Raspberry Pi logo - a little raspberry

Looking for a challenge? Looking for a hobby? Looking for a little recreational (yet manageable) frustration? Then look no more! You may be interested in a Raspberry Pi.

A Raspberry Pi is a very simple, very small computer. A basic model (the Raspberry Pi Zero) can cost as little as $5, and that may be an option for you as long as you already have a good number of computer parts laying around. More complex kits with more advanced Raspberry Pis cost somewhere in the range of $30-$120

When I say Pis are simple, I mean it. If the Amish were in the computer business, they would love the Raspberry Pi. When you buy a $35 Raspberry Pi 4 Model B, you get a motherboard with some chips stuck to it that you can plug stuff into; that’s it. No keyboard, no mouse, no monitor, no case.

Despite this intensely literal definition of “computer,” (it does compute, after all), a Pi is a pretty cool thing exactly because it is simple. This simplicity makes a Pi easy to understand for beginners, and because Pi operates on open source platforms, the software does not block modifications/hacks the way Microsoft, Apple, and the other corporate stooges do.

Even if none of the projects listed below appeal to you, doing a little Pi tinkering can help you understand the technological world around you. We are surrounded by tech all the time, and most of us don’t have much of an idea as to how it works. Simple computers monitor us at work, as we go through the entrances of office buildings, when we drive through intersections, and many other ways that we rarely consider. This is highly applicable stuff! Besides, one never knows when a knowledge of security cameras may come in handy…

A Budget Laptop(Difficulty: Simple)

We have all been in a situation where our old computer is dying, but we don’t want to buy (or can’t afford) a new one. In that case, a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B may be just what you are looking for. This model comes with either 1, 2, or 4 gigabytes of processing power, as much storage space as you can fit on a micro-SD card (mine has 64 gigs, but you can go bigger), wireless capability, Bluetooth capability, 4 USB drives, and more. If you are the kind of person who drives your computers far past when they have become obsolete, this model may actually be much more powerful than your current computer. With that said, if you aren’t willing to put a little bit of fiddling into it, you may just want to buy a super budget laptop. (But the fiddling is most of the fun of a Raspberry Pi.)

In terms of standard software for the Pi, the Raspbian (Linux-based operating system) is preloaded with the word processor, internet search engine and other basic software you need to maintain your electronic life. The added bonus is that the software is free (as is most software for the Pi.) Take that, Capitalism!

A Retro Gaming System(Difficulty: Moderate/Hard)

If you have read this far into the article, chances are you probably like videogames. Not only is Raspbian stocked with some pretty solid basic desktop games, the Pi is also capable of running NES, Atari 2600, Sega Genesis, Super NES, Gameboy, and PlayStation emulators  

This project is marked as potentially hard because you really could lean into this one as far as you want. Do you want to make the case of your pi look exactly like an NES? Do you want to build an authentic looking Atari 2600 joystick? Then go for it! (But I am not saying it is going to be easy.)

Minecraft(Difficulty: Simple)

In addition to including a number of simple games in the Python suite (including Snake, Pacman, Connect 4, Pong, a weird Tetris rip-off, etc.) Raspbian also comes preloaded with Minecraft. Depending on your perception of the recent past, you may classify Minecraft as either “Retro” or “still a pretty new game.” Either way, it is neat that it can be played on the Pi with almost no effort.

Security Camera(Difficulty: Simple)

There is a reason why everyone has security cameras on their front doors, the tech is becoming increasingly inexpensive. This is one of the preferred uses for the Raspberry Pi Zero. After you buy a case (completely optional), camera, and the Pi itself, you can have a high-quality security camera with Bluetooth capability for under $35; if you want to add sound recording capability, a USB microphone can run you as little as $5. You could also use this same Pi as a camera to take still pictures.

These are just a few applications for a Raspberry Pi, but there are so many things you can do with this technology. Its cliché to say, but the possibilities here are actually only limited by your imagination (especially since the Pi is completely open-source.) This thing has all kinds of potential, you just need to mess with it long enough to figure out what it can do!


Raspberry Pi Foundation: www.raspberrypi.org

Download Raspbian: www.raspberrypi.org/raspbian

Jeremy E. Baker is a sociology instructor and sits on the Board of the Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism. He is currently developing a course on Environmental Justice that will be offered at Ohio State Marion in the Summer Semester of 2020. You can learn more about his projects at www.sociology.pizzaor read more about it in his upcoming Geek Speak article on Solarpunk. 

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