Whether you are a budding programmer or a hobbyist geek with a penchant for tinkering and DIY tech projects, a single board computer is one of the best things you can get for yourself. And even though there are many of them to choose from, the Raspberry Pi series of single board PCs remains the most popular choice. If you’re looking forward to buying your first Raspberry Pi, the ridiculously cheap Raspberry Pi Zero is easily the best choice. Retailing for a paltry $5, it comes with a 1 GHz single core CPU, along with 512 MB RAM. In fact, chances are really high that you’ve already got one for yourself. You might be wondering, what amazing things can you do with this small board? The answer is, a lot. Here are the 20 best Raspberry Pi Zero projects you can build in 2020.
Note: If any project requires wireless connectivity you will have to buy wireless modules. A better way is to buy the Raspberry Pi Zero W instead of the original Raspberry Pi Zero as it comes with built-in wireless LAN and Bluetooth connectivity.
Best Raspberry Pi Zero projects to Build in 2020
1.Self Driving Car with Raspberry Pi Zero
Self driving cars are all the rage right now, and one of the best projects you can create with a Raspberry Pi Zero is actually a self-driving car. You’ll require quite a lot of components to make this, including wheels (obviously), cameras, LiPo batteries, and a bunch of other stuff. The project uses Python to code things out, so a basic knowledge of Python should help, but even if you have no idea what Python is, the instructions are pretty detailed and you can simply follow them to complete the build on your own. It’s definitely one of the most exciting things to do with a Raspberry Pi Zero, not just to learn about machine learning and camera vision, but even just for bragging rights.
2. Pi Zero Powered AirPlay Speaker
Apple’s AirPlay protocol offers a nifty little way of wirelessly streaming all sorts of media (audio, video, and photos) from iOS devices to other gadgets that are AirPlay compatible. So if you’ve got an iPhone or an iPad, how about building a Raspberry Pi Zero powered AirPlay speaker for enjoying your music? However, for this project, you’ll need some extra peripherals, such as the pHAT DAC audio board, as well as a speaker and Wi-Fi dongle, since the Pi Zero lacks wireless connectivity. On the software side, nothing else than the Shairport AirTunes emulator and the Raspbian distro is required.
3. Pi Zero Internet Connected Information Display
Quite a lot of our daily time is spent gazing at our gadgets’ displays, checking different types of information. And if you’ve got a Raspberry Pi Zero, you can create your very own programmable information display, and use it to show information like time/date, weather conditions, and social media notifications. This project also requires some extra stuff, including the Adafruit 128×64 OLED display, and two push buttons, which will be used for cycling between the data that’s shown on the display. A little patience, and your mini information console will be up and running in no time.
4. Pi Zero Retro Gaming System
Xbox and PlayStation might rule today’s gaming world, but they are nowhere as fun as the retro gaming consoles (e.g. SNES) of the older days. So if the gamer in you is feeling nostalgic, you can use the Raspberry Pi Zero to create a gaming system that can play everything that you could play on a Sega Genesis or an Amiga. In addition to a classic old CRT TV, you’ll also need to install the RetroPie gaming console emulator on the Pi Zero. What’s more, the awesome folks behind this project have confirmed that the gaming system works perfectly with the Xbox 360 controller ($89). Isn’t that great?
5. A Raspberry Pi Zero Drone
Their usage (in both civilian and military environments) might still be a controversial issue, but there’s little doubting the fact that drones can prove to be extremely useful, and even fun. And what better way to use your Raspberry Pi Zero than to make it the driving force behind a smart drone? Apart from a drone and the Raspberry Pi Zero (obviously), this project requires a PXFMini autopilot board, and a special Linux OS image. Once done, the autopilot board can create its own Wi-Fi using a USB dongle, and use a common game path to control the drone through a ground control station. Not just that, you can also use the Robot Operating System to visualize the flight mode and state of the drone.
