Pi projects: a new year's resolutions

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Pi projects: a new year's resolutions

2018 is here. I have papers that I want to or have to write and endless tasks I want to complete, but life is not all about career-driven self-sacrifice, it is also about having fun and what better way than with physical computing. And more time passes the more Rasberry pi projects I find I want to do. So I thought I'd share my shortlist of what I think are the most useful.

There are many sites out there with top 10 pi projects, but they all seem to be focused on making gameboys: even if the retro NES case looks beyond amazing, I definitely don't have the time to play them.
On the flipside, in the lab, any pi project for automatic requires pinch valves (open/close tygon tubes), but as these cost £60, it is not really something anyone would shell out from one's pocket unfortunately, regardless of how useful they may be.
So my list consist in stuff a sensible person would need...


URL: https://github.com/alexa-pi/AlexaPi

I have two Lifx lightbulbs and yelling at Siri like a homeless to turn the lights on is annoying, so I have been considering getting an Amazon Echo. Apart from the verbage of its skill commands ("Alexa, ask tidetimes when is high tide in Langstone, Ingaland", say), I don't want to call it either Alexa or Echo.
In fact, Alexa, Siri, Google and Cortana have one thing in common. You cannot change their names. I want my assistant to be called something great. A preferably a retro-nerd reference, say Hal or KITT. Parenthetically, Cortana does not count: I was nerdgasmically stoked when I heard that the assistant in windows 10 was going to be called Cortana (even if I am not a Windows user), but as it turns out it's the damaged Cortana from Halo 4 and is the worst of the FAMGA assistants.
Likewise, the Linux project Jarvis is still rather beta and does not talk.
Luckily, there is a nice-ish solution, the AlexaPi, which makes an Alexa client with a pi, speaker and microphone. In this setup the "wake word" can be changed to anything —although this feature seems a bit buggy at the moment.
A second downside is that an Amazon Echo dot costs as much as a naked pi 3B and the Amazon Echo vanilla has beautiful speakers, so this is a coding project for fun not frugality. But most pi projects are like that, take the KindleberryPi (a gutted e-ink early Kindle controlled by a pi), which makes no sense economically.


URL: https://github.com/n8henrie/fauxmo

I love the Belkin WeMo: this device is a smart plug you can control from your phone or from the button on it. One issue is that it can only control wall plugs. The FauxMo is a pi project where one can make a pi that can controlled via Alexa. A major downside is that it does not work with the Belkin app and a WeMo costs £25 on sale. A plus side is that one can control 220V AC current one with a solid state relay (tenner), which means that light switches and such can be controlled.
I rent so I am not touching my electrics and I have nothing to automate. I have roller blinds, which I would, on paper, be able to controlled via a small motor, printed gear housing and a custom magnet based sensor to determine the location of the base of the blind. But blinds that go up every morning do sound too nice to resist...

Home weather station

AdaFruit and Kuman sells some really cool sensors. One can be used as a point-blank-range fart sensor (requires a TLL and a ADC) for example. Attaching bits to the breadboard is really fun, the only catch is that there is always a chip missing or no wires of the right colour are left. I currently have the temperature sensor in my pi that is a webserver and a SAMBA server (details below), but the disks keep it several degree warmer than the rest of the room, so this needs it's own pi. Other sensors are air quality (methane), light and movement: together these could make a nice set of plotly.js plots served (securely) over the internet...

SAMBA drive

I have Terabytes of data on an external, which I do not want to carry around. So I have set up my pi to act as a SAMBA drive (or H drive as Windows-folk call it). It simply consisted in apt-getting samba, changing the config and opening some router ports. It works flawlessly for 1080i movies at home, but across the internet it is too slow to be usable. I am not sure why: it is set-up correctly as sshfs has the same speed and my tested upload speed is just under 0.5 Mbps, so for a 800 MB file it should take only 3.3 minutes, which it does not.

Media centre

With a raspberry pi 2 I used to have a XBMC on a TV. It worked great, but it required zero coding (so not a project really). If I had a TV I'd have one again, especially now that the pi 3 can surf the web rather gracefully.

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