Coping: The Raspberry Pi Revolution

OK:  I’m hooked.  I am totally onboard with the Raspberry Pi revolution and I have one mighty-damn-fine project under my belt.

Raspberry Pi’s and robotics are going to take over the world.  And over the past couple of weeks I have been quietly making arrangements for them to take over the passenger’s view of instruments in the airplane.

First, some background.  How did I become inPituated?

As you may know, the FAA has announced a new set of safety standards which will be going into effect called Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcasts.  ADS-B for short.

We have had an ADS-B receiver in our plane for going on three-years now.  And it works great.  Not only can we see the “other guys” on the iFly 740 (WAAS) GPS on my side of the airplane, but in a couple of days – and certainly for when my life-long pal shows up in a week, or so for play time at the ranch – we will have the new Kindle Fire HD also showing the full display on the passenger’s side.

Right now, our old airborne traffic and weather receiver (which I will be selling cheap on eBay) doesn’t provide for two (or more) devices to connect to it.  Just one.

The problem is that the original design was based on the airplane’s WAN serving a static IP address.  I mean, who knew, right?

Yet here we are a few years after the fact and suddenly we have a “need” for three devices to be looking at each other and the traffic and live weather.

I called the outfit that made the airborne unit and they offered me a trade-in for $650 bucks on a new top-of-the-line unit.  But that seemed a bit steep.

It was about here that I heard about how neat the project was doing.

This is an effort of a bunch of aviation types, who happen to be hardware and computer savvy, to build a Raspberry Pi-based receiver that will do all things for all people.

And at a fraction of the price.

It works Great!!!

The only problem I could come up with in our application was the very minor nit of the possibilities of screws coming loose due to vibration over enough flying.

A quick visit to the house and some help from Elaine and we came up with just the right solution:  A bottle of red nail polish.

The polish goes on very lightly, with a toothpick and a steady hand, and you just put enough of a dab on the nut/screw junction to discourage the nut from coming loose.  LockTite is the stuff I used almost 50 years ago when I was an 18-year old journeyman R&E mechanic (Local 751, Seattle) at the old Hughes AirWest.  But it was red.


The hole with the X over it is waiting for a screw until the polish on the fan screws is set.

When the whole thing is assembled, and this is fine points of workmanship for sure, you get out another toothpick and apply a dab of polish to the case screws,

As you do this part, you want to be very careful not to fill up the Phillips head with paint.  That’s considered very bad form.  A real picky aircraft inspector will ding you many points for this, or at least give you 10-minutes of “You damn kids don’t know nuthin anymore…”  Ask me how I know.


In the picture below, the whole collection of parts includes…

  1. Receiver 1 dongle  1080 MHz
  2. Receiver 2 dongle 978 MHz
  3. USB GPS Receiver
  4. Receiver 1 remote antenna
  5. Receiver 2 remote antenna
  6. Some under the plugs is the mini Wifi adapter
  7. Mr. Ure’s favorite Pi with Stratux filling


When you’re done, you spread the whole assembly out on the workbench and ask yourself: “How the hell am I going to secure all this so it won’t bounce around?”

There are two simple answers:  REAL Professional Grade non-reflective black Gaffer Tape is one.  It will run from $14 to $17 a roll.

“OK, why not duct tape?

Mon Dieu!   You may not appreciate the difference, but I was first introduced to it my Mike Hall, I remember the name as.  He was teaching video classes when I ran a broadcasting school.  The rest of the time he was shooting Mariner’s games, some ESPN stuff, and a ton of news freelance.  “Try to get THIS off…”

Gaffer tape is what “duct tape” wants to be when it grows up.

The other universal attachment method is UV resistant black cable ties which we buy by the hundreds. 

Used to be on a farm “Bailing wire” held everything together.  Now about all you here is “Hey Bubba, hand me some duct tape and some zip-ties, wouldjah?”

The GREAT part of this is the whole price tag for all this stuff came to about $170.  Including the metal enclosure with a built-in fan.  I won’t spoil the fun of figuring out where it plug in.

In all, the whole project cost five hours…and that included downloading the latest build of the software and bumping that (as an image file) over onto the mini SD card on the bottom of the Pi.

It also included leaving the whole thing get up outside and seeing a couple of planes (commercial) cross our area and watching the GPS location jitter and making sure all was what we were expecting.

The yoke mount for the Kindle is an X-mount (size 2) from Ram, which is into the business of mounting things.  (Please, don’t go there…)

In the end, when the Stratux group hones the Altitude and Heading Reference System (AHRS) code, we will have like weather, live moving maps and 8” screens (the 740 is bright sunlight readable, the Kindle HD, not to much, and the iPads not very much at all.  And some of them (Retina) some shut down their displays over 95F, or hotter which is an issue in Southern flying.

This is something I worked on last week, and thought I’d mention.

A finer example of how Pi’s are taking over the world, one vertical market at a time.

The guys who are making the $850 and up (try $1,780) commercial units should be having nightmares about Pi lovers.

And if you want a fun project sometime, find a piece of high-end ANYTHING you can think of and figure a way to throw a Pi and a few USB goodies at it.

Instructables has a (somewhat dated) Raspberry Pi media server project here.

But event more interesting is the Pi attempt to clone some of the feature set of the Amazon Echo product line.

There’s a whole article on how to build a Raspberry Pi-based version of Echo but the home-made one doesn’t listen to conversations ALL THE TIME.  You have to press a button to speak.

Fun?  Hell yeah.

As one of the  commenters noted: “This begs to be made into a wearable Echo. I hope someone more productive than I am is thinking along these lines!”

Once you have one successful Pi project, others seem to scream for attention.  Just what we need…more projects around here.

You’ll then be part of the Pi-volution, too. 

12 thoughts on “Coping: The Raspberry Pi Revolution”

  1. “There are two simple answers: REAL Professional Grade non-reflective black Gaffer Tape “” “Try to get THIS off…”

    it is great.. but my god.. he was right.. try to get this off.. even off the roll so you can use it LOL…

  2. As one of the commenters noted: “This begs to be made into a wearable Echo. I hope someone more productive than I am is thinking along these lines!”
    Star Trek communication device :), NO wait, “to infinity and beyond”
    Gotta try this THANK YOU!

  3. For those of us who hate the white screen here: a small towel thrown over the screen, so that only a few lines show at a time, works great. Some day I’ll have to sew a proper shroud, maybe with a “George” logo ion it. In the meantime, this unused wedding present has a purpose now!
    Sure wish the screen was grey, like in the financial half of today’s letter.

    • Hi Roberta,

      For those of us who live in bright sun country and have seasoned eyes, any contrast less than solid black on white is insufficient to read easily. Backgrounds in other colors or pictures are a nightmare.

      I’m glad you found a solution that works for you.

    • Have you considered using scrim? A scrim cover with an Urban Survival logo would be a great reading tool. I’d buy one as I find the site hard to read now too.

  4. My kid came home from visiting the grandparents with a smartphone. We had just given him an iPhone 5, so I was curious. He got it at a dollar store for $20. If he breaks the iPhone, the SIM card will drop in and work. But he really got it because it can run Linux, can take huge memory sticks in its use mini port, has a decent display and touch interface, wifi, Bluetooth and a a power supply. And he got a backup battery and charger for $3 that will charge either phone. It will charge the iPhone twice before needing a recharge.

    Kid loves raspberry pi, but the cheap phones have way more features and cost half as much. We are thinking about shifting our music to something these will run and storing it on backed up flash drives. Videos too. Perfect for travel cuz if you lose them, nbd. But the applications are endless, especially with a solar backup. Like a portable video player that broadcasts to a dongle in any usb port on a modern TV, such as in a hotel or B&B, yet fits hundreds of hours of movies in your pocket. Or portable recording security cameras. Or identity protecting cheap web surfers. Or even maybe internet radios. Some of these phones may even have regular radios, but most can run various forms of Linux.

  5. I’d love to build a megasquirt unit(replacement for factory ECU/PCU in an engine), as such a thing would allow many modern engines to be used in farm equipment and other applications. It could use the Raspberry Pi or other controller.

    Unfortunately, these things are an incredible time sink unless someone else has properly engineered it first, and I already have more than a lifetime’s worth of projects.

  6. The problem with cheap phones are that they are hackable. The key word of the future is convergence. The version of Ubuntu Linux coming out next month will allow a cell phone to be docked, becoming at first your desktop computer, and eventually will plug into a laptop or tablet shell.

    Once you get out of the USA, you quickly realize that for most of the world there is no money for both a smartphone and a computer. The company that perfects this convergence concept is going to be the next apple, because there are a billion people waiting for this device. Once properly implemented, I estimate this will save households $500 Per year per member, and companies with employees needing both a phone and a computer $1,000 per year per employee.

    The future lies in reducing the number of cpu’s in your life, and if that does not work for you think of it as reducing the number of switches in your life that turn things on and off. You see, the secret is, it is really difficult to use more than one device at a time. So one device will control your house, your car, your tv, your security etc. Lose the device, you just get another, download your data from the web, and you are good to go. The problem with multiple small devices is after 3-7 years they all stop working, and your life turns into a litany of something not working about all the time. These devices are always developed individually, so I do not discourage small developers, but keep in mind there is an example of a radio shack ad from the 80’s out there where every device in the ad was replaced with one smartphone.

    The money is not in the device, it is the software the device will run. A phone call is probably the least sophisticated thing a smartphone can do.

  7. “Try to get THIS off…” I thought at first he was referring to the stickum residue left behind by cheap duct tape. I always hated it when a cheap production manager let loose rolls of cheap duct tape for Television studio and remote production for taping cables down to the floor so they were less of a ‘trip’ hazard. Afterwards the used cables were left in the shop for us maintenance-types to clean up. Solvents and gum removers, “goo-gone”, and endless wiping down of hundreds of feet of audio and video cable are not my idea of a good time.

    Gaffer’s tape is like the force… it has a light and a dark side, and holds the universe together.

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