6. Raspberry Pi Zero USB Hub
While the compact form factor makes it instantly convenient, it also means that the Zero has less connectivity options, as compared to the Pi 2 and Pi 3. Notably, the Raspberry Pi Zero has only one USB slot, which makes connecting peripherals like keyboards and Wi-Fi dongles a chore. But thanks to this little project, you can easily combine a four port USB hub with the Pi Zero. Although it’s quite a basic do-it-yourself project, it can come in really handy if you intend to interface the Raspberry Pi Zero with multiple peripherals.
7. Pocket Projector
Pocket Projector is one of the ingenious projects that has come out of Raspberry Pi Zero. You can actually build a pocket projector using two additional components and it’s a very low-powered setup. You can even run this project using a battery pack. It uses a tiny LED bulb that passes through the light filter. After that, the light goes through the DMD (Digital Micromirror Device) which finally projects the light on a surface. Keep in mind, as the components are quite cheap, you won’t get the best quality, but it’s surely usable. Overall, the whole setup including Pi Zero, light filter, and DMD will have a footprint of the standard Raspberry Pi.
8. Smart Security Camera
As the name suggests, you can build a security camera system using Raspberry Pi Zero. Not only that, but the camera system is also smart which means you will get email alerts whenever a person or object comes closer to the camera. It uses the OpenCV algorithm to detect objects in real-time and sends the image automatically to your email account. Apart from that, you will need the Raspberry Pi camera module, MDF board, and a couple of screws and nuts. I would say, if you have the expertise to deal with both software and hardware then you can definitely do this project.
9. USB Dongle
If you want to build a USB dongle with memory support and internet access then you can make it possible with Raspberry Pi Zero. You will just need a male USB connector which you can get from Amazon and a few serial cables. After that, just solder the USB male connector to VCC, Ground, and data ports on Raspberry Pi Zero. Next, install Raspbian Lite and configure a few settings. You can even enable the SSH feature so you can access the files on the USB dongle via the internet. Of course, you need to connect the dongle to your computer for it to work. All in all, USB Dongle is one of the easiest Raspberry Pi Zero projects out there and you should definitely try it once.
10. VPN Server
Yes, you can create a VPN server on your Raspberry Pi Zero and re-route all the traffic through a private tunnel for better security and privacy. The project uses the dedicated piVPN program to set up and configure the tunnel. You have the option to use either OpenVPN or WireGuard protocol. Other than that, you will have to enable SSH on Raspbian and forward the ports to the router, in case you are routing the traffic wirelessly. However, I would suggest you to use an Ethernet port for faster performance. To sum up, building a personal VPN server with Raspberry Pi Zero is a great way to leverage its potential.
11. Cryptocurrency Hardware Wallet
Among the many things that you can do with the credit-card-sized Raspberry Pi Zero, creating your own hardware wallet is akin to living by its name. With Pi Zero, you can create bitcoin and other cryptocurrency wallets by using the special hardware developed by Trezor. The best part about this wallet is that the private key to sign a transaction never leaves the device which makes it secure and foolproof. You can send money to anyone in the cryptocurrency network and authenticate transactions with this wallet. So if you deal in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies then you can create your own wallet using Pi Zero for an additional layer of security.
12. Smart Environment Monitor
If you care for the environment (and for our planet), this is one project you’ll love. Its basic idea is to use the Raspberry Pi Zero to power a device that can monitor multiple parameters like temperature, humidity levels, atmospheric pressure etc., and send the data to the AWS IoT platform for processing and analysis. This can be extremely useful for tasks like finding out less/more polluted areas in a city at a given time, or triggering alarms in case the pollution reaches a harmful level. In addition to a bit of software configuration, you’ll also need a bunch of sensors for the project, such as the Temperature and Humidity Sensor. From region, to the measurement interval, everything can be configured.
13. Electric Skateboard
Electric Skateboards are a fun way to get around. But most of the electric skateboards, as we all know, are a little expensive. Well, what if we said you could make your very own electric skateboard with a Raspberry Pie Zero? Yes, you read that right, you can make your very own electric skateboard with the help of a Raspberry Pie.
The components required for this particular project are pretty simple. Besides a skateboard, you’ll need a battery to power the whole setup, a motor and a mount to hold it in place, and a motor controller. You’ll also need a Wiimote to control the skateboard and the Raspberry Pie Zero that will act as the “brains” of the whole contraption. Yes, it might look like a complicated process, but the “RaspberryPieGuy” has put together a neat tutorial video to help you out. Check it out, it could be a fun weekend project.
14. PIX-E GIF Camera
Have you ever wanted a camera that automatically shoots GIFs? Well, with the Raspberry Pi Zero, you can build your own GIF camera. The project does require access to a 3D printer, and apart from that you’ll need things like an RPi camera, a microSD card, a push-button and other components. The best part about this is that you can fully customise the camera to get a different looking body, change the GIF lengths, or even make the camera directly upload your GIFs instead of saving them to the microSD card. It definitely looks like a fun project that you should definitely check out.
15. Xbox Controller Mod
We’ve already discussed (see 3rd point) how you can use Raspberry Pi Zero to make a CRT TV into a retro gaming system. But what if you could fit an entire Raspberry Pi Zero inside an original Xbox controller ($30)? That’s right, you can, thanks to this amazing quirky project. Among the stuff that you’ll need to do this, is a mini HDMI cable/adapter and a USB OTG cable. When everything is done, you just have to flash the pre-built RetroPie image having the necessary emulators, config files etc., to the MicroSD card. So what’s the wait? Get gaming.
16. MatchBot Line Following Robot
One of the more “fun” projects utilizing the Raspberry Pi Zero, the MatchBot is a line following robot with proximity sensing capabilities. It’s built in the form of a two-wheeled toy, with everything stuffed inside a matchbox (yes, you read that right!). The project requires quite some things, such as a buck converter, and motors for powering the wheels. The MatchBot can perform multiple actions, based upon how you interact with the proximity sensor.
17. Tempus Fugit Raspberry Pi Zero WordClock
Another uniquely impressive project based upon the Raspberry Pi Zero, the Tempus Fugit WordClock uses an 8×8 letter matrix to spell out the current time. In addition, the accuracy of the time is maintained by a real-time clock chip, powered by an on-board battery. It might not seem much, but the small project has been successfully funded on Kickstarter, and is already at the working stage. The clock will also come in Dutch and Latin language variants.
18. Raspberry Pi Zero Powered Pirate Radio
If you’ve ever wanted to be a Radio Jockey, this is the time for it. The Pirate Radio project lets you turn Raspberry Pi Zero into a powerful FM transmitter. You’ll need a couple of things for this, such as an antenna, and a battery pack. The standard Raspbian Linux image works perfectly for this. You can use this to transmit all kinds of audio files (e.g. MP3, FLAC, WMA) over your pirate radio.
19. NES Controller Mod
The classic Xbox controller isn’t the only console controller that can house the Pi Zero. If you’re feeling some more retro-gaming nostalgia, you can put the Raspberry Pi Zero inside an NES controller. As you might be knowing by now, this also involves flashing the RetroPie pre-built image on to the MicroSD card you’ll be using with the Raspberry Pi Zero. After that, you’ll also need to setup additional components, such as HDMI monitor, and Wi-Fi dongle.
20. Powering Raspberry Pi From an AA Battery Pack
As portable as the Raspberry Pi Zero is, it still needs a power source to run. But it’s not that much of a problem, as you can easily use a regular AA battery pack to power the Raspberry Pi Zero. Like all mods, this fun little project will also require some extra things, such as a Voltage Booster Module, and a Switched Battery Box. This can come in extremely handy when you want to power up the Raspberry Pi Zero on the go.
Make the Raspberry Pi Zero even better
The Raspberry Pi Zero brings hobbyist computing within everyone’s reach thanks to its low price. Plus given the loads of cool things that you can do with this $5 computer, it’ll only get better. So try out these projects on your Raspberry Pi Zero, and if you’ve got some of your own, don’t forget to mention them in the comments below.