The Arduino is a little microcontroller board for about $25 with CPU, memory, and input/output pins (I/O). The Arduino Leonardo is picture above and is the current iteration of the most popular Arduino line. People are doing all sorts of wild and crazy things with them! All you need to get started is the board and a USB cable to the computer. That’s it. Buy those, download the free software, and it includes examples to get you started. (the power port is for optional non-USB power) They’re so easy, anyone that can use a computer can use them, you don’t have to be ‘electronically inclined’.
At its core is an Atmel micro chip. Even though the Atmel micro has been around a long time, the magic of the Arduino is that it takes the common Atmel micro and surrounds it with:
- an easy USB connection to the PC
- easy to connect to I/O PINs (around the outside)
- simple easy to use PC software to program the device in a simple script-like language
- and is open source hardware for anyone to improve upon
From there the miracle of the the Arduino is that it has taken off like crazy in the last eight years! A staggering ecosystem has been built up around them in terms of support, accessories, robotics, projects, etc. It’s a great place to start learning about electronics. Here are some resources to get you going.
Here is where you can get one real quick. At the time of writing this, the Arduino Uno R3 is the most current model and is least expensive on amazon.
Due to the popularity of Arduino, conceding with the DIY (do-it-yourself) maker revolution going on right now, there are tons of accessories available.
- Shields: because the pin layout is consistent and easy to work with, and because Arduinos are so popular, you can easily get expansion modules that just plug in, like LEGO toys. Like adding WiFi, displays, Ethernet, motor control, sensors, etc. See this big list of shields or browse on adafruit and sparkfun.
- Breakout Boards: and there are tons of non-shield extensions you can get, like these from sparkfun and adafruit
- Specialized: even stuff like robot kits and hack kits
Pictured above is just the standard Arduino, there are many more layouts, some smaller, some super tiny, some with many more I/O pins. They are all Arudinos in that they follow the same general PIN layout and programming tools. However standard shields won’t plug directly in, so their considered a little more advanced. Here are some I’ve enjoyed playing with…
LilyPad, for wearable electronics swen into fabrics. Or adafruti’s FLORA used like in this sound tie. There are many sew-into-clothing related accessories like LEDs, vibrators, motion detectors, etc.
Here is the Pro Micro and Arduino Micro
And the very small TinyDuino and Digispark (yes, that’s a half-sized USB plug, it’s the size of a quarter, and only has like 4 I/O pins), both have their own accessory board systems.
Want lots more pins? How about the Arduino Mega?
And see more at arduino.cc, sparkfun, and adafruit.
Other Microcontroller Platforms
The Arudino is like a gateway drug. Once you get hooked you may want to look at other similar development platforms. These each have their own supporting software and are not Arduino compatible, but are typically still easy to use. Here are some I’ve really enjoyed.
netduino, like the Arduino, but you can run Microsoft .NET and C# on them
The Teensy, a small powerful little board
Raspberry Pi, okay this is actually a full blown linux computer for $35! (get one) Seriously, you can plug the HDMI port into a monitor, keyboard and mouse into the USB ports, put the OS on an SD card, and you’ve got a functioning computer. The Model B has a 100 MBps ethernet port, 2 USB ports, general purpose I/O pins, audio out, composite video out, a 700 MHz ARM processor, 512 MB of RAM, and a GPU capable of rendering of 1080p video. These things are incredible. @shanselman has a great post “Many Raspberry Pi projects – How can you not love a tiny computer?” w more info. These are rarely in stock as they’re being sold far faster than they can be made right now, so go ahead and order one, it’s worth the wait.
- Check out some of the cool things people are doing with Arduinos at instructables
- There are tons of related videos in the form of how-tos, projects, documentaries, etc
- Interested in getting more in-depth? You can program the Atmel microcontroller directly, apart from the Arduino software system, here’s a nice getting started guide to Atmel programming.
- There are usually some Arduino related projects looking to get going on kickstarter and indiegogo
- I keep a list of Arduino related bookmarks as I come across good links that you may like
If you’ve played with an Arduino, got an idea for one, or just going to check it out to see what it’s about, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear!
Update (2013-03-08): The Arduino Leonardo is the current model, replacing the Uno. Notice it is available with or without additional pin headers.