This blog, I would like to talk about one of my hobbies – microcontrollers, specifically, Arduinos.
So just what exactly is an Arduino you ask – they are an open-source microcontroller that offers a relatively inexpensive way to learn about microcontrollers and build your own automation systems. There are many other development boards, just to name a few raspberry pi, Intel’s Galileo, even Samsung is getting ready to launch their ARTIK. While these are all great options, I prefer Arduino because there is a lot more documentation and examples available for them, they are easier to setup, and they are an actual microcontroller not a microcomputer (I will discuss the difference later).
What can you do with an Arduino? An Arduino is essentially an I/O (input/output) hardware device that has its own microcontroller. There are numerous different versions of Arduinos, but they range from having 14 digital and 6 analog pins, up to 54 digital and 16 input pins. The digital pins can be used as inputs or outputs, while the analog pins are only for input (except on their Due model, which has a couple of analog outputs). Basically, you use these analog and digital pins on the Arduino to read devices (temperatures, pressures, distance sensors, etc…), then have the microcontroller control a device (servos, motors, switches, send a signal, etc…). Most Arduinos also come with USB connectivity, and have the ability for serial, IC2, and other types of electrical communications – meaning that you can link multiple Arduinos together and to other devices, including computers. Some of the things Arduinos have been used for include:
You can find many, many other projects people have completed with Arduinos, and listed for everyone to see with instructions (http://playground.arduino.cc/Projects/ArduinoUsers).
How do you get started, what does it take, how much does it cost? In order to program an Arduino, you need to have a computer with USB – Arduino has their programming software available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. You must download the Arduino IDE (free), from Arduino’s website. Depending on your electrical engineering desire, you can actually get started learning about Arduinos with starter kits that typically start out around $50 (which you can find on Amazon and EBay). Starter kits typically contain one of the Arduino boards (usually the UNO), some electrical components (LEDs, resistors, switches), electromechanical devices (motors, servos), and an instruction manual (could be printed or some are available online). The official Arduino Starter Kit, which is currently unavailable (I believe they are upgrading it), is $89.90. If you’re ambitious, and want to start off on your own, without a starter kit, you can pick up the Arduino official Arduino boards, such as the UNO (one of their most popular boards) for around $25. Arduinos are an open-source hardware/software device, so you can also find a lot of knockoffs for cheaper on EBay, Amazon, and other places. However, I recommend purchasing from Arduino if possible, as they are the inventors and leaders of this project, providing us with continuous hardware and software improvements.
Seeing how quickly our technology is changing, I highly recommend looking into Arduino’s, as it will give you a deeper understanding of how technology is controlling devices – it will give you a new perspective of your electronics. I would also highly recommend them for families – teaching children these things at a fairly young age could be invaluable in their development and potential career paths.
Thanks for reading my blog post! If you are interested in Arduinos, join me next week, I will discuss one of my Arduino projects – a motor controller for my 220V air compressor.