Working Doctor Who props with Raspberry Pi

Doctor Who fans are enjoying a richly layered Series 9 so far this autumn, with plenty of nods to classic Who and a fabulously creepy two-parter that concluded on Saturday. I resisted the temptation to share Richard Hopkinsamazing K-9 build blog here when I found it a while ago, because I thought it’d be best appreciated alongside the superb screen presence of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor to remind us what a wonderful fictional universe this is (not everyone agrees with me about Capaldi, of course; note, though, that I’ll be moderating the comments scrupulously).

Richard Hopkins' version of K-9, a robotic dog in Doctor Who

Richard Hopkins’ K-9, pictured in August with side monitor and newly functioning camera and wagging tail. Photo by Richard Hopkins | CC BY-SA 4.0

While some projects might occupy a few entries on their author’s more general blog, it’s easy to appreciate that the scope of this project, which has been ongoing since May 2014, warrants a blog all to itself. A Raspberry Pi as the brains of the robot was part of the project from the very beginning. It controls K-9’s expressive, servo-driven ears and tail as well as the scooter motors that move him around, runs Node-RED to allow browser-based control and to display a power monitoring dashboard on the panel on his side, and lets him to respond to voice commands and hold a basic conversation. A Raspberry Pi camera module on a long cable sits behind his eye panel. Who wouldn’t want to share their home with a robot like this?

K9 Progress August 2015

The addition of a wagging tail, side monitor dashboard and eye camera is significant progress.

As fantastic as Richard’s build is, it’s not the only homemade, Raspberry Pi-powered K-9. William Reichardt’s wooden-bodied K-9 is tricked out with a thermal printer in its head; and if, like me, you don’t have the time or the technical chops for a project this complex, you can still house your Raspberry Pi in a fine LEGO K-9 case.

Meanwhile, if the current series of Doctor Who has seen the Doctor swap his sonic screwdriver for a pair of sonic sunglasses (they look great, but we’re hoping they’re not forever, yes?), fans seem committed to the classic tool. I found four different Raspberry Pi-powered sonic screwdrivers for everything from door locking to a TV-B-Gone, after which I stopped counting.

Alan O’Donohoe has made a Raspberry Pi-controlled Dalek that responds to Twitter, a Doctor Who story premise that I never want Stephen Moffat to consider.

#TweetMyDalek – Raspberry Pi controlled Dalek

At our Preston Geek Up meet: A 12″ model of a Dr Who Dalek is controlled by tweets, received by a battery powered Raspberry Pi computer running Linux The RGB LED responds to colours tweeted with hashtag #cheerlights Dalek robot developed by Alan O’Donohoe, @teknoteacher

Last of all, something we can’t leave out of any conversation about Doctor Who-related Raspberry Pi projects is Dave Akerman‘s TARDIS.

The TARDIS, as seen in Doctor Who, except slightly smaller on the inside

Slightly smaller on the inside

OK, so it’s hard to call this a fully working prop; it’s pretty small on the outside to begin with, and then the inside is, if anything, a little bit smaller. However, with the help of a high altitude balloon, it did fly to the edge of space, which counts for a lot with us. This might seem like the kind of thing for which you need long experience, and it’s true that a HAB flight demands some months of preparation. But having seen our first few successful launches following this summer’s Skycademy training for educators, we know that a stratospheric TARDIS is something that’s within the reach of primary schools.