With balenaDash, you can set up a Raspberry Pi to display any web page or dashboard on a monitor or mini LCD screen.
Do you have something that you want to display for hours on end? Maybe an aesthetic digital fish tank for your living room or a home automation dashboard for your smart devices? Then what you need is balenaDash.
Run on a Raspberry Pi, balenaDash can display a web page or app of your choice on any Raspberry Pi-compatible monitor. It’s very easy to set up, so you can have a web frame displayed in as fast as half an hour. We’ll cover the step-by-step guide on how to build a balenaDash display for displaying a simple website.
Step 1: Prepare the Materials
To create this project, you need the following hardware on hand:
- Raspberry Pi with 1GB RAM or more (e.g., Raspberry Pi 3B, 3B+, 4)
- 16GB microSD card
- Display (we’ll use a simple HDMI monitor for this project)
- Power supply
- Computer with the latest balenaEtcher for installing the OS on the Raspberry Pi
Connect the display to your Raspberry Pi board using the HDMI cable. But don’t power on the board just yet.
Step 2: Configure Your balenaCloud Dashboard
Now that you have your materials ready, it’s time to set up your balenaCloud dashboard by first installing the OS on your Raspberry Pi. Here’s what you need to do:
- Go to the balenaDash GitHub page and scroll down to the Setup and configuration section.
- Click Deploy with balena.
- Log in with either your email address or your GitHub or Google account.
- Skip the profile details page. You can edit these on the Preferences page later. Upon logging in, you will be prompted with a Create and deploy to fleet dialog box. Enter a name for your Fleet.
- Choose your Raspberry Pi board in the drop-down menu for Default device type.
- Keep the Fleet type as Starter.
- Select Create and deploy. You will be directed to your fleet’s details page.
- Click Add device under Devices.
- Under Select edition, choose Development (recommended for first-time users).
- Under Network Connection, select Wifi + Ethernet.
- Enter your Wi-Fi SSID and password in the respective text fields.
- Click Flash. This will open a new tab on your browser.
- Select Open balenaEtcher from your browser prompt to open the app. (If you haven’t downloaded the balenaEtcher tool, you’ll need to do that.)
- Once the app opens, it will automatically have the image ready for flashing. Click Select target.
- Choose your microSD card (attached to the computer) from the list.
- Click Flash
Wait for the flashing process to complete. Afterwards, insert the microSD card into your Raspberry Pi and power up the board. At the first boot, only the balena logo will be displayed, but if you head to your dashboard, you should see your new device listed. This means you’re good to go.
Step 3: Start Displaying Your Content
You can display practically any URL on the screen. For this example, we’ll display the 24-hour live animated cat found at nyan.cat.
To do this, click on the device on your dashboard. Then, go to Device Variables on the side panel. Click on the override button next to LAUNCH_URL and paste the URL in the Value field. Select the Add button to save the configuration.
The webpage should almost immediately be displayed on your Raspberry Pi monitor.
You can also use this setup for displaying the following:
- YouTube loops (edit the YouTube link by adding a hyphen symbol after the “t” to make it yout-ube.com)
- Digital jellyfish or fish tank
- Digital signage
- Webcam stream
- Data dashboards
Whatever you choose to display, this is a beginner-friendly project to try. For more ideas, check out the best Raspberry Pi projects for beginners.
(Optional) Step 4: Use Wi-Fi Connect
As we’ve already established, you can set up the Wi-Fi on your Raspberry Pi so it can connect to a local network like what you did in Step 2. But balenaDash also has a feature called Wi-Fi Connect that turns your board into an access point the moment it stopped connecting to the internet.
The way Wi-Fi Connect works is that it tests for an internet connection every 120 seconds. When it detects no connectivity, it automatically switches to become a Wi-Fi access point named “balenaDash”. You can then join this access point from your laptop or phone.
Upon joining the balenaDash network, you will be directed to a portal popup. Choose a Wi-Fi network from the list available to you, enter the passphrase for that network, and click Connect. Then, wait for your board to connect to the internet again.
This feature will come in handy when moving the display to a new location with a different Wi-Fi network. You won’t need to install an OS on Raspberry Pi with the new connection details; you can simply use Wi-Fi Connect to switch to the new network.
What to Display Next?
Now that your shiny new balenaDash is up and running, you’re probably bursting with inspiration for what to show off next. But whether you want to display a silly website or make a custom dashboard for your needs, you’ll surely have fun playing around with this Raspberry Pi project.