Are plug computers useful for anything besides network-attached storage?

I know that you can hang a bunch of drives off them, maybe set up your own web server. But those uses have limited attractiveness in a home environment, and in a corporate environment, I suspect that ordinary servers would be used. I could see them used in an industrial environment, perhaps as environmental controllers or energy management devices, but the lack of I/O (keyboard and display) appears to limit their usefulness.

Am I missing something? Or do I simply lack imagination? Do you envision a way to use these in a home environment, other than as a media server/poor man's Tivo?


5 Answers 5


There are quite a few people (including me) using them with arduinos. Currently it's only being a temperature sensor. I run a MQTT Server on the sheevaplug and use php scripts to get data from the arduino and send messages into the server for receipt by a few clients. I also monitor the sheevaplug usage via MQTT and post it all to pachube.

My plug also acts as a testing platform for testing websites and an ssh gateway to my network. Other than that you've pretty much outlined the uses, using <5W is a big advantage over anything if you're running a computer 24/7. A lot of people are doing home monitoring these days and it could become the next cult computer for that after the viglen mplc or the linksys slug


here are some past experiences + ideas I have been entertaining concerning homeplugs.

  1. Although I agree that lack of keyboard I/O may limit its usefulness, in some cases, it is actually a good idea. For example, one past project I had worked on involved an embedded thin-client (it wasn't called plug computer back then...) with only an uart IR barcode scanner. And it worked magic for the guys on manufacturing / logistic sites. There was little to no training required. It is directly connected and bootloaded off of the network so it can be easily re-programed for different inventory sets. It was cheap and extremely portable. It can also serve as a cheap "rugged" computer replacement.
  2. For home use, it can be easily used to as a gateway to home automation like X10 / Homeplug. It can also be used to make a mother of all twitter-enabled devices (although you can do it much easier with arduino + ethernet shield or a microchip enc28j60).
  3. I have also been entertaining the notion of using Xdmx / VNC and a homeplug to create "extra" monitors for my linux workstation at home. Of course, most plug computer does not have video out, but some do, and you can probably get away with using a beagleboard for this purpose as well. The beagleboard has HDMI out IIRC and runs a full blown Cortex-A8 processor.

As always, treat my ideas with a LOT of skepticism.


Right now you can get a plug computer for $50.

In a few years they'll be $5 or less.

At that point, you might as well buy the plug with the computer built in and use it for home energy insight, automation, and control. Or build it into every appliance, or both. Once the appliances can talk to the plugs and the internet, lowering your carbon footprint from your PDA in real time will be trivial. Leave the house and you can know that you're only consumption is to keep the pipes from freezing. If you notice a surge in usage when no one is supposed to be home, then you can check on things and see if the police are needed.

But keep in mind that it's just a development platform. It's a small, low cost, easy to use, low energy computer. Remove the plug and you've got a $50 computer that can be run off solar cells and an SLA battery.

Get a wifi or cellular model, buy a few thousand of them, attach a cheap webcam, and mount them on utility poles pointing at gas station signs. Viola! A real-time gas price website for all the gas stations along a few hundred miles of freeway corridor. If you get each of a thousand people to pay $0.99 per month for the iPhone gas app for that one freeway, you've just made an income source that will keep you in the black for your next project, and you can sell your data to many other services.

Connect one to several cameras and GPS on top of your car, use another inside your car as the NAS, and build your own Google streetview car on the cheap for $200.

Ignore the fact that you plug them in - that's just part of the built-in development kit.

They are $50 linux computers.

What can't you use them for?

  • \$\begingroup\$ $50? Where? The only ones I've seen were twice that... I'm guessing this isn't a SheevaPlug. \$\endgroup\$
    – edebill
    Commented Feb 23, 2010 at 17:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @parsenome: There's an outfit in India that makes one. See here: embedded-computing.com/news/id?16226 and here: e-consystems.com/esom270.asp \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 23, 2010 at 18:39
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ In quantity the sheevaplug is expected to be at or under $50, but if you check our their webpage they're already looking at the next generation. Chances are that they'll be increasing the power/utility of the device rather than doing a cost optimization though. \$\endgroup\$
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Feb 23, 2010 at 20:04

"Classic" ideas: http://www.openplug.org/index.php/us/resources/innovation-plans

But If You connect Arduino to it then skyt is the limit ;). Most advantage over using ethernet shield or even openWRT base router for it is having full Linux distro already installed. You can ssh to it install python, pySerial, cherrypy and You got perfect web controller. I did exactly the same using Asus WL-500W but it was much harder, router took more place on my desk, I had to use pen drive for storage and router was more expensive.

Of course lack of WiFi is disappointing, but GuruPlug will have it.

I all ready prerecorded GuruPlug and I will use my SheevaPlug as base for internet radio (I will connect it to good external sound card like sound blaster extigy or similar)


One more interesting idea: http://groups.google.com/group/wview/web/tutorial---wview-on-the-sheeva.

I also think about replacing power supply with battery (ther is also solar panel example on the Wiki), and use it in robot.


Remote serial and jtag access for embedded development. Instead of paying for pricy networked jtag devices you can get an plug computer, a few usb to serial converters and a few amontec or other ftdi based jtag wigglers and get a lot more bang for your buck.


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