16 cool projects ideas for the small Raspberry Pi Zero

projects ideas for raspberry pi zero

The small Raspberry Pi Zero has a big advantage: its size
You can install it anywhere, to make slightly the same thing than a Raspberry Pi 3
Today, I’ll show you a list of projects ideas where the size of the Pi Zero is an advantage

Which projects best fit the Pi Zero?
The Raspberry Pi Zero size allows you to put it in a limited space, or to stay discreet
For example, you can insert it inside a game controller or keep it almost invisible as a security camera
There are a lot of projects where you can use this small size to build better things

In this post I’ll show you 16 projects with a Raspberry Pi zero, where the small size is an advantage compared to other Raspberry Pi models

The story of this post

Why do you need to read this post?

I bought a Raspberry Pi Zero to do more things: more projects, more articles for this blog, etc …
But I had issues to find specific projects for the Raspberry Pi Zero
It’s easy to find projects ideas for Raspberry Pi, but often the model doesn’t matter and you can use any Raspberry Pi

I didn’t buy my Raspberry Pi Zero to build the same things, and I wanted to know which kind of projects you can build to take advantage of its characteristics
And that’s the goal of this post: to have a list of good projects ideas to follow for the Raspberry Pi Zero specifically

Month after month, I took notes of interesting ideas to try with my Raspberry Pi Zero
And I will share all of these with you today

What are the Raspberry Pi advantages?

raspberry pi zero

As you can see on my photo above, the main advantage of the Raspberry Pi Zero is its mini size
This can help you in various situations:

  • In a restricted space: in a car, a frame, a small box, …
  • To stay discreet: security camera, weather station sensor, …
  • To have a final project fitting in your hand: phone, game controller, …

The 16 projects ideas I’ll present you today are all using this main advantage to have a better final render
They are not just the projects that you can do with any Raspberry including the Zero, but projects that exist thanks to the Raspberry Pi zero size

I’ll let you discover the list and you will tell me at the end what you think about them
I try to put links and illustrations when it’s possible/useful, but all the projects are not well documented so take these as ideas

16 projects ideas for the Raspberry Pi Zero

Gameboy return

The first project idea is to push retro gaming to the maximum while using old controllers directly
For example, you can insert a Raspberry Pi Zero in a Gameboy, a SNES controller or an old Atari computer
Then install Retropie on it and configure it to play your favorite games on the original controller

gameboy retropie
Gameboy with Retropie running on a Raspberry Pi Zero

It must be awesome to play the old games on the same Gameboy controller
And you gain quality with the color screen (the original had a bad white and black screen if you don’t remember)

To build this, you need a Gameboy, a Raspberry Pi zero and a 3.5″ LCD screen (check this on Amazon.com if you need one)
You can follow this tutorial here with a step-by-step explanation of what you need to do to build the hardware
And I have a step-by-step guide for Retropie if you need help with the software part

Zero drone

Drones are taking more and more space in our lives
Whether as a hobby or for work, they are more and more used
Unfortunately, they are always too expensive for many people

The goal of this project is to build a cheaper drone, with smart abilities
And the cheaper way to do this is to use a Raspberry Pi Zero for the drone’s brain
Here is the result:

This project is maybe a little more complex, but all the pieces are available for buying
So you can order them and after that follow the tutorial on Hackster to build the same drone at home

Bee keeper helper

The Raspberry Pi Zero can also be useful to observe small things, in a small confined place
And there is a perfect example: a bee monitoring computer inside the hive
I don’t know if you can do this at home (even if you have bees which is not common in my readers), but it’s to give you an idea of what you can build with the Raspberry Pi Zero

The Amy’s Buzz Hive project was lead by a 12 years old girl for the Coolest Projects 2017 event
The goal was to put a Raspberry Pi Zero inside a hive, with many sensors, to observe the bees

Amy in front of her project (source: CoderDojo)

The number of bees in the world has been steadily declining for years, and this might become a danger to the planet
Without bees, there are no plants reproduction, and therefore many species could disappear
As a result, this can impact human lives, including a decrease of the available fruits and vegetables

Some causes about this decline are known.
For example, diseases or various threats coming from pesticides and varroa
But most of them are unknown

And the Amy’s project was exactly to help scientists find other explanations about this issue
The idea was to live monitor the bees in their home, checking various sensors, and try to find other reasons for their deaths

The story doesn’t say if they found results, but no doubt that this will give ideas to other scientists
The entire story is available on CoderDojo

Old school phone

This one is much more accessible. The goal is to use your skills to build an old school phone with a Raspberry Pi Zero 🙂

Here is what it looks like:

raspberry zero phone
ZeroPhone with a Raspberry Pi Zero (source: CrowdSupply)

Yes, maybe you can improve the look by 3D printing a dedicated case, but it looks awesome in terms of the features they built on it
The system base runs on Raspberry Pi Zero with Raspbian, and they add various HATs and extensions to add more capabilities: camera, GPS, screen, keyboard, etc …
You can even use it as a desktop computer if you plug it to an external screen and keyboard (Yes, we are far from a Samsung Dex in a term of design, but it’s cheaper and home made ^^)

