2021 saw the launch of the Raspberry Pi Pico, and while it may not pack the same punch as other small computers, the tiny $4 microcontroller still has enough power for an extensive range of applications that are both fun and useful.
The best part is anyone can complete all of the following projects thanks to the detailed guides provided by Raspberry Pi enthusiasts. Your little $4 Pico can even be a fantastic entry point into the world of coding and electronics.
None of the projects we’ve listed will result in useless or boring electronic devices that make noise for no reason or make an LED blink on and off. We have all the details on cool things like Pico-based emulators, smart home controllers, robots, and even drones, so keep reading.
The Raspberry Pi Pico is a microcontroller, a tiny computer housed on a single semiconductor. This comes with some positives and negatives. The main downside is, a Pico isn’t going to be as powerful as its big brothers. A Raspberry Pi 4 boasts a 1.5GHz quad-core processor and up to 8GB of RAM—while the Pico clocks in at 133MHz and sports 256KB of RAM. But the Pico has some significant upsides, the main two being its tiny size and the fact you can pick one up for $4.
While the Pico’s lack of power might make it seem limited compared to the rest of the Raspberry Pi family, it is still capable of becoming the core component of several fun projects. In some cases, like with drone building, the Pico’s lack of weight makes it far more suitable than any other Pi.
To help get the most out of the hardware, microcontrollers like the Pico have their own stripped-down and efficient version of Python 3, called MicroPython. However, experienced Python users shouldn’t worry; MicroPython is cross-compatible, and in a lot of cases, code from regular Python can be transferred with ease.
Using any version of the Pi to create something is rewarding and fun. But the fun doesn’t have to stop when the project is complete. The Pico can emulate older video game systems, several visual games, and even cutting-edge toys for the family pet despite its limitations. These projects aren’t easy, but their creators have provided guides anyone can follow, and if you make it to the end, you have something you can enjoy for a long time.
- 8-Bit Emulator: YouTuber Robin Grosset has used a Pico as the basis for a BBC Micro emulator. The Pico packs enough punch to emulate any 8-Bit system, including the NES. Your Pico can even make the leap to 16-Bit and run a multiplayer port of DOOM.
- Simon Game: If you’re looking for something more tactile, Tom’s Hardware has designed a Pico version of the classic game Simon.
- Dog Ball Launcher: Why should humans be the only ones having fun with a Pi Pico? This automatic ball launcher should keep your furry friend entertained for hours while you work on other Pico projects. Brankly has a detailed video tutorial and links to the necessary parts, code, and 3D printer files.
Smart home technology is becoming more common and easier to set up and integrate. However, if you want to be more hands-on with your smart home, a Pi Pico may be the way to go. You can use it to control some existing devices or even create a new device from scratch.
- Control Your Lights: Yes, tons of smart bulbs work seamlessly with most major smart home apps, but those are a bit too easy to use with their finely polished apps and general functionality. If you want to go hardcore with home automation and make your own light controller, Youtuber Nikunj Panchal has a guide on using a Pico to control a set of smart bulbs.
- Thermometer and Humidity Sensor: Have you ever felt a little too hot and humid or cold and dry? Completing this fun little project can help you scientifically confirm those suspicions.
- Automatic Fan: For the hot and humid folks above who need a break, you can code a Pico to control a fan. It can turn the fan on at a specific temperature and increase the fan speed as the mercury rises.
- Sous Vide Setup: There’s cooking food from scratch, then there’s cooking from a point where you’re designing and building your own equipment. A Pi Pico can form the basis of your entry point into the world of sous vide. For those who don’t know, that’s a cooking method that involves boiling something in a bag at a set temperature before finishing it off in an oven or pan.
If you watched Battle Bots or its infinitely superior British cousin Robot Wars as a kid, you might have dreamed of building your own little death machine one of these days. While none of the following robots have chainsaws or flamethrowers attached, they are all an excellent way to get to grips with amateur robotics. And hey—you can always
attach a chainsaw tape a butter knife to one of them if you want to.
- Simple Robot: This robot has three wheels and a (limited) mind of its own. It will wander around your house like a blind Roomba whenever you switch it on. It is a great entry point into robot building, and you’ll learn a lot about the mechanics of it all and the basic code required.
- Remote Controlled Car: The remote-controlled car project is a little more advanced on paper, but the parts come in a kit and with a detailed guide.
- More Advanced Bot: Hash Robotics has a tutorial on building a more advanced robot that can spot and react to various obstacles. The bot isn’t limited to stationary obstacles, like a table or sofa, and can avoid things you place in front of it as it goes about its business.
- Mini Drone: This is my favorite and one I’m going to try myself ASAP. Robu.in has the most straightforward tutorial and is the one I’ve linked at the start. But if you want to see how far the Pico Drone concept can go, Rav Butani’s PiWings playlist has several different working configurations.