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Arduino - Electronics for Programming Geeks

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After I purchased the Snap Circuit Kit for my daughter I began to feel the itch to build something myself. Poking around on the net, I discovered a whole class of electronic playthings which speak to my inner code monkey.

They are called micro-controllers. Essentially these are easily programmable circuits which can read and respond to inputs. This sounds dull, until you realize you can quit literally hook anything up to them. From Wii nunchucks to pan and scan mounts. They can control LED reader boards, robots, lights switches you name it.

There are several on the market but Make magazine is especially enamored of the Arduino, an open source microcontroller made in Italy. They have published several books, including Making Things Talk ">Making Things Talk and Getting Started with Arduino (Make: Projects) Getting Started with Arduino (Make: Projects) ">Getting Started with Arduino on the device.

There are several Arduino boards and it might be slightly overwhelming to figure out which board to order. The Duemilanove is the latest and is probably a safe bet. However if (like me) you want to use the board on a solderless bread board you can do better by going with Lady Ada's Boarduirno. This is a compatible clone of the Arduino which plus right onto a breadboard.

Once you put the Boarduino together it will perform just like the Arduino and allow you to work through the experiments in the Getting started book or any of the ones on the Make website.

The way the Arduino functions is you create programs (called Sketches) in the IDE. These sketches will read input from either digital sources or analog and respond. For example a program to blink an LED would look like this.

void setup() {
pinMode(12, OUTPUT);
}

void loop() {
digitalWrite(12, HIGH);

delay(1000);

digitalWrite(12, LOW);

delay(1000);
}

You would then connect and LED to pin 12 of the unit put a resistor on to connect it to ground, upload the program, and viola, you now have a LED which blinks every 1 second.

There are libraries available to connect to bluetooth, wifi, nunchucks and quite a few other devices. There is a huge friendly community to support you and more and more examples of cool projects every day. The last example of the Getting Started Book will poll Boing Boing and light different leds at different intensities based on the number of times key words appear.

Its a pretty cool device, and quite a bit of fun to tinker around with.

Resources
Arduino Website - This is the mothership website for the Arduino community and has many examples, and links for you.
Arduino Playground - This is part of the above site and is a wiki index of techniques and information.
Make's Arduino Archive - Make is my favorite magazine of all time. They have boatloads of articles on the Arduino.