They start a crowd funding project on CrowdSupply if you want to help them
They also give a lot of information about the needed pieces, so you can try to make it on your side

GPS tracker

A GPS tracker is typically the kind of thing you need to keep small
And the Raspberry Pi Zero can help you with that

For example, you can track your pets position with a GPS tracker and use the Raspberry Pi Zero to process it (inside the pet collar or not depending on the pet I guess ^^)
In the MagPi 42 magazine, they talk about a dog collar with a GPS tracker inside
This tracker communicates with the Raspberry Pi in the office

But you can adapt this idea to a lot of other situations I think: track your car position after a theft, in the bag of your kids or maybe in some companies to locate precisely where are all the vehicles in real time

I found no step-by-step tutorial on how to build this
But there is a course on Udemy to learn how to build a GPS tracker with a Raspberry Pi zero
Here is the link: Build your own GPS tracking system-Raspberry Pi Zero W 2019
I hope it can help you if you are interested in this project

Zero security camera

I already talked a little about this idea, but you can take advantage of the Raspberry Pi Zero size to build a discreet security camera
A security camera project doesn’t need the Raspberry Pi 3 power to work correctly, so the Zero may be the best option

You can insert it easily in any camera case, or even better, buy a fake camera (like this one maybe) and turn it into a real camera by inserting your Raspberry Pi zero inside
Or you can also play spies by turning an everyday object in a spy camera (hidden in a tissue box or a fake book for example)

camera hidden raspberry pi
Raspberry Pi camera hidden in a project folder (source: Instructables)

You can follow this tutorial on Instructables for the camera build to put it inside a CCTV camera
And then use Motion or RPI-Cam for the software part (it’s easy to find help about this and configure it with a movement detector)
You have the link under the picture if you prefer the spy one 🙂

PiCo projector

You’ve probably already seen them. Pico video projectors hold in your hand and project pretty good quality images on a screen, to watch a movie or anything else
They are convenient, but they stay expensive for personal uses (check this one on Amazon to get an example)

But there is a way to build it with a Raspberry Pi and MickMake did this really well
Here is the presentation video he made about it:

If you want to try building the same, he shares the project details on this link
You must buy a projector hat, but it seems worthy compared to commercial projector
As he says in the video, the image is not top quality, but it should be correct anyway (resolution is limited to 640×320 if I remember well)

FireStick alternative

The original Fire TV stick is a best-seller on the Amazon website
It allows you to watch Netflix, Prime video and others streaming providers on any TV with an HDMI port
And this is available for a price under $50

Does this remembers you something?
I remember a Raspberry Pi running Kodi for the same price ^^
If you don’t know Kodi, it’s a software to use a Raspberry Pi as a media center device
You can watch your files and add other applications to watch their contents on your TV

kodi menu

If you need help to install this, I have a complete guide for Kodi beginners available
And you can also follow this post to learn how to watch Netflix, Prime Video or YouTube on Kodi

You don’t necessarily need to take a Raspberry Pi Zero for this project, any Raspberry Pi will do the job
But if you want to fix it on your TV, or hide it inside, the Raspberry Pi Zero will take less space for the same final render

A last thing I want to add is that you can turn your Raspberry Pi into a classic TV by using the new TV HAT
This allows you to receive classic TV channels on your Raspberry Pi, so you can turn any screen into a TV for less than $25

Portable terminal

The Raspberry Pi Zero size can also be an advantage to build a small laptop (if we can call this a laptop)
The goal is to have a computer power in less than 8″
There are various forms and cases because the only thing you need is a screen that fits in the original case
For example, you can use an old smartphone, a photo frame or a dedicated kit (like this one on Amazon)

To be more concrete, I found this video about the PuterPi project:

The PuterPi project (available on Etsy) is the perfect example of what you can make on your own
You need to assemble a few parts to build this and then you get a complete computer that fits in your hand
It’s up to you to find out how useful it will be, but everything is possible

In my case I prefer frames like Magic Mirror or simple photo frames to display specific informations or statistics
But maybe it can be useful with a low budget or to use it as a controller for a bigger project

If you need help to find the steps you have to follow to build this, there is a complete tutorial on Hackster.io
Not for the same model, but the steps don’t depend too much on the case you choose

 

Cheap Cluster

I recently wrote about clusters on my blog, you can check this article for example on how to build your first cluster with any Raspberry Pi model
And often, to make a cluster, people are using four Raspberry Pi 3B+ in a crystal case
But we are talking about Raspberry Pi zero today, what could a Raspberry Pi Zero cluster look like?

