2017 was a great year for the Raspberry Pi. Now in its sixth year, the platform has been constantly improved and updated with software patches and even whole new operating systems to get the most out of these miniature marvels.
DIY tinkerers and coders have also been busy, creating ever more impressive projects with the Pi. Today we round up some of the best projects from the past year and try to pick an overall winner for the greatest Raspberry Pi project of 2017.
These projects represent projects which have blown us away in their innovation, scale, and practical use.
1. Alexa and Raspberry Pi
The Amazon Echo and Echo Dot took off in a big way last year, and hot on the heels of its rise were the folks trying to integrate Alexa voice control into their Smart Home setups. The Raspberry Pi is already known as a go to device for home automation so it is completely natural that people immediately started combining them!
There have been hundreds of awesome proof of concept builds, but the one that really caught our eye was from the Mike and Lauren YouTube channel. A simple project incorporating a Raspberry Pi, an Amazon Echo, and a relay board controls multiple objects in the work space, along with the camera’s record function. With a single voice command, everything is ready to go!
This setup takes all of the theory behind basic home automation and puts it together into a practical project. It also showcases how it is possible for people who haven’t got too much experience coding to still create useful DIY Smart Home builds. This same principle could be used to completely change the way one interacts with their home.
2. Goodbye Echo, Hello Alexa Pi!
Amazon’s Alexa, the brains behind the Echo and Echo dot can switch bodies it seems. By registering for a free Amazon developer account, you can create your own Echo using a Raspberry Pi, a USB microphone and a speaker. This idea has been taken on by many people, but one of the clearest step by step tutorials for this project comes from Gus at PiMyLifeUp.
This project gives anyone with an Amazon account, a Pi and a USB mic or webcam the ability to use the full range of Alexa functions.
Alongside Alexa, 2017 was a big year for the Google Home system too. YouTuber Sid’s E Classroom has been working with the Google Assistant SDK for some time, creating a custom project called GassistPi. This impressive project links the Google Assistant API to the Raspberry Pi, with both local and cloud based commands.
As well as the many media integrations that were already possible using the Google Home hardware, GassistPi adds GPIO support. This project is one of the best all in one projects for voice activated Home Automation we have ever seen. It is well documented, simple to install, and worth looking into for anyone interested in having a voice activated assistant without paying for expensive hardware.
You can find the full project with instructions on the GassistPi github page.
4. Zelda Smart Home
With 2017 being the year that Alexa and Google home truly broke through into the mainstream, it was inevitable that there would be projects linked to these devices. That isn’t to say that there weren’t amazing Smart Home projects that did not rely on these services as a backbone. This Zelda themed, Ocarina triggered Smart Home is one of the coolest things we have seen… ever.
This is the creation of YouTuber Allen Pan, and combines so many great elements. From using Servos creatively to achieve physical tasks around the home, to using our beloved NodeMCU boards as remote triggering devices, to the Raspberry Pi at the heart of the project, this is everything we love about home brewed DIY automation projects.
The software behind this project is stand alone and doesn’t rely on a cloud based library for the note recognition. Check out the full making of video to see how this marvel of Hyrule was achieved:
Smart Home builds and ideas have truly exploded in recent years and last year was an amazing year to be involved in the movement. We can’t wait to see where this part of the homebrewed tinkering landscape moves to in the coming year!
5. Camera Car
The benefits to using a Pi in remote control devices and robots are clear. Its small size, processing power, and GPIO pins make it the perfect ‘brain’ for devices. Many USB devices also work natively with the Raspberry Pi, including many webcams, which was the starting point for this remote controlled Wi-Fi video streaming robot!
By combining a cheap USB webcam with a basic robot chassis, this might be the most stripped bare, cheapest Pi robot out there. A webserver on the Pi streams the video in real time, and any local machine with access can guide the robot and view the live feed. A USB charging power bank takes care of portable power.
While there are a lot of these type of builds out there, this practicality combined with simple tools and a budget to make an incredible Raspberry Pi project.
6. Big Balancer
Two wheel balancing robots are not new, but the sensor information and processing power required to make them work has not always made them accessible. Now they are available in kit form and work readily with both Raspberry Pi and Arduino boards.
Instructables user RB-roboBASics decided that a kit would make things that little bit too easy, and has created a custom balancing bot that incorporated both Raspberry Pi and Arduino into it.
This machine has gone through several iterations, but what makes this build special is the way the project has been designed for both education and expansion. The Instructable takes the reader through the build process for the robot, but it also explains the theory behind it too.
This Raspberry Pi project is a combination of custom design, from scratch balancing and sensor programming, and a clear to follow guide for those wanting to follow in the builder’s footsteps. We like everything about it!
