Mac mini: Not Just For Your Desk

by , 10:10 AM EST, December 23rd, 2005

Apple had its own vision for the Mac mini, but many adventurous users have taken the diminutive powerhouse far beyond what Apple had in mind. It turns out the Mac mini is the perfect mod machine. Mac users have figured out how to hack the mini for a wide range of uses. Here are just a few.

On the Road
The Mac mini has found its way into cars, both as home-brew hacks, and professional installations.

On the home-brew side, Team Bonzia converted a Volkswagen Touareg into a self-driving car, powered by three minis. The car uses a collection of video cameras, lasers, and other technologies to send information to the Macs so that the computers can make braking, turning, and acceleration decisions. The Touareg, named Dora, made it to the semifinals in the DARPA Grand Challenge to develop the first autonomous un-manned ground vehicle.

An Infiniti M45 was lucky enough to get its own mini, complete with in-dash and drop-down displays, according to Autoblog. While parked in the garage, the M45 uses the mini's Airport Extreme connection to download music from a power Mac G5. The owner uses Salling Clicker and his Palm Treo 650 to control Front Row for watching movies and listening to music in the car.

On the pro side, Classic Restorations will gladly retrofit your car with a Mac mini, complete with in-dash touch screen display, USB control knob, iSight, Infinity amps, and Rockford-Fosgate speakers.

Mini on the Go
Joscha Bach, from the Institute for Cognitive Science at the University of Osnabruk in Germany, created MiniPsi out of a Mac mini, iSight camera, and a little Java code. This little robot was designed for research into artificial intelligence, and is capable of avoiding obstacles as it rolls around the floor. MiniPsi even includes its own power supply, untethering it from electrical cords.

Look Cool While Voiding Your Warranty
Derrick Hickson managed to squeeze a mini inside a toy model of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars, complete with iSight in the cockpit, and USB port ready for his iPod shuffle. MacMod includes scads more mods and hacks you can try yourself, just remember: Apple probably won't honor your warranty when you're done.

The diversity of uses and modifications for the Mac mini shows just how passionate Mac users are about their computers. Apple has a Web page dedicated to clever uses for the mini, and is looking for more all the time. If you have put a Mac mini to use in a unique way, or have a modification worth sharing, let Apple know.

[A special thanks goes out to TMO Forums member Nougatmachine for pointing out Apple's Mac mini Big Ideas page.]