Learning about electronics can be a tough job for a student. With electronics becoming more and more complex by the day, the variety of information available can be baffling. The array of modern electronic devices available, including computer development kits such as Raspberry Pi and microcontrollers like Arduino, are the simplest way to utilize the power of a computer in your electronics projects without paying through the nose. As I have limited budget and time, and my skills with a soldering iron are very rusty, I have shortlisted the 5 ideas below as perfect projects to start with.
If you have been following Google’s ambitious Project Glass and share a similar dream of an augmented reality, building a wearable computer could be a great project. Using the Raspberry Pi system, a hand-held keyboard and mouse pad and a set of video glasses or a small monitor, you can wear your computer to class or lectures for taking notes, browsing the web, or watching a video whilst on the go. Power is the obvious problem here, but the ability of the Pi to run from a powered USB socket means that you can use one of the external batteries on the market. I have a 12,000mAh battery pack that can power more than one device at a time but the weight and the bulk of it might mean that one of the smaller batteries is more appropriate. This project is fairly high up my “to-do” list, so a bit of testing for battery life seems to be in order.
For a more challenging programming exercise, as well as an intricate test of your manufacturing skills, a self-balancing robot is perfect.
Setting up a two wheeled robot, which works like a Segway scooter, and programming it to use its pair of wheels to balance on, looks like a great way to spend some time. This combines a number of skills and should be difficult but not impossible. Neatness with the packaging of the electronics should help with the balancing as it will lower the center of gravity and make the whole robot more stable. This will be a good benchmark for learning programming too as it is a little more complicated than just getting an LED to turn on when it gets dark.
Powering your party tunes from a flash drive attached to your Raspberry Pi can be a great way to keep the music flowing. Incorporating a wireless adapter and a network connection will allow your guests to link into the network and to queue music from anywhere in the house, creating a fantastic student party atmosphere as well as providing a great conversation piece among your guests. Now admittedly, this project isn’t going to test any skills but, as any student knows, we’ve worked through 3 projects and we deserve a bit of a party before we actually get this finished. As this project simply requires your Raspberry Pi, an SD card for music storage, a wireless adapter and your speaker system (plus a little programming) it’s cheap enough to grace the scenes of any student party, easy enough to do quickly, yet complicated enough to count towards our 5 project target.
Another use for a small, compact Raspberry Pi Jukebox is as a small music player for bands. For breaks in a set it’s normal to connect up an iPod to the sound system to keep the music going while the band gets a hard earned break. However at public venues, an iPod or iPad is very tempting for a thief, as many bands have learned to their cost. By hooking up the Jukebox via a banana jack to the amps, you have a music player that people wouldn’t recognize and, even if it was lost or stolen, costs considerably less than the iPod while arguably doing a lot more.
Voice Controlled Robot Arm
Some developers maintain that spending money is necessary to create a great project, but this example proves just what can be accomplished with your existing hardware and some cunning programming. This project illustrates a simple voice recognition tool allowing you to control any peripheral devices you require with just a USB microphone. If you do want to spend a little cash you can make this project much cooler (although probably not much more useful) by hooking up a USB robotic arm. It doesn’t reach very far but there’s no better way to hand someone a pen than with a voice controlled robotic arm.
Simple project like these are easy to find online and give you plenty of opportunities to use your existing hardware, or some cheap new kit, to increase your repertoire of programming skills, enhance your abilities with electronics, and build your fluency with the languages all without breaking the bank. Find the 5 projects that you want to make this year, be sensible about your skills and what you want to learn with the projects, and get building.
The Surprising Abilities of Students
I don’t consider myself a seasoned programmer and I am often amazed at what younger hobbyists can do and entire competitions have been set up to inspire and challenge young minds to new heights. I have been inspired to try writing my own version of a time lapse camera design, which twelve year old Aaron Hill recently won a British competition for. If you are looking for some more advanced ideas, some of the older students’ entries in the competition included music players, clever games, and even a circuit simulator.
This post was contributed by Christopher Parkinson.
Tom Davis is a technical contributor at TechWombat. He enjoys writing on IT, open source, electronics, and other geeky arcana. Tom’s always happy to reply to comments and corrections, so be nice and send him your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org or in the comment section below.