Not every embedded computing project requires the power of a Raspberry Pi. Here are nine based on much simpler platforms that still give you outstanding results.
As I have recently explored, Raspberry Pi projects could offer hours of summer fun for you and your family. The kicker to those projects is that you also get to learn about Linux and some business-class embedded programming languages while you're having fun. A win-win, right?
The trouble is, there are lots of folks for whom the RasPi is a platform too far. If polishing your basic programming skills or learning to control hardware through software is your goal, the overhead of a real operating system can add just enough complexity to move the project from "challenging" to "discouraging." Fortunately, there are project platforms that don't carry the OS weight and can get you straight to the hardware interface and application coding steps.
In many ways the start of the current embedded control explosion can be traced back to the debut of the Arduino. A simple controller with an even simpler programming language and IDE (Integrated Development Environment), the Arduino provides an ecosystem that will allow you to start with turning an LED on and off and progress up to industrial-level projects with multiple inputs and outputs.
Of course, the Arduino isn't the only option when it comes to embedded control projects. From "traditional" answers like the Intel 8051 family, to the Picaxe and Beagle Bone, to the Galileo and the Edison, there are now embedded control platforms that can meet just about any requirement you might have for a project.
This article is mostly Arduino, though there is a Picaxe thrown in for spice. There's a range of project complexity in here and, yes, there are two different ways to do the same thing -- two weather projects because they show very different ways to approach a common problem.
[See Top Programming Languages That Will Future-Proof Your Portfolio.]
If you're going on vacation, throw a couple of Arduinos in your kit with your laptop and you'll find that you've got a good way to while away a rainy afternoon or an unexpected airport layover. You can spend a few evenings and build a project that's Facebook-worthy. If you add the right Lego kit you can even spend some time with a youngster building a robot that can do very cool things. (Even if you don't have a young one to work with, don't let that stop you from buying your own box of Lego bricks for a robot project.)
Take a look and let me know which of these projects seems like a winner to you. I've got some favorites -- and I have a box full of controllers just waiting for me to free up some time.
If you've built a project that's not on the list, please let me know that, too. I'm always on the lookout for the next way to spend a long weekend building something cool.