Raspberry Pi Zero Projects

James J. Davis
19 min readDec 10, 2020

In this article, I want to tell you about the features of these Raspberry Pi zero projects:

But first, let’s repeat the basics (feel free to proceed to the main course if you already know that).

This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links.

Table Of Contents

· What is RPi?
· Introduction to the Raspberry Pi microcomputer
· Raspberry Pi design review
· Raspberry Pi Components
· Ports
· Peripherals for Raspberry Pi
· Getting started
USB power supply
MicroSD memory card
USB keyboard and mouse
Micro-HDMI cable
Build the hardware
Assembly
Connecting a microSD memory card
Keyboard and mouse connection
Connecting the display
Network cable connection (optional)
Power connection

What is RPi?

The Raspberry Pi Zero is a small, affordable computer that’s perfect for all sorts of projects. You can use it to learn programming skills or explore new ideas in electronics and computing. This series will walk you through the basics, show how easy it is to get started with this tiny powerhouse, and provide some project ideas! Stay tuned for more tutorials on learning about this microcomputer.

It is designed to help you learn how to program, research computers, and build your own applications. It uses the same technology as conventional smartphones already on the world market.

This series of articles is designed to tell you how easy it is to start working with it and implement your ideas!

We are looking at this device in stages:

  • get acquainted with it ourselves, figure out how to install the operating system and start using it;
  • learn how to start programming with step-by-step instructions and the use of Scratch3 and the now very popular programming language Python;
  • we will figure out how to connect different electronic components, expansion boards and create your own coolest project.

Introduction to the Raspberry Pi microcomputer

It is impossible not to notice this microcomputer, despite its small size. It has all the features of a PC and at a very low cost. Suppose for you, the computer is primarily a device for surfing the net.

In that case, the opportunity to play your favorite games or think about how to write a computer program, invent and implement your own projects with electrical networks and physical devices, Raspberry Pi can handle all this on its own. And if something is not clear, you can always ask the enormous community of its admirers.

Raspberry Pi is positioned as a single board computer, which literally means that this computer’s entire necessary working arsenal is placed on a single printed circuit board. It also differs in its small size: the PCB is very close to a credit card’s standard size: 54x86mm. But this does not mean that he can not “argue” with his desktop competitors (including many laptops).

It also has an enormous community of admirers who are ready to answer any question you might have about Raspberry Pi’s many uses and projects, both for entertainment purposes or more serious tasks like inventing your own electronics.

David John Braben first thought of the Raspberry family of computers in 2012. He first wanted to make it so that anyone could use electrical engineering and programming with their own computer, which would cost a lot less than other computers. The Raspberry family should be simple, easy to change for specific purposes, and not too expensive.

To date, Raspberry microcomputers have undergone many transformations, using more productive components. Still, the basic ideas about popularity and cost remain unchanged and standard interfaces for connecting additional equipment.

All Raspberry Pi models can be characterized in two words — compactness and compatibility. We have already figured out compactness, and compatibility says that the software written for one of the models will run and work for all the others, even if the performance of “iron” will not be enough. The speed of development will be lower, but still, the program will run and work.

Raspberry Pi design review

Unlike classical computers, which are housed in cases, this microcomputer puts all its advantages (electronic components, ports) on display — the case if you want, you can buy separately, choosing from a variety of options that will suit you best. Already with this begins the study of this computer device because the eyes are still trying to consider it and understand what it is and why.

The following picture shows the view from above on Raspberry Pi 4 Model B. Note that when working with it, it is advisable to always place it this side up so as not to damage the board elements or GPIO connectors.

At first glance, it may seem like a heap of complex chips and incomprehensible elements. Still, in fact, not everything is as complicated as it may seem at first sight. It is effortless to understand Raspberry Pi. Let’s do it!

At first, it may seem like a big machine with many complicated parts. But inside, there are not many difficult things to do. I think you can learn about Raspberry Pi very easily!

Raspberry Pi Components

Like any computer, it is made of many elements, each of which performs its own role and is responsible for a particular part of the device’s overall operation.

The first and most crucial element is located in the PCB center and is covered with a metal cap from above — it is a system-on-chip (SoC) device.

The chip has a metal cover on it. When you remove the cover, you will find a silicon chip (which is like an electronic circuit). It can do several things at once. The CPU is like the “brain” of the computer and the GPU helps with graphics.

Right next to the CPU, you can see a small black chip. This is the computer’s random access memory (RAM). During the operation of your Raspberry Pi, it is here that all information is stored.

Simultaneously, the computer is powered up, and only if you want to save it will be transferred to the microSD memory card that holds data even if the computer power is turned off. These two components are the computer’s memory system that uses a non-volatile element (chip) and a non-volatile element (memory card) to store information.

