver
The Sonic Screwdriver has had a charmed life, first appearing in 1967 as a, well, screwdriver, and evolving over the years into a remote key, mine detonator, and portable computer hacking device.
Put short, it’s a magic wand, a narrative tool to save the Doctor and friends from being locked up and give him the ability to reprogram computers without sitting down at a dull keyboard-and-monitor. Would it be possible to build a real screwdriver capable of removing screws with ultrasonics?
Don’t be ridiculous.
However, it is possible to build a Sonic Screwdriver with infra-red.
Here’s the TV-B-Gone sonic, which switches your TV off and on thanks to a chip that is programmed via your Raspberry Pi.
But it doesn’t end there.
Home automation is also possible with a Sonic Screwdriver. Here, Pat Hartl has modified a commercially available IR remote control in order to interact with RF-compatible power outlets.
The results are impressive, and can be seen here:
But if you truly want to open doors with a DIY Sonic Screwdriver with the help of your Raspberry Pi, the project demoed below uses the distinctive whirring of the Doctor’s handy sonic wand to open a an electronically locked door, equipped with a microphone.
The TARDIS in Orbit
While it might not be able to travel in time, this TARDIS can certainly travel in space. Well, near-Earth orbit to be precise (let’s be honest, time travel and dimensional transcendence are a little beyond even the versatile Raspberry Pi).
You probably know that it is possible to launch Raspberry Pis into space using a weather balloon, so Dave Akerman opted for a scaled down police box for his fourth unmanned mission, to store the Pi and battery pack. The build had to be light enough to go into orbit while being sturdy enough to support an external camera.
Here’s the launch:
And here you can see the Pi live streaming its own recovery!
4 Doctor Who Projects: What Can You Add?
Could one or more Raspberry Pis be used to automate a DIY TARDIS console?
Perhaps a Siri-like module could be installed to engage in conversation with a Raspberry Pi-powered Cybercontroller?
We’re sure that while the 4 projects detailed here are great, you might just have some ideas that can outdo them. Or perhaps you’ve spotted a top Doctor Who/Raspberry Pi mashup that we missed.
Either way, use the comments to tell us more!