This page is aimed at readers who've "heard something" about Arduinos... but not at lot. If that's you, read on.
People who already know a bit about Arduinos may want to proceed directly to the SheepdogGuides Arduino main menu page. Or visit my How you can get started with Arduinos for $10 (without going to an unreliable source!).
If you have been doing your homework, and you are thinking about "getting into" something like the long established Arduino, then you are probably also reading about the newer kid on the block, the Raspberry Pi, and maybe the even newer BBC Micro:bit. All good devices! But while they may seem to be similar products, they really address different wants. I've explored the issues at "Arduino or Pi or BBC Micro:bit?"
Everyone is welcome here, of course. But I particularly hope that I can convince adults to help kids get going with Arduinos. They are CHEAP. SAFE. AND... give kids a way to develop whatever creativity they were born with. You, my adult friend, do not need to be "an expert". But you do need to put the "toys" in the kids, hands, and be supportive. They will soon be showing you what an Arduino can do, if you will but give them a little help to get started.
Kids have too few temptations away from the mere passive "enjoyment" of life. Because parent forbid the sorts of things I got up to as a child. But there are safe, affordable things they can do. (I would love to provide links for any websites celebrating what kids have done with Arduinos.)
I am a longtime fan of the Arduino, having started around 2008 when "the Arduino" sort of made sense. Today, the Arduino family has grown into a huge "tree" of devices linked by the fact that they can be programmed with the same IDE. (The IDE allows "add ons" which "teach" it about new devices.)
At the top of the page, I showed you some "modern" Arduino-family devices.
And now, though not my finest hour as a technical illustrator, but here are pictures of two "ancient" Arduino clones from Modern Device. I still (Feb 2017) use and like both of them! Both still available.
Shrink the width of your browser window until the boards are shown life-sized. These ARE seriously cool! Admittedly, they were more cool when they first came out. In some ways I am sorry for people new to microcontrollers, because today's fancy devices with SMT, multi-layer boards, etc, make it easy to miss how very, VERY cool things are.
This page is for...
People interested in low cost electronics project development. Relatively "beginner-friendly"... though you will possibly be a little daunted if you have no background in programming or electronics. But: You Can Do It!!
People interested in microcontrollers.
People interested in having fun with electronics (without spending tons of money). Any of the following are possible with Arduinos: "IoT" projects (Internet of Things- putting servers onto the internet... without needing a "big" Windows or Linux PC), home automation, data logging, process control, alarm systems (burglar or other), weather monitoring, the I2C bus, SPI (interface), the Maxim (Dallas) 1-Wire product line.
(If you already know a bit about Arduinos, you may be ready to go directly to....)
Arduino "How To's" and Projects: "Bite sized" pages, some about complete Arduino based projects, others about specific Arduino skills and techniques.
Arduino Programming Course: If you read the pages in sequence, you will be taken through many, many aspects of programming an Arduino in its version of C. The pages are presented in a carefully considered sequence. The sequence was chosen to let you walk first, then run when ready. That isn't to say that you can't dip in at random, but if you are just beginning with programming, using the sequence may be a good idea.
You can "play" with an Arduino (if you have a Windows computer) 10 minutes from now, without spending any money at all. There is an Arduino Simulator available! Stan Simmons' free simulator of Arduino Uno.
It is entirely "standalone". You don't need the Arduino IDE. You don't need an Arduino.
But I say "may be a bad idea" because it isn't nearly as much fun as the real thing! Better to just "take the plunge". But if you won't....
The simulator works just fine. Great for getting a taste, great for demos in schools. (Of course, it won't do "all" that a "real" Arduino will do... but it will do an amazing lot. And it doesn't entail the frustrations of getting to grips with the physical tasks of hooking up circuits. (Nor the nuisance of buying components!)
In a similar vein, teachers and the like may be interested in my NoviceGuard initiative- a full Arduino, but with some of the challenges of "hooking stuff up" minimized for novices.
The Arduino is a neat little microprocessor-based device that can do more than some of the "full" computers I worked with in the 1980s. The project is not so old as to be hampered by ancient chips, nor so new that I fear it may only be a "flash in the pan". It does seem to have momentum and a dedicated following. The software and the hardware are Open Source, which, as all Right Thinking People know, is The Way to Go!
These are seriously cool "proper" computers, programmable in a C-like language, with many bits of digital I/O, some analogue I/O and a serial port. You don't need a QWERTY keyboard, a disk drive and a 1280 x 1024 LCD monitor to do useful computing! (And while the basic Arduino doesn't have even close equivalents, it IS possible, if your application needs them, to hook keyboards, backing store (USB thumbdrive being my choice), and alphanumeric displays to Arduinos.)
There are the "official" Arduinos, and a number of clones.
I have some of both. They work. They rock!
They offer a great deal, for not very much money! All you need besides the Arduino or clone is a power supply (cheap "wall wart"), a USB interface (more on this in a moment) and the free software. A prototyping board, such as those sold by Wulfden... and many other good sources... will make connecting LEDs, switches, potentiometers, etc. easier.) (You also need a "proper" computer, but only for the programming of your Arduino. Windoze, or Linux or Mac. Once the Arduino is programmed, it will run independently of the big computer. The programming is easy, both in terms of the intellectual issues, and the "doing it" issues. The Arduino has flash memory to which you write the program, a bit like storing data in a thumbdrive.)
Both of the Arduinos in the photo at the top of the page were from Modern Device. The lower one is the RBBB. Not only do I like the device, but I've also had excellent customer support from Modern Device.com and Wulfden.
In the past few years, I've mostly used the Arduino Pro Mini. I've become lazy about assembling things myself. (Very lazy... the "assembly" for an RBBB is minimal.)
There are, today, more "powerful" Arduinos. The Mega. The Teensy. But if you are just getting started, a Pro Mini, or a Teensy is hard to beat. They are only smaller, not "small"!
In my early days, I usually used Arduino clones from Modern Device and Wulfden (see below). They are still fine, but there are many other choices today. (One of the strengths of the product.)
Sparkfun is a supplier I often use. They are rarely the least expensive source.. but they offer a wide range of goods, and professional service. You order. Easily. You pay. The goods come. Promptly. Modern Device and Wulfