The smart clock shows the current time and weather, a weather forecast for the next 18 hours and waiting time at the bus stops closer to my house. As you'll read, configuring the kind of data displayed is really easy, and it only requires a little knowledge of Linux systems (in my case, the Raspbian distribution) and PHP (even if you can also use Python, NodeJS or any other language).
First of all, you'll need a Raspberry Pi computer. I chose the "Model B" because it is a little bit more powerful than the original one. You can buy one from one of the Raspberry official resellers (a list is available here: http://www.raspberrypi.org/ ). If you live in Italy, you'll find that buying it on Amazon.it is easier than ordering it from the official sellers. I bought mine at this link http://www.amazon.it/gp/product/B008PT4GGC/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=3370&creative=23322&creativeASIN=B008PT4GGC&linkCode=as2&tag=simonlippo06-21.
The second step is to buy an SD card. Check the list of compatible SD Cards on the Raspberry Pi site. I am using this one bought (once again) on Amazon: http://www.amazon.it/gp/product/B000OF2F36/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=3370&creative=23322&creativeASIN=B000OF2F36&linkCode=as2&tag=simonlippo06-21
Your next step is finding a way to provide power to the Raspberry. You have two choices: if you plan to use a modern TV as a monitor for your clock, then you can just plug the Raspberry into one of the TV's USB ports; the other solution is to use any micro-USB adaptor (yes, the one that comes with your Android or Windows Phone mobile will work perfectly). Should you need to buy one, Amazon is still a good place where you can find a cheap power adaptor ( http://www.amazon.it/gp/product/B003XRQE3E/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=3370&creative=23322&creativeASIN=B003XRQE3E&linkCode=as2&tag=simonlippo06-21 ). Every Raspberry Pi official seller has its own adaptor.
Also, I noticed that sites like Adafruit ( http://www.adafruit.com/ ) sell a "Raspberry Starter Kit" that already contains the Raspberry itself, the power adaptor and the SD card. You might consider buying one of them.
Another thing you'll need is a monitor. My specific need was to have something extremely small, so I chose to buy a 4.3'' LCD monitor. This kind of monitors are the one that you are using as rearview monitors on your car, they're very cheap (mine cost me around 26 EUR) but not too accurate in displaying fancy graphics (consider this if your design contains a lot of pictures and low-contrast graphics). My idea is to fit everything, Raspberry + Monitor in some sort of box and hang it to the wall next to my apartment's entrance door. If your requirements are different, maybe you'll find a different solution. Anyway, the monitor that I am using is like this one, again, from Amazon: http://www.amazon.it/gp/product/B009VYKGLO/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=3370&creative=23322&creativeASIN=B009VYKGLO&linkCode=as2&tag=simonlippo06-21.
You will probably need to find a way to supply power to the monitor: This kind of device is designed to work on cars, so you'll need to buy a power adaptor to make it work in your house. Amazon is full of cheap devices that will do this job, just like this one: http://www.amazon.it/gp/product/B002TPY1VS/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=3370&creative=23322&creativeASIN=B002TPY1VS&linkCode=as2&tag=simonlippo06-21
Another thing that you have to consider is the internet connection: the Raspberry comes with an Ethernet port, if you plan to use WI-FI you have to buy a USB adaptor; again, check the Raspberry Pi site for a list of compatible devices, the one that I am using is this one: http://www.amazon.it/gp/product/B002VGQQAE/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=3370&creative=23322&creativeASIN=B002VGQQAE&linkCode=as2&tag=simonlippo06-21
Raspberry Pi: 38.90 EUR
SD Card: 6.08 EUR
Power adaptor for the Raspberry: 16.99 EUR
Monitor: 29.55 EUR
Power adaptor for the monitor: 14.14 EUR
Wi-fi USB adaptor: 12.08 EUR
First thing you'll need to do is setting up your Raspberry properly. Follow the instructions that you can find on the Raspberry website ( http://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads ) on how to install the latest Raspbian version on your SD card. The process won't take more than 30 minutes; once it's completed, just insert your SD card into the Raspberry, plug the power in, and start some advanced configuration. During this process, my advice is to connect the Raspberry to a real monitor, just to be able to read what appears on the screen.
Now you have to setup your network connection: if you plugged an ethernet cable in, then you don't need to do anything. If you are using the USB wi-fi adaptor, follow this tutorial to configure it: http://www.raspberryshake.com/raspberry-pi-wireless-network-setup/
The next phase consists of updating your system (type sudo apt-get update) and installing the server-side software you'll need. I wrote my bots with PHP, so I installed Apache and Php5 with mod_curl. Follow this tutorial: http://www.dingleberrypi.com/2012/09/tutorial-install-apache-php-and-mysql-on-raspberry-pi/ for step-by-step instructions.
Now your Raspberry is ready to be transformed into a Kiosk or, since the monitor you bought is smaller than the one on your iphone, a wall clock. Follow this tutorial to install chromium and configure your Raspberry to boot with a full-screen chromium instance: http://blogs.wcode.org/2013/09/howto-boot-your-raspberry-pi-into-a-fullscreen-browser-kiosk/ If you plan to use a small analog monitor as a display, you can skip any editing at the /boot/config.txt file.
Once it's done, you're almost set. Shut the Raspberry off, disconnect it from the "real" monitor and connect it to your small monitor. Turn the power on and see what happens.
Well, actually I know what will happen. The Raspberry will start, and you'll see a lot of unreadable lines on your monitor. Since the screen that you are using is analog, the Raspberry is unable to read its resolutions and properties, so you'll have to manually configure them. Just use another computer to SSH into your Raspberry Pi, and follow this tutorial on how to setup the screen resolution: http://learn.adafruit.com/using-a-mini-pal-ntsc-display-with-a-raspberry-pi/overview you'll probably need to play a lot with the overscan settings: my monitor was sold as a 480x272px but I was forced to add more than 50px at the top and as overscan... This is the most boring part, because every time you'll edit a parameter you'll need to reboot to see the changes. But once it's one, you're all set!
In the next post I'll spend a couple of words on how the interface was created, and on how to create some simple bots written in PHP.
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