Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Arduino for Clueless

Logo of Arduino

As per my previous post, I started researching electronics as a hobby. As I dug deeper, I discovered Arduino, a micro-controller board designed for layperson, hobbyists and artists. A search on YouTube resulted in some amazing projects created by people with no formal background in electronics or computer science.

I went through several tutorials and was very reassured that I could make sense of at least some things that the tutorials dealt with. I decided to give Arduino a try.

The first thing I did was to visit the official website which is an excellent place for everyone from beginner to expert. Since Arduino is an open source project, the website is very friendly. The volume of information about the platform could be overwhelming in the beginning. The best way is to take is slow and concentrate on the basics.

Where to begin?

Like every open source project, Arduino could be as simple or as complex as you wish. Hence, it could be down right scary for beginners who have no idea where to start. As I browsed about the projects and went through tutorials, I developed a plan of action for myself. So far it has worked well for me.

The Action Plan

Step One: Get an Arduino

Almost every website I visited wanted me to buy their special Arduino kit with 25 other components. The cost varied between USD 60 to 200. Add in shipping to Karachi and the cost went up another fifty bucks. I decided to buy from a Pakistani vendor and was pleasantly surprised to see several online stores offering the whole range of Arduino related products. The cost ranged from PKR 1200 to 3500.

I was not sure of anything at this point and thus opted for a second hand Arduino which I bought for PKR 800. The deal included the USB connector cable. I asked the guy for some LEDs and resistors which he threw in for PKR 100.

Going the OLX way is risky. I got lucky and got a board that actually worked. However, it is best to buy a new board once you think you will continue with the hobby.

Step Two: Get Assorted Tools and Stuff

A breadboard is essential during the initial learning process. You could easily prototype circuits without worrying about insecure or loose connections. In addition, it is good to have the following tools and stuff:

Tweezer to handle small components such as resistors. (PKR 40)

A wire stripper to make jumpers. (PKR 400-1600). Get a cheap China brand.

24 AWG wire for connections. Just ask for the wire used in breadboarding and the shopkeeper would understand what you want. (PKR 13-17 per meter)

A portable light is essential to illuminate the work area. Get a small chargeable light from one of the street stalls. Get a small chargeable light from one of the street stalls.

Electrical Components

LEDs in several colors. Get 5mm ones with long legs. Avoid smaller 3mm LED because they are difficult to use with their small legs. Get at least a dozen so that you could play with patterns. (PKR 3-4 per LED)

330ohm resistors are good enough to protect LEDs when using Arduino in breadboarding. (PKR 2-3 per resistor)

As you progress, you might need additional components such as pushbuttons, LDR, IR LED and shields. I recommend buying as the need arises.

Step Three: Get a Good Book

Beginning Arduino, 2nd Edition By Michael McRoberts is a great place to start learning. The book starts slowly and explains everything in detail. The best thing abut Arduino is that you immediately see the fruit of your labor in the form of blinking LEDs.

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