10 Things to Do With the Raspberry Pi 2

Recently, the new Raspberry Pi 2 was released and I wrote briefly about it. If you don’t have one yet you can buy a couple from the my link to the Raspberry Pi 2 on Amazon.

Now that you have a blazing fast Raspberry Pi 2, what can you do with it? Here are 10 ideas for fun projects you can do right away.

1. Make a real-time aircraft traffic map and upload the data to FlightRadar24.

One of the easiest digital modes to decode, ADB-S and ACARS are protocols that are digitally transmitted by airplanes to include plane status and GPS coordinates. Combined with radar data, air traffic control and other planes are capable of knowing where planes are in the sky. This information is not encrypted, so it’s available for you to decode with ease.

Due to its small form factor, the Raspberry Pi 2 makes an excellent permanent ADB-S decoder. Coupled with a dedicated 1090mhz-tuned antenna you can detect planes in the sky as far as 400 nautical miles away. The stock antenna included with many RTL-SDRs will often pick up a lot of local air traffic as well!

Once setup, you can have a web-based realtime map of local air traffic that you can share with others on the Internet, or feed the raw data up to a flight tracking service such as FlightRadar24.

2. Listen to shortwave radio and hunt down numbers stations.

With the right SDR (or a cheap SDR with a downconverter) you can build a shortwave radio that is programmable, remote controllable, and streamable. No traditional shortwave product on the market offers this flexibility!

All you need is the Raspberry Pi 2, an SDR (such as the RTL-SDR, DX Patrol, or high end SDRs such as Flex Radio), a decent antenna (long wires work great), and some software. Once setup, you can configure remote operation either via a remote desktop session or using something like rtl_tcp to send the raw radio packets over your local network to a dedicated client on another computer.

There are several WebSDR implementations as well, which offer a web-based experience so that multiple people can search and listen to signals from your Pi’s location. These are often more limited than full SDR applications, but do enhance the ability to access remote locations that would otherwise require your presence at the physical location. The Pi being small and low power means that it could be easily placed on battery power up on a mountain for ideal reception.

3. Make an Open Source Media Center (OSMC) to play videos and music on your televisions.

Have a lot of movies that you have ripped into MP4s? Have you been collecting MP3s and FLACs for your music for years? Why not have a dedicated media PC running to play them on your televisions.

Kodi (previously known as XBMC) is software that can run very smoothly on a Raspberry Pi 2. It is customizable and configurable, letting you play back local content (from the micro SD card in the Pi, or from a USB drive plugged in) or stream from a network server or streaming service. Due to its small form factor, you can easily set one up and stash it behind your TV and no one will be the wiser.

4. Create an easy to deploy wireless network using a mesh architecture.

What if your local network goes down? What is the Internet in your region goes down? Or, what if you are at an amateur radio event that needs a local network? A mesh network is a self-organizing easy-to-deploy network of devices that let you expand the network as you add more devices. A mesh network is perfect for temporary network needs at events, concerts, or remote locations.

The Raspberry Pi 2 is so powerful that not only is it a good candidate for being a node on a mesh network, but it can run several services with ease, such as VoIP, file hosting, streaming video, APRS gateways, etc.

By enabling one or more nodes with Internet connectivity (such as via your phone’s LTE connection, or a hard connection), the entire mesh can potentially access the Internet.

5. Deploy an information island like a spy.

An information island is a cache of information that is stored at a physical location waiting to be consumed or added to. Traditionally these were paper based caches that were hidden in a secret place that spies would use to transfer all kinds of information. A digital information island is a device that is placed somewhere and via a wireless technology the user can interact with it to store or retrieve information.

Your information island can be a Raspberry Pi 2 with wifi or bluetooth or even NFC. It can run a web server along with a captive portal (those login pages you see when you join a public wifi network, such as at a hotel or coffee shop) allowing users to easily interact with the information island via their web browser.

You don’t have to be a spy of course. It can be a way to exchange music with strangers, or simply prepare safety and medical information in case of a crisis (so people can access this information). What you use it for is up to you, and I’d love to see what you make.

