Exploring Arduino

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Arduino Uno by Snootlab

Arduino Uno by Snootlab

A few months ago, my local maker-space (091 labs) presented a few informal tutorials on Arduino.  Having seen it mentioned online, I decided to bite the bullet and drop by to learn more.  Shortly later I purchased the Experimenter’s Guide for Arduino, which was used during the tutorials.  Being further interested in Arduino and it’s capabilities, I subsequently bought the Arduino Cookbook, by Michael Margolis (O’Reilly).

What is Arduino?

Arduino describes itself as …

… an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.

Arduino can sense the environment by receiving input from a variety of sensors and can affect its surroundings by controlling lights, motors, and other actuators. The microcontroller on the board is programmed using the Arduino programming language (based on Wiring) and the Arduino development environment (based on Processing). Arduino projects can be stand-alone or they can communicate with software running on a computer.

What do I need to know before starting?

Arduino hardware and software are relatively easy to pick up.  That said, some knowledge of the basics of programming and electronics would be of benefit.  The more you know, the further you’ll go.

That’s not to say you need to be a seasoned expert in either.  Arduino was designed with artists in mind who don’t want to spend years becoming engineers in order to use hardware or software in their applications.  Arduino does a good job at simplifying the process of interacting with physical sensors, and allowing for designs to be easily enhanced with software computation.

The Experiments Guide for Arduino will take you through a series of simple circuits, each introducing you to a new electronic component and how it is used.  This is what I used to re-familiarise myself with electronics basics.  Code samples are well documented also, so you can understand the interplay of hardware and software in each experiment.  The circuits begin from simplistic beginnings (controlling LEDs) and grow as the chapters progress to explore further the capabilities of the Arduino platform.

The Arduino Cookbook begins along similar lines, but goes into much greater detail.  As the chapters progress you find yourself reading about serial communications, manipulating various analogue and digital inputs, driving different analogue and digital outputs etc.  Eventually advanced concepts are discussed such as wireless networking between Arduino boards, Ethernet and networking.

Even with the advanced topics, the hardware needed is well described, so with even a basic understanding of electronics you should be able to cope.

Who is this book for?

Like the Arduino this book is best used by artists, engineers, designers, or anyone who is interested in exploring physical computing.  As the Arduino can interface with other computers, sense the physical world, and interact with it, the potential uses are limitless.

Why would I read it?

The Arduino Cookbook is laid out in a Problem and Solution style.  So for example, if you needed help in “Detecting Vibration”, then a quick glance at the contents will have you on your way.

As with many other open source projects I find that forums and message boards can only get you so far.  I find it useful to have a good quality reference manual within easy reach, and the Arduino Cookbook lives up to this expectation with ease.


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2 responses to “Exploring Arduino”

    • ccollins says :

      Yeah, Internet of things is easily doable with Arduino. During the 091 labs tutorials we were controlling our boards through IRC commands. The Arduino Cookbook also lists recipes for publishing to Pachube, as well as subscribing to and processing RSS or XML feeds. The sky’s the limit with a few libraries and a little time.

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