Overpowered Ornament Contains Tiny Raspberry Pi Cluster

Raspberry Pi Cluster Ornament
(Image credit: Chris Bensen)

Most Christmas tree ornaments are made of simple plastic, wood or metal and the most intelligent thing they might do is light up or play music. However, Chris Bensen, the developer behind the world's largest Raspberry Pi Cluster (opens in new tab), has made what could be the smartest ornament of all-time.

The blue, 3D-printed ornament, which is shaped like Doctor Who's Tardis time machine, contains a tiny Raspberry Pi cluster that consists of two Raspberry Pi Zeros, which are each powered by a USB power bank. The Pis connect to a blue LED light that sits on top of the ornament and blinks just like the one on the "real" Tardis does when it's in motion.

You can see how Bensen built the ornament in his YouTube video, embedded below.

In his video, Bensen shows how he built the ornament and lists the following parts.

  • 4x 3D printed parts
  • 2x Raspberry Pi Zeros
  • 2x cylindrical USB power banks
  • 1x blue LED light
  • 1x 220 ohm resistor for the LED
  • 1x paperclip
  • 4x M3 bolts
  • 4x M3 threaded inserts
  • 4x M2.5 threaded inserts
  • 4x M2.5 button screws
  • 2x microSD cards for the Rasberry Pis
  • 2x microUSB to Type-A cables

Bensen has also posted the STL files for the 3D printed parts.

You can watch as Bensen puts the ornament together, soldering some wires (not named on the official parts list but you probably have them) to the GPIO on one of the Pi Zeros and connecting it to the resistor and the LED. He puts both Pis in a 3D-printed insert, which holds both of them and their power banks. He then inserts the insert and closes the whole thing up. 

Once completed, the Tardis ornament looks great, but its outsides don't show the complexity of the computers powering it. Bensen only shows it hanging on a tree with the LED flashing. However, since this is a cluster made up of two Linux computers, it has a lot more potential.

In a  Medium post about the project, Bensen writes, "what’s it do, that’s a good question. Right now it runs the same software I ran on the World’s Largest Raspberry Pi Cluster so watch the video and find out and comment what I should run on it."

According to a Medium post on the subject (opens in new tab) from Bensen, the World's Largest Raspberry Pi Cluster. which made its debut at Oracle Open World in 2019 with 1050 Rasberry Pi 3B+ boards paired together, uses Oracle Linux 9 as its OS. It runs a Docker container with a GraalVM running GraalPython. 

Bensen now has the Pi Cluster in his garage where it's operating as a server. It also has two Arduinos hooked up to it and runs a web service where the boards enable reset and power buttons while also lighting up some Neopixels.

So what do you think Bensen should do with the Pi-powered ornament? If it were us, we'd set it up as a public web server that provided a holiday greeting and allowed users to control the blue LED remotely. However, if those are really Raspberry Pi Zeros  and not Zero Ws, they won't have a network connection.

Avram Piltch is Tom's Hardware's editor-in-chief. When he's not playing with the latest gadgets at work or putting on VR helmets at trade shows, you'll find him rooting his phone, taking apart his PC or coding plugins. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram developed many real-world benchmarks, including our laptop battery test.
  • bit_user
    I really don't understand why two Pi's, when it seems like he can barely find a use for one.

    Of the top of my head, the most sensible application for it would be to control the tree lights. I'm not exactly sure the mechanics of controlling them, but the pi could potentially add time-based control, remote control (if wi-fi dongle is added), and maybe even use a microphone for voice control?
    Reply
  • HideOut
    I have to agree with the first poster, why all the pi crap? They dont do much of nothing, cant be found and generally a waste of silicon.
    Reply
  • Hooda Thunkett
    If it had wifi and a fair amount of storage it could act like a server for a bunch of ornaments with little screens on them showing vintage commercials, holiday specials, or playing games from the past in some sort of coordinated fashion, but as is it really seems like a blue blinking LED would have been the better option.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    HideOut said:
    I have to agree with the first poster, why all the pi crap?
    I actually wasn't complaining about why it had any Pi's, just why it had two.

