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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.
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).
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.
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 to stop motion or time lapse projects.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
This can prove particularly useful if you use your Pi as a media centre (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).
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.
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.