There’s more to educational/hobby micro-electronics than building robots.
If you or your kid can’t muster up excitement about robotics, go take a peek at these 10 projects. I’ve included a variety of different projects that do different things, run on different platforms, require different knowledge levels, and have different price points. Some of them also include the opportunity to learn about enclosure fabrication.
1. The Pimoroni Grow
This handy widget is a Raspberry Pi “HAT” (that stands for “Hardware-On-Top”). It connects to a Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins, and is compatible with any Raspberry Pi model that has 40 GPIO pins (so, not the very earliest Pis). It is easy to connect to a Raspberry Pi – you just (carefully) plug it in so that all 40 pins are seated in the Grow’s GPIO socket. You can separate the two boards later if you need to.
The Grow uses connected capacitive touch sensors on custom-designed plant marker sticks to detect the moisture level in potted plant soil, and then gives a visual indication of moisture level for up to 3 sensors.
2. SparkFun OBD-II UART board
Learn how to read vehicle diagnostics over a serial connection. Those with more experience in micro-electronics should be able to, for example, create a portable version that runs on an Arduino or Raspberry Pi, features a screen and selection options, is rechargeable, and has a custom enclosure.
3. PiHut RasPi TV HAT
Feed digital OTA (broadcast) TV into this board while it’s plugged into a Raspberry Pi and you can stream broadcast TV to other devices on your network.
4. MagTag Pet Feeding Clock
Does your pet tell lies about not having been fed yet? This project is for you!
You can easily program this lightweight smart display to update the date and time your pet was last fed by pushing the left-most button. While it’s not included in the tutorial, a more advanced version of this would give you the ability to track most-recent mealtimes for up to 4 pets (or food plus 3 different medications).
5. Pwnagotchi WiFi Pentester
Test your home network’s wireless security.
Reminder: hack responsibly.
6. Digital-to-Analog Audio Conversion
Have you found a nice pair of old analog speakers at a yard sale? Give them new life with a Raspberry Pi HAT from HiFiBerry.
While you’re at it, you can use the same Raspberry Pi board to also host a local streaming music server using Jellyfin. Note that you will need to have music files stored locally.
7. Environment Sensor HAT
There’s no specific project tutorial for this one, but similar tutorials are available, and part of the lesson can be adapting to using different hardware. This HAT would be great for an offline local weather conditions display. It even has onboard motion sensing for those of you who live in places where earthquakes are frequent. For even more experienced programmers, how about including weather prediction by data analysis?
9. Binary Clock Soldering Kit
This Binary Clock project is a soldering kit that also presents an opportunity to custom fabricate a case. It comes with a printed circuit board, board components, and a pre-programmed IC, so no programming skills are needed for this one.
10. E-Paper Badge
Show your name (or whatever else you want) on a small e-paper display you can wear. You can add magnets to the back to attach it to your shirt or connect it to a badge lanyard (tip: make that easier by adding a bezel-type frame with lanyard loops).
Where to Next?
Once you learn the basic concepts of connecting peripherals and programming logic, you can take disparate components and make something completely new! There are quite a few hobby electronics suppliers out there these days, with lots of platform and form-factor options (we didn’t even get into soft circuits, which are electronics built into clothing using conductive thread and sew-on components!). Browse those tutorial sections, follow makers on Twitter, and maybe even write a tutorial of your own!