    I think the answer to your question is that Tom's has decided to make a niche for itself by covering the Raspberry Pi & its community. There's some overlap with PCs, but obviously a lot of people building & upgrading their PCs aren't interested in Pi's. In that case, I'm afraid you'll just have to ignore their Pi coverage.

    HideOut said:
    They dont do much of nothing,
    It still sometimes amazes me to think they're more powerful than high-end PC's of the Pentium 3 or early Pentium 4 era and run a full multi-user operating system that used to require a machine the size of a refrigerator.

    HideOut said:
    cant be found
    The Pi Foundation has been saying the supply issues will be sorted by about the middle of 2023. It was covered on this site, not surprisingly.

    https://www.tomshardware.com/news/raspberry-pi-adds-100000-units-to-supply-chain-back-to-pre-pandemic-levels-in-2023

    HideOut said:
    generally a waste of silicon.
    A lot of people use them for things like low-powered streaming boxes, etc. At ~7 Watts, it's not easy to build a PC that efficient. And if you need a machine to drive some USB or I2C peripheral, it'd be a colossal waste to use an entire PC for that (although a lot of Pi projects could instead be done with even cheaper, lower-powered Arduino devices).
    Reply
  • digitalgriffin
    If it's a pi zero w they will have wifi.

    Supply issues only apply to the full size pi. Zeros are plentiful.

    There are tons of applications for these small chips.

    That said esp32 which is a far weaker chip can serve up synchronous web pages. To give you an idea, they are used for controlling modern refrigerators (detecting humidity, compressor/evap status to prolong life, temp history, signs of mold, how long a door was open), AC, robotic vacuums, factory sensors, safety systems, drones, pet litter cleaners...on and on. Now imagine what the pi can do with camera sensors and video output.

    Serving up Christmas web pages is easy. I would have swapped out the sides of the TARDIS with a oled that plays movies of Dr Who at various Christmas settings.

    Ironically I get more job request for embedded software engineers than I do .NET core, and Azure. IOT is a huge field with growing demand.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    digitalgriffin said:
    Ironically I get more job request for embedded software engineers than I do .NET core, and Azure. IOT is a huge field with growing demand.
    Are you a recruiter? What are the key job qualifications people want from embedded developers?
    Reply
  • digitalgriffin
    bit_user said:
    Are you a recruiter? What are the key job qualifications people want from embedded developers?

    No. I'm not a recruiter.

    They prefer you know Linux, c, c++, rtos, python, and basic circuits, sockets. Gpio protocols are easy. (SPI/i2c) Knowing how to run a digital signal generator or logic analyzer is a big plus.

    The three biggest platforms are arduinos atmel, esp32 series, and raspberry Pi's arm chips.

    They are used a lot in the defense industry. But tons of applications for them.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    digitalgriffin said:
    No. I'm not a recruiter.
    Oh, you mean solicitations by recruiters, for more embedded jobs than others. Thanks.

    I've done some asm programming, but that's as low-level as I've gone. Nothing with actual hardware, but I can solder and breadboard some extremely basic stuff.
    Reply
  • digitalgriffin
    bit_user said:
    Oh, you mean solicitations by recruiters, for more embedded jobs than others. Thanks.

    I've done some asm programming, but that's as low-level as I've gone. Nothing with actual hardware, but I can solder and breadboard some extremely basic stuff.
    Wrote you a message. :)
    Reply
  • KyaraM
    bit_user said:
    A lot of people use them for things like low-powered streaming boxes, etc. At ~7 Watts, it's not easy to build a PC that efficient. And if you need a machine to drive some USB or I2C peripheral, it'd be a colossal waste to use an entire PC for that (although a lot of Pi projects could instead be done with even cheaper, lower-powered Arduino devices).
    Regular Pi's also make for pretty nice and cheap NAS and if browsing is all you do on your computer, as is the case for many peopleI know, a Pi400 is not too bad, either. I quite like those little things.
    Reply