6. Build a radio beacon that transmits a signal intended for long distance reception.

Beacons are great for identifying atmospheric conditions ideal for conducting DX (or long distance) communications. Setting up beacons gives other radio enthusiasts a chance to see if they can receive your beacon from their part of the world.

WSPR is an exceptionally low bandwidth, high resilience digital protocol for transmitting beacon signals all over the world. It is also automated in that people can run nodes to monitor for WSPR beacons that are broadcasting their announcements on the Internet.

As transmissions are received from beacons, the central service on the Internet is updated with details about the reception (signal strength, GPS location, etc) allowing the service to map where in the world transmissions are making it to and from. It is an incredible way to figure out if your signal might propagate to a targeted region in the world.

You can easily build a dedicated WSPR node on a Raspberry Pi 2 that you can hook up to an antenna and contribute to automatically monitoring beacons all over the world.

7. Make a gaming console that plays the classics on your television.

There are thousands of old games from the days of the arcade, Atari 2600, Nintendo NES, and just about every gaming console since. Software has been written to simulate these platforms (called emulators) and acquiring the games (called ROM backups) on the Internet is very easy to do. Of course, these ROMs are not necessary legal in your country since downloading some of them may equate to piracy. However, there have been ROMs that have been put into the public domain and several organizations, such as the Internet Archive, has provided many to the public as a way to protect the history of gaming.

That said, the Raspberry Pi 2 would make a killer platform for a portable gaming console that can play all of these console games. Since it has a quad processor it is capable of emulating some of the more recent game consoles, such as the Playstation 2. Built in HDMI means you can simply take it with you and plug it into any modern television. Since audio can be delivered via HDMI, you don’t even need to worry about the onboard sound output.

All that’s left is to pop in a bluetooth dongle and use a bluetooth game controller, or more popularly just use an Xbox 360 controller since it has USB and driver support for every major OS.

8. Create a music jukebox that your friends can request songs on by using their smartphones.

Not too unlike the media PC, you can use a Raspberry Pi 2 to play music on your sound system. Once set up, you can install a music frontend (web or mobile controlled) and let your guests control it. With a little ingenuity you could rig up a voting system that lets people request the songs from your collection that they want to listen to.

This could essentially replaces higher end systems like SONOS.

9. Construct a distributed computing network.

With quad processing and 1GB of RAM, the desktop class architecture makes this an ideal node in a distributed computing network. It is low power and has a small form factor so it wouldn’t be difficult to wire up 20 of these to allow you to spread a compute load.

This isn’t without challenges. You will need to consider heat, delivering power, and wiring them up onto the network. If you outfit them with cheap 802.11n wifi dongles then network will not be difficult, but it might be somewhat slow, depending on what your needs are. Wiring them up for LAN means cabling and network switches. But these are issues you would have with regular PC-based distributed computing networks. The Raspberry Pi 2 does make it somewhat easier in terms of size, heat, and manageability.

What to distributed compute? You could cross-compile software, calculate tough math, physics or medical problems, or develop software that distributes itself across the cluster.

10. Simulate a hardware packet radio TNC for use in amateur radio.

Packet radio might seem like an outdated technology, but do to things like APRS it has had quite a resurgence. It also makes a great digital platform for emergency messaging in the case that the Internet goes down in your region.

Typically you have had to purchase or build a hardware TNC. And at that point it is just yet another piece of hardware to maintain. It adds to the budget too. But a software TNC eliminates the need for that, keeping your form factor low and your budget intact. Software TNCs are often more flexible (multiple baud rates supported, ability to virtually wire it into other software, etc) and sometimes more accurate (more decoded packets).

A Raspberry Pi 2 would make an excellent packet TNC, which can be fed into any packet software also running on it, such as an APRS digipeater, or packet BBS for messaging. All that is needed is Raspbian, an enhanced sound card dongle, and Dire Wolf.

I am considering writing extended articles on each of these things if there are enough requests. I tend to write based on interest and feedback that I receive. It keeps me centered on what you like to read, but more importantly gives me the inspiration and drive to make it happen.


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