The best projects to try with the Raspberry Pi and Raspberry Pi Zero

Raspberry PI

With everyone stuck indoors, there’s no better time to start educating yourself and no better kit to use than the Raspberry Pi. The tiny computer is perfect for those looking to boost their computer skills, or for people that need something to let their imaginations run wild.

It’s a reasonably well-priced device, considering what you can do with it. It can help teach coding, or be a foundation for more advanced programming. As such, many people, from school kids to fully-fledged developers have used the device to build a variety of machines and functions.

According to the Raspberry Pi foundation, more than five million devices were sold by 2015, making it one of the best-selling British computers. It’s extremely popular in schools where children, or older students, can build up computer skills.

It’s also, unfortunately, a pretty nifty bit of kit for hackers, due in part to its size, portability and power. But really, that just goes to show how impressive it is. For the more morally sound users, it’s a route into robotics, software development and a whole host of technical skills that would otherwise cost thousands of pounds in education fees. If you’re looking for inspiration to start your own Raspberry Pi project, then you’ve come to the right place because we have compiled some of the best use cases around to give you some ideas.

Turn your Raspberry Pi into an aircraft tracker

It might seem like something that would require specialist hardware, but you can use a Raspberry Pi to create your very own aircraft tracker. It can be achieved using an inexpensive USB TV receiver, and the software is free. That means the entire package will set you back around £30, including a Pi Zero W.

For the receiver, you can use a standard DVB-T receiver, which is more commonly used for tuning into free-to-air digital TV and radio.

Setup is about as simple as plugging your DVB-T adapter into a USB socket, but there’s one trick to be aware of: although the telescopic antenna extends to around 35cm, it’s recommended to not pull it out all the way

You’ll then need to to install some software: Flight-aware and Flightradar24. You can run them both together, but we’re going to start by installing Flight-aware, as it’s easy to set up and includes a configured ADS-B service that can then also be used by Flightradar24.

Create a portable security box

The portability and affordability of the Pi has made it a popular tool for red-teamers (people paid to break into security systems), penetration testers and other security personnel. Because it has a built-in Ethernet port, minimal power requirements and the ability to run any Linux software, it’s ideal for sneakily integrating with target networks.

The software of choice for security operatives aiming to use the Pi in this manner is Kali, a Linux distro that’s specifically built for hacking tasks. There’s a purpose-built version of Kali for the Raspberry Pi, and installing it is relatively easy.

Once you’ve got Kali installed, not only can you use it in your security operations, you can also use it as a safe space to play around with new tools without risking damage to your primary machine – although, as always, you should only be hacking targets that have given you express permission.

Network Performance Monitor

As we’re all currently working from home, it’s very important to be able to troubleshoot network issues – you don’t want internet outages now – and Reddit user has Raspberry Pi project that can help.

It’s a network performance monitor that’s built on top of a Raspberry Pi 3 B+. It’s designed to monitor network activity and performance by using data to create a report with critical information. It measures network speeds and bandwidth, which makes it easier to track issues as they arise.

Mr Canoehead’s system runs on five networks, two of which are configured as a transparent Ethernet bridge for monitoring bandwidth between a router and the internet service provider’s modem. All network testing results and bandwidth readings are written to a database, which is updated daily. The system can be set up and left on site for a while to collect network performance data that can be analysed at a later date.

Host a WordPress site on Raspberry Pi

Hosting your own website is a great project for familiarising yourself with the Raspberry Pi. Running a WordPress server will teach you how to work with MySQL, PHP and Apache software, as well as the practicalities of working with Linux.

Not only that, but at the end of it, you’ll also have a working Word-press website that you can use to host your own content on! You’ll need to register a domain name if you want it to be a proper website, but it’s a great place to display things like CVs, creative portfolios or something as simple as a personal blog. For a comprehensive and in-depth guide to getting WordPress up and running on the Pi.

Install full Windows 10 on Raspberry Pi 3

The Windows on ARM (WoA) installer, can be used to install Microsoft’s operating system on the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B or B+ boards. Previously, only the stripped-down Windows IoT Core operating systems were available on Raspberry Pi devices, but this new package offers the functionality of a full Windows 10 OS.

