The £30 Raspberry Pi computer has always been a brilliant bit of tech but the newest model, the Pi 3, is finally powerful enough to be seen as a “real computer”. Of course that doesn’t mean we’ll stop using it for amazing DIY projects like retro gaming consoles and catflaps that tweet. There are some obvious accessories you’ll need to have fun with the credit card-sized computer such as a case, a keyboard, a mouse, and an SD card for the operating system. But beyond those there are some really fun and useful accessories for making your computer more powerful or your DIY projects more creative. Here are our 7 favourite accessories for the Raspberry Pi.
1. Raspberry Pi Camera Module V2
The Camera Module is an official camera board for the Raspberry Pi made by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. They’ve always been the best way to capture images or video using the Pi. Instead of plugging into a USB port, the Camera Modules have always been designed to connect to the Pi’s dedicated Camera Serial Interface (CSI). The tiny camera board connects to the a small port on the Pi itself via the connected ribbon. It draws power from the Pi itself and works brilliantly.
The new V2 uses a Sony IMX219 image sensor and can capture images at 3280 x 2464 pixels. It can also record video at 1080p30, 720p60, or 640x480p90. These brilliant modules mean your Pi computer can work as a home security system that emails you pictures or videos of intruders, or it can provide vision to your Pi-powered robots.
2. WDLabs 314GB hard drive
314 GB. Get it? Pi? 3.14? Ahem. The WDLabs 314 GB hard drive was launched on Pi Day and does what it says on the tin: it’s provides lots of storage for your tiny Raspberry Pi. It won’t be essential for everyone but some projects will use huge amounts of data and a Raspberry Pi is usually limited to just a few GB on an SD card. This is especially true for people using the Pi as a media centre. Sure, the Pi is quick enough to stream online content but this drive means you can have your local movie collection ready too.
Although there are other storage solutions available, the WDLabs drive is purpose-built for the Pi and has some great features. It’s designed to draw little power from the Pi itself, it uses the latest WDLabs tech from their standard hard drives for other computers, and comes with the brilliant BerryBoot system that lets you use multiple operating systems on the one drive. Anyone who frequently swaps SD cards to switch between operating systems and projects will appreciate this!
The drive is on a special deal right now at $31.42 (again, get it), which is sadly a boring £27.09 in the UK. That’s just for the drive itself. There are kits and other accessories available but at the minimum we recommend also grabbing the WD PiDrive Cable for £8.99, which deals with data transfer and powers the Pi and PiDrive from one power source.
The Raspberry Pi helps beginners build things they never imagined they could build and the pi-top is a great example. Have you ever wanted to build a laptop? Now you can. The pi-top is a DIY laptop that has everything a normal laptop needs but it’s powered by a Raspberry Pi computer. It’s designed to teach people how to code and create devices but it’s also just a great way to work on your Raspberry Pi in the kitchen or in bed. Students don’t need to find a workstation with a monitor and peripherals to get to work.
The black bar above the keyboard and trackpad clicks off to reveal space for your Raspberry Pi. The laptop uses a 13.3 HD screen and a battery that lasts around 10 hours. It comes with an SD card to use the pi-top operating system and includes CEEDuniverse, an online multiplayer game that teaches you how to code and build hardware that interacts with the game world.
One of the most exciting things you can do with a Raspberry Pi is make it the brain of an electronics project. You could make a robot, or a weather sensor, or a home security system, and all of these will require some electronics know-how to get the Pi to communicate with any sensors or motors your project needs. We can’t all be electronics experts, we can’t all spend time soldering wires to circuit boards, but most people can play with LEGO.
The BrickPi is an amazing board that connects directly to the Raspberry Pi. From there it can connect to sensors and motors from LEGO’s Mindstorms series. These LEGO pieces are designed to work with a small LEGO computer for programming the creations to move around and make sense of the world, but the BrickPi allows your Raspberry Pi to communicate with LEGO’s pieces and all you need to know is the Python programming language. You can make some pretty weird stuff.
The BrickPi itself (and a case for it and the Pi) is €110.28 from Active Robots. There’s also a starter kit for €190.05 that includes the Raspberry Pi B+, a Wi-Fi dongle, a battery pack, an SD card for the operating system, a power supply, and an ethernet cable.
LEGO is great but it’s only going to get you so far in a DIY project. The Mindstorms series has a light sensor, ultrasonic sensor, a button, and some motors, but that’s pretty much it. Of course a Raspberry Pi can be hooked up to just about any electronics if you use something like an Arduino and learn how to use it and get used to soldering. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a middle ground? A simple, user-friendly board like the BrickPi but one that worked with a lot more than just LEGO? Enter the GrovePi.
The GrovePi is like the BrickPi in that it works as an interface between the Raspberry Pi and your electronics. But instead of connecting to LEGO Minstorms goodies, it connects to over 100 amazing sensors and other modules that make up the Grove family. The full collection includes the usual temperature sensors, motors, buttons etc but also things like electromagnets, haptic motors, gas sensors, water atomizers, radio receivers, and even accelerometers/gyroscopes to take your DIY project to the next level. And all of this is plug-and-play. No soldering. No learning more computer languages. Just plug it in.
The GrovePi itself is available for £27.90 (including postage) on Amazon. The best way to get started is with the GrovePi Starter Kit that includes the GrovePi board itself and a bunch of common modules. You can get it for £47.07 on Amazon.
6. PiTFT Mini Kit
There are loads of ways to see what’s going on in your Raspberry Pi. There’s an HDMI port for hooking it up to monitors but small electronics projects sometimes need to think outside the box. The solutions range from calculator-like readouts to small screens and one of the best is PiTFT Mini Kit. It’s a brilliant touchscreen slightly smaller than the Raspberry Pi itself, which lets you interact with the GUI desktop even if the device is built into a tiny DIY project. Everything is cooler with touchscreens, right?
The screen itself is 320×240 and 2.8″ so it might not be the best viewing experience for movies but it could be perfect for some DIY projects. Maybe you don’t need to interact with the operating system but you want your project to display photos and videos. It could be the face of a robot! It’s really simple to use and plugs into the SPI interface on the Pi.
You can grab the PiTFT Mini Kit for £21.89 on Amazon.
Speaking of tiny screens for the Raspberry Pi, we couldn’t possible finish this article without mentioning the PaPiRus. Starting life as a Kickstarter project, the PaPiRus is an e-ink screen for your Pi. Yes, like on a Kindle. It connects to the Raspberry Pi much like the PiTFT mentioned above but this is even less power-hungry. It’s perfect if the touchscreen PiTFT is overkill and uses more energy that you’d like but you can’t use a screen that looks like a calculator’s readout. It would be great for projects that need to conserve energy and display visual information irregularly. We also love it just in principle. The Raspberry Pi gets so much love from enthusiasts around the world that we even have e-ink screens for it.
You can grab PaPiRus from Pi Supply. The 1.44″ screen size is £30, the 2.0″ is £33, and the 2.7″ is £35.
Now that the Pi 3 is fast enough to be a decent home computer and small enough to be used in DIY shenanigans, it feels like there’s nothing the Raspberry Pi can’t do. Hopefully some of the items on this list can help build your next amazing project.