At the top and right of the board, you can find another element with an iron cap. This radio module provides Raspberry Pi with wireless communication channels.

The radio module combines two functions: a WiFi connection to connect to computer networks and a Bluetooth connection to connect to peripherals such as a mouse and transmit and receive data from nearby peripherals (sensors, smartphones, etc.).

The next black chip can be seen on the bottom of the board next to the middle USB port. This is called a USB controller and handles 4 USB ports. Next to it, there is a smaller chip called the network controller. It handles the network port on Raspberry Pi.

Finally, the smallest chip can be seen slightly above the Type-C USB connector on the board’s top left side. It is called a power management integrated circuit (PMIC). It provides power distribution to Raspberry Pi via a micro-USB port for all computer elements that need it.

Don’t hurry to get upset if all the above seems complicated and incomprehensible to you. In fact, you don’t need to know what elements are there and where they are located on your computer to enjoy using Raspberry Pi.

Ports

The Raspberry Pi has a lot of ports. You can connect devices to its 4 USB ports. You can connect a keyboard, mouse, camera, and removable drives to the Raspberry Pi using these ports. You can even attach a VGA wire or an Ethernet cable to the Raspberry Pi. Have you ever thought of using wirelessly? Wireless devices communicate via radio waves, so they need a wireless transceiver. In this case, we mean a WiFi dongle. And if you use your phone as a mouse or keyboard, then you may find Bluetooth a better option.

Nowadays, smartphones and tablets do a lot of tasks formerly reserved for personal computers. So why use a computer when you can use your phone? There are some restrictions on the apps that come with Android phones. If you find yourself in this situation, then check out these Raspberry Pi projects: turn it into a server or get it to work like a phone.

  • The first type (with a black plastic core) is a USB 2.0 port, which corresponds to the second version of the universal serial bus standard.
  • The second type (with a blue plastic core) is USB 3.0, corresponding to the newer version with higher bandwidth.

Right of the USB ports is a network port (Ethernet port). It is designed to connect your computer to wired networks using a network cable with an RJ-45 connector. If you take a closer look at the port, you will see two light-emitting diodes (LEDs) on the bottom of the port. These are status light-emitting diodes. They allow you to visually determine if the connection and communication with the network are going on.

Above the USB ports, the left side of the board is a 3.5mm audio-visual (AV) jack, better known as a headphone jack. Basically, it is for this purpose.

The sound quality of the output is quite decent, but the way it is perceived depends on its headset. By the way, this jack has a nice bonus. This jack transmits video signal as well, so you can connect to Raspberry Pi display, projector, and other similar devices that support composite video signal using a special cable tip-ring-sleeve (TRRS).

A little bit of the 3.5 mm AV connector above is an unusual shape connector with a plastic latch plate that can be lifted upwards. This is a camera connector, better known as a Camera Serial Interface (CSI). It allows you to connect to a computer specially designed camera modules (Raspberry Pi Camera Module), which we will consider later.

And on the same side of the board and a little higher, there are 2 identical ports. These are micro-HDMI ports (micro High Definition Multimedia Interface). They are entirely similar to standard full-size HDMI connectors except for their size. Based on the name, both video and audio signals are transmitted through these ports (each), and HD indicates the high-resolution signal’s quality. On this model, two ports mean that you can enjoy all the benefits of connecting two monitors at once and working together.

Above the HDMI port is the USB Type-C power port, which connects the power supply. This port is similar to the ports on smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices. You can use both standard cell phone chargers to power Raspberry Pi and the official power supply recommended by the manufacturer Raspberry Pi USB Type-C Power Supply.

On the top edge of the board is another oddly shaped connector, which at first glance looks very similar to the camera connector. It performs the exact opposite function: display connector or serial interface (DSI), designed for use with a touch screen display Raspberry Pi.

There is a connector with 40 pins of metal contacts on the upper right side of the board, divided into 2 rows of 20 pins each. This is a GPIO (general-purpose input/output) connector — a special functional connector for connecting external hardware, ranging from panels with LEDs and buttons to sensors, joysticks, and other hardware. There is another one below and below this connector, smaller in size, consisting of 4 pins. It is used to connect expansion cards with the function of receiving power through a network cable (Power over Ethernet, PoE), which allows you not to use the power connectors for your computer and to connect only one cable — network.

Finally, another port you can find on the back of your computer board is a microSD card slot. It is used as a port to transfer your data to the storage located on the microSD card, where all installed programs are located, as well as the operating system.