The installer is available on GitHub and is designed for simplicity and ease of use, requiring bundled binaries and the WoA core package.

YouTuber Novaspirit Tech posted a tutorial for installing Windows 10 on Raspberry Pi 3.

You’ll need a set of binaries and software, all available on the GitHub page. You’ll also need a Raspberry Pi 3 B or B+, a Windows 10 ARM64 image, which can be found linked on the GitHub page, and a decent microSD card with at least 16 GB of storage and an A1 rating.

Run Windows 10 IoT Core on Raspberry Pi

Fancy running an internet of things version of Windows 10 on your Raspberry Pi? With Windows 10 IoT Core, you can run a stripped back version of the operating system on the microcomputer.

Although it would be great to run the full version of the operating system on the Raspberry Pi Model B+, it doesn’t have the processing power with just a 1GB of RAM and a 1.4GHz ARM-based processor.

So enter Windows 10 IoT Core, a basic version of Microsoft’s OS that has been designed for running on less powerful platforms. It’s actually a lightweight IoT app that allows you to run a single UWP app at a time. You don’t need a licence unless you want to commercialise your creations and only very limited equipment is needed.

First up, you’ll need Raspberry Pi 3 and a spare microSD card – plus a separate Windows computer with a microSD card reader. You’ll also need Visual Studio, a text editor, the SDKs, add-ons, and certificates.

OK, so this may seem quite a lot, but at least you won’t need to spend too much cash to start running Windows 10 IoT Core.

First, you’ll need to set up the memory card for the Raspberry Pi you’re using. You can make this easier with the New Out Of Box Software (NOOBS) installer. Create a bootable card from a Windows PC or laptop using Microsoft’s IoT Dashboard app.

You can now set up the device using the Broadcom Raspberry Pi 2 & 3 option and OS build (Windows 10 IoT Core), then specify a password, choose a Wi-Fi network and install the OS onto the Raspberry Pi-compatible memory card.

Insert this into your Raspberry Pi and then you’re ready to boot your device with the latest version of Windows IoT Core.

Set up Raspberry Pi as a VPN server

A VPN allows you to mask your online identity so your activity can’t be tracked as you browse the internet, download content or participate in conversations. VPNs can be used on regular computers too and the process is pretty much the same when using a micro-computer like Raspberry Pi. There are lots of VPN programs available for Raspberry Pi, including Express VPN, HideMy Ass, IPVanish and  SaferVPN.

But what takes this to the next level is using your Raspberry Pi as a VPN server creating a personal VPN hotspot to stop information about your identity being passed on to any website used on your network. By installing a client on the Raspberry Pi, connect it to your router and it’ll scramble your identity before it hits the external network.

To set your Raspberry Pi up as a VPN server, first install Raspbian to access the command line and then you can use the PiVPN script to install a VPN client to protect your communications. We recommend using OpenVPN as your VPN client, although it can be used with lots of others too. For more detailed instructions to set your Raspberry Pi up as a VPN server, you can follow the guide on our sister site, Cloud Pro.

Host an Apache server

One of the easiest and most practical uses of the Raspberry Pi is as a low-cost web server, which you can use to host simple websites. Cloud-based hosting is arguably easier and more practical, but setting up a basic server is an excellent way to get to grips with server and networking technology.

You’ll need to pick which software you use to power your server, and Apache is one of the most popular options. Apache is open source, and free to download and use – the software is estimated to power almost 40% of all of the active websites in the world. The raspberry Pi foundation has created a handy guide to setting up an Apache server on the Pi.

Create a captive portal for your guest Wi-Fi

Captive portals are pieces of network software that restrict access to a network until the user who’s attempting connect has undertaken some action – usually logging in, or agreeing to a set of terms and conditions. If you’ve ever used the guest Wi-Fi at a hotel, airport or coffee shop, you’ve almost certainly used a captive portal.

You can use a Raspberry Pi to create a captive portal for your own guest Wi-Fi network, which can be used to increase security, collect data and add an air of polish and professionalism to your network. You can use this in-depth guide to set up your captive portal, but be warned that it’s a fairly complex process.