7. Eggy the Social Robot
Eggy is a robot designed by Instructables user Mr_MdR, which incorporates social signalling into its function. It was designed as part of an experiment to see if a robot capable of facial expressions would telegraph its expressions to humans better than one without. The result is a robot which manages to be both cute and useful at the same time. It even has a wagging tail!
While the general design of Eggy is fairly simple, the fresh approach to this project makes it stand out. In a world where robots are going to be part of our life more than ever before, learning about how we can interact with them is essential. This build proves that anyone with access to relatively cheap components can contribute to this field.
8. Large Scale Pi
One project stood out this year as being really quite unique. In a factory in an undisclosed location in Eastern Europe, a small team of engineers designed and built an entire DIY MES. Not much is known about it other than the Imgur album attached to the post and a comment from one of the designers. This thing is big!
No single image from the set really gives a sense of the scale of a project like this one. Each one of these boards ended up in a custom housing at each workstation in the factory. MES stands for Manufacturing execution system, and is used in large scale production to track everything from materials used to worker productivity. Commercial MES setups use a variety of technologies to log this data, which can be analyzed later on.
In this instance, the as yet anonymous development team, used over 1500 Raspberry Pis with custom operating systems and RFID readers to log every step of the production process in a textile factory. You can see one of the finished boxes in place at the workstation here:
Projects of this scale are incredible, and it’s clear it was done on a budget several orders of magnitude smaller than most other commercial projects. The level of control over products and employees a MES system provides is very powerful.
9. Yeah, World!
Yeah, World! is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the “Hello, World!” of machine learning, as this introduction video by the Arm channel on YouTube explains.
In these early days of homebrewed AI, it is projects like these which give us the tools we need to make a start with the subject. Given that MobileNet—the part of Tensorflow designed for smaller processors—was only introduced during 2017, these early projects bring something exciting and new to the table!
It turns out however, that this was not the only project this year which used Tensorflow on the Pi.
10. The Caltrain Project
When more than half of the Silicon Valley Data Science office relies on the Caltrain for work, it’s only a matter of time until data regarding said train will be used for something cool. The Caltrain Project uses a camera pointed at the track, along with machine learning to correctly identify the Caltrain from others on the track.
This project combines many elements, from image processing in Python, to the aforementioned Google Tensorflow learning project running on the Pi.
This idea started off as an interesting experiment for workers at the company, but has now flourished into something functional. There is a smartphone app available presenting the data collected and learned by the mini AI, and while the creators would advise you to take its data with a pinch of salt, it just goes to show how collecting data from standard sensors can be used for real world applications by almost anyone!
11. AI Racer
Our final entry in the AI section is a robotic race car which drives itself round a track. “Big deal!” I hear some of you say, and it is true, we’ve all seen robots that can avoid things using distance sensors. The difference here is that this robot uses image recognition and machine learning to find its way.
This clever little automobile analyses the road ahead to tell whether it needs to adjust its course, and uses machine learning to cope with differences in light level and color. See the project’s documentation for a full rundown of the methods used to achieve this surprisingly sprightly little racer.
12. Simple 3D-Printed Drone
3D printing takes previously difficult design fabrication and makes it available to almost all.
Thingiverse user arks007 designed a simple chassis which fits the bill for a basic shell on which to build your drone. The design incorporates space for a Raspberry Pi, and details of which libraries and parts were used in addition to the 3D print can be found in the comments section of the page.
There are many designs which perform this exact function, but the fact that they exist at all shows how much easier it is to get into model aviation due to the advent of newer, cheaper technologies.
13. The Auto Drone
This last one on our list also takes the place of the coolest project we saw last year. Instructables user Imetomi took a drone kit from Ebay, and turned it into an autonomous drone, complete with face tracking and a super HD camera.
There are so many elements to this project which make it great. A Raspberry Pi Zero W is the brains of the operation. The clear instructions given on the Instructables page take you through every step he took in getting the drone to avoid objects with OpenCV, along with setting up the live feed from the onboard camera, before showing that the same system can be used with other drones.
As hard as it has been to choose a winner, The Intelligent Automatic Drone project is our best Raspberry Pi project of 2017!
In terms of taking something that already exists and putting your own spin on it, this project had all the elements we love, and while having a drone flying at your own head is perhaps reckless, the proof of concept works.
Here’s to Next Year’s Raspberry Pi Projects
Everything listed here blew us away in its inventiveness, practicality, or just downright coolness. We didn’t even get into other great uses for the Pi such as a media center, as a way to access the web anonymously, or using the camera module.
2017 was a huge year for everyone working with Raspberry Pi. Whether complete beginner or seasoned tinkerer.
With the amount of projects using the Pi as their backbone going up every day, we can only guess what people will come up with in the year to come!