Peripherals for Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi microcomputer cannot typically perform all the computer functions, just like any other desktop. It requires peripherals: at least a microSD card, monitor, keyboard and mouse, and a 5V, 3A power supply with a Type-C USB connector. With this kit, you will already have a fully functional computer. How to connect all these devices correctly will be explained below.

One interesting fact about Raspberry Pi is that the processor of the device is more powerful than an Intel Atom Quad Core, but less powerful than an Intel Core i5.

But this is not all the peripherals that you can use with an RPi. The official accessories offered by the manufacturer include RPi case (Raspberry Pi Case), which protects the case from mechanical influences, camera module (Camera Module), touch screen (Raspberry Pi Touch Display), which connects to the port of the display and provides the functionality of both the display and the tablet with a touch screen, as well as multifunctional expansion board Sense HAT, equipped with a matrix display, joystick, and various sensors. We will talk about all of this further.

A wide range of third-party boards and devices are available that Raspberry Pi supports, from kits to turn it into a laptop or tablet to machines that give it the ability to recognize your speech or even talk to you. Starting to build your computer, you want to try all the possible expansion cards. Still, you don’t be in a hurry to spend your entire budget. Let’s do it wisely and profitably for your training and specific tasks.

Getting started

Raspberry Pi was created mainly for beginners and training purposes, so the requirements for ease of assembly and quick start of the system were in the first place originally. We also showed that only an RPi board, although called a microcomputer, without specific external devices called peripherals such as a monitor, input devices (keyboard and mouse), memory card, and power supply, is not yet 100% capable of performing all the functions we require of a computer. After reviewing all these components, you can assemble, connect, and run your Raspberry Pi yourself within 10 minutes!

You will need it to start:

USB power supply

The company recommends (but does not insist) the use of an original Official Raspberry Pi Power Supply, designed to ensure stable operation of the microcomputer, and also has a small power reserve, which may be useful to you in the future because the power requests for your projects are often higher.

MicroSD memory card

It is used to store information in a non-volatile mode. It is analogous to the hard disk drive in conventional PCs. The memory card stores files and folders of the operating system, installed software, and your personal files.

To run the RPi, you need a card with a minimum capacity of 8 GB. You can use memory cards with a total of up to 510GB, which will ensure both the operation of your microcomputer and enough space for installed programs and storage of personal data.

To save time for installing the Operating System (OS), you can use a memory card with a pre-installed system NOOBS (the New Out-Of-Box Software). The NOOBS pre-installed system is a convenient operating system installer containing the Raspbian, LibreELEC, Arch Linux, and other distributions. It also provides a choice of alternative operating systems that can be downloaded from the Internet and installed on your RPi.

NOOBS allows you to save a lot of time on OS installation because all the data will be at hand, and you won’t even need an Internet connection. For more details about installing NOOBS on an empty memory card (if you use your new empty memory card and don’t have a card with a pre-installed system), we will tell you further — in Appendix 1 of this manual.

USB keyboard and mouse

You can use both wired with USB connection and wireless keyboard and mouse. Almost all models of these devices will work with Raspberry Pi.

Please note that the use of “gaming” keyboards with a lot of backlighting and indication and high power consumption can negatively affect the performance of RPi.

Micro-HDMI cable

It is necessary to transfer images and sound to a monitor or TV. You need a cable with one micro-HDMI connector and one full-size HDMI to connect to your monitor. Alternatively, you can use a standard HDMI to HDMI cable and an HDMI to a micro-HDMI adapter connected to it. Use a monitor without an HDMI interface. You can use micro-HDMI adapters to DVI-D, DisplayPort, or VGA (depending on which connector on your monitor). To connect older TVs, use a composite output or SCART connector and a 3.5 mm tip-ring-sleeve (TRRS) audio/video cable.

If you are using a Raspberry Pi 3, then it has built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi modules. To use these features, you will need to connect the appropriate USB dongles. You can also hook up a keyboard or mouse via USB. There is an integrated 3.5 mm TRRS audio/video jack that supports both microphone input and headphone output (astutely called TRRS). An adapter for full-size headphones will be enough.

The Raspberry Pi computer does not have any internal battery or power source of its own, so it needs to be connected to an external power supply with the required voltage. The kit includes a 5V 2A microUSB power supply with Type-C USB connector and Type-C USB cable. It is important to use this power supply and not some other one, especially if you want to create a mobile device.

The kit also includes an 8 GB microSD card with NOOBs (New Out Of Box Software) operating system for Raspberry Pi 3 Model B / 2 Model B / Model A+. The most important thing about the NOOBs is that it allows you to build your own programs without having to learn the language of programming from scratch, as well as provides access to pre-installed ready-made software built on Scratch, Sonic Pi, Python and Minecraft. On top of all of this, there are thousands of additional free programs available online if you wish!

Raspberry Pi can be used without the case, but take care not to place it on metal or other conductive surfaces that could short circuit and damage the device. The case for Raspberry Pi is not obligatory. However, it is still highly recommended to use it for maximum protection of your device. The Starter Pack includes a standard case for Raspberry Pi Case, but it is also allowed to use other third-party issues.

Suppose you decide to use Raspberry Pi with a wired network. In that case, you will need a network cable that connects one connector to the RPi and the other to a network router (router).

If you choose to use a wireless connection, you will not need a network cable, but make sure you know the wireless network’s name and password.

Build the hardware

Starting with unpacking your Raspberry Pi, take as a rule only the side edges, not the flat sides. Be especially careful with metal pins of connectors. They can bend and, at best, find it difficult to connect the expansion board, and at worst, they can cause a short circuit and failure of the entire device.

Assembly

If you decide to assemble your Raspberry Pi in a case, it will be the first step of assembly. We will consider this on the example of a standard Official Raspberry Pi Case. Start by dividing the case into 2 parts: the top cover of white and the bottom red.

Step 1: Take the lower red part of the body in your hand so that the high edge was left and the low right (see picture).

Step 2: Hold your Raspberry Pi by the USB and Ethernet ports with your right fingers and gently insert the computer board starting from the USB Type-C, 2 × micro-HDMI, and 3.5 mm side so that all these connectors are facing the corresponding holes in the case. At this step, you do not need to insert the microSD card into the slot yet.

Step 3: Take the white case cover and point the two white latches on the left into the corresponding holes near the memory card slot. When they are in place, right-click on the right side of the case until you hear a distinctive click.

Connecting a microSD memory card

To install a memory card, which is the storage of Raspberry Pi, turn the case and install the card in the slot contacts to the board and inscriptions from the board. You can only insert the memory card into place in the correct position. Do not put too much effort into the installation process.

The card is inserted into the slot without clicking.

If you want to take it out, just grab it by the edge at the end and slightly pull it out.

Pay attention! If you’re using early Raspberry Pi models, you’ll feel a click when you install the card, and you’ll initially need to press a little to free it up.

Keyboard and mouse connection

The keyboard and mouse manipulator are called input devices and are designed to generate and transmit control signals to the computer.

You can plug them into any of the available USB ports (2.0 or 3.0) on the RPi to get started. It doesn’t matter where you connect your mouse: to a USB port on the microcomputer or if you use the Official Raspberry Pi Keyboard, to a USB port on the back of the computer.

The connectors must be inserted carefully, without unnecessary effort. If you can’t insert the connector, check to see if you’re trying to insert it with the wrong side and flip it over.

Connecting the display

Take the micro-HDMI cable and connect one end to the micro-HDMI port, closer to the USB Type-C power connector on the board and the other end to the display.

Please note! If your display or TV does not have an HDMI port, it absolutely does not mean that Raspberry Pi will not work with it! Using special adapters, you can connect the micro-HDMI port of your computer to devices with DVI-D, DisplayPort, or VGA connectors. If you connect to a TV with only composite input or SCART connectors, buy a 3.5 mm tip-ring-sleeve (TRRS) audio/video cable and a composite-to-SCART adapter.

Network cable connection (optional)

To connect a microcomputer to a network using a network cable (Ethernet cable), take the cable and plug it into a network port (Ethernet port) with a plastic latch pointing down towards the board until a characteristic click indicates that the cable is locked. To remove the cable, simply press the latch toward the cable and gently pull the line out of the connector.

The second connector of the network cable must be connected to your network splitter (router).

Power connection

Connecting power to Raspberry Pi is the last step in the build process, and that’s what you should do just before you turn on your microcomputer to install the software and operating system.

Note that Raspberry Pi does not have a power switch and switches on as soon as the power connector is connected.

So, plug the USB Type-C connector of the power cable into the USB Type-C connector of the board. It can be inserted in either side — you will not be mistaken. If your power supply has a removable power cable, make sure the other end of the cable is inserted into the power supply case.

Finally, plug in the power supply and your Raspberry Pi will immediately come alive.

You can even try to update the OS version:

Congratulations to you! You have just assembled the entire microcomputer and started it up!

Soon you will see the Raspberry Pi logo on the screen at the top left on a black screen, and then several times the blue screen may appear, while the software will adjust its work with the full memory card capacity.

If you see a black screen, wait a few minutes. During the first run of Raspberry Pi you need to perform some operations in the background before you see the familiar desktop and the installer (see picture).

Read more in this online course

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