Here is the answer:

raspberry pi zero cluster
A cluster of Pi Zero using the Cluster HAT

Cluster Hat provides a HAT for the Raspberry Pi 3B+, allowing it to hold four Raspberry Pi Zero on his back
This allows you to build a cluster of 5 computers in the space taken by 2 Raspberry Pi 3

All that’s missing is a well-ventilated 3D printed box, to make the perfect assembly 🙂

Plants watering

I know you love plants at home
I know you sometimes let them die because you do not think about taking care of them
But from now on, it will be different;)

The goal of this project is to automate the plant gardening task with a Raspberry Pi Zero
Here is an introduction video:

As you can see the idea is brilliant and the project is simple
All you need is a Raspberry Pi Zero and a pump

Then you can use Python scripts to schedule to send the quantity of water you want, at the frequency you want
And I’m pretty sure it should be possible to use a humidity sensor or to use a weather API, to give water to the plant only when it’s necessary

Source: Hackster.io

Monitor things with camera

We already talked previously about security cameras that you can hide in your house
But there is another usage where the Raspberry Pi Zero will help
It’s monitoring something, take a picture every hour and use a code to compare them and do something if the change needs to make an action

In the example below, guys are monitoring the coffee level and passing an order on Amazon if the remaining quantity is under their threshold

Coffee monitoring project (source: Hackster)

The hardware part is easy, with only a Raspberry Pi and a camera
But the software part is harder. You need to interpret the image, estimate the remaining quantity and use the Amazon web services to order a new coffee pack

Thanks to Terren Peterson you have a step-by-step tutorial on how to do all of this, including the source code to use (in Java)
You can obviously use a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ to make this project, but I think you’ll like to save space in your kitchen by rather using a Raspberry Pi Zero

Weather station

When you buy a new weather station, you have generally at least 2 parts : a central monitor to display the data and a remote sensor to measure the temperature for example
When you follow a weather station tutorial, there is always everything at the same place: a Raspberry Pi connected to all accessories and a web interface to check the data

I think that, by using a Raspberry Pi Zero, you can improve the second method, by placing it remotely to take the temperature outside
You can use a battery and/or a solar panel to manage power issues

I didn’t find exactly a tutorial about this idea, but it should be close to this experience:

And with the Raspberry Pi Zero you can build a smaller box (built-in wireless and low power consumption)

This will be a good improvement if you already have a weather station somewhere

Pen testing

I often write about pen testing and security projects on this blog.
Maybe I should write a tutorial about this one day
But once again in this post, pen testing is the perfect project for a Raspberry Pi Zero

For those who don’t know, a pen test is a simulated cyber attack, allowed and financed by the target company, to check its current security level
The attacker will try by all means to enter the company network, including connecting a Raspberry Pi physically on the network

And you know the rest, the Raspberry Pi Zero is the perfect device to stay discreet in this kind of test
If you watched the Mr. Robot series, you have seen Elliot installing the Raspberry Pi behind a security pad in the toilet (and if not I just spoiled you ^^)

Smart car

Yes, the next idea is to bring a computer to your car
And I don’t think you want to use your desktop computer to do this
We need to keep it small, to hide the Raspberry Pi inside the existing dashboard

Auto Pi is a company that provides an all in one solution, based on a Raspberry Pi Zero, to add new features like GPS, temperature sensor or even video recording

AutoPi – IoT platform for your car (source: AutoPi.io)

Yes, it’s a solution you need to buy, and they don’t explain you how to built it yourself
But this is an inspirational project, I’m sure you’ll find ideas on what to bring to your car to make it look like a luxurious one 🙂

House alarm

And the last one I was thinking about is an alarm for your house
What do you get when you buy an alarm? Security pad on a screen, sensors, maybe camera and a speaker to play this sweet music
You can find all of that for your Raspberry Pi and plug it together to build your own house alarm

Here is what it looks like:

You can find the basic tutorial on Hackster and I’m sure you can improve it to connect several projects you have seen in this post to this central computer

Once again, a Raspberry Pi Zero is not mandatory for this project, but if you don’t want to use a 24″ screen to hide all components inside, a small Pi model is better

Related Questions

Do I really need to buy a Raspberry Pi Zero to build these projects? No. And I don’t encourage you to buy a Pi Zero if you already have another one. Choose the project that interests you, try it with your current model and if the result doesn’t satisfy you, only then consider buying a zero

What’s the power difference between a Raspberry Pi Zero and others? I talk about the Zero advantages, but not about the cons. In fact, the Raspberry Pi Zero is something around twice slower than the Raspberry Pi 3B+. So if you need power, it’s not a good choice. But for all this projects, there is absolutely no speed need

Conclusion

That’s it, I hope your enjoy this post as much I enjoyed writing it
This should give you some good projects ideas to start now
And probably you are now thinking about other projects where the Raspberry Pi Zero will be a good choice
And that was the goal 🙂

If you have other projects ideas for a Raspberry Pi Zero, feel free to share them in the comments, so we can keep here a reference as complete as possible

Need ideas to use your Raspberry Pi Zero? Here is a list of 16 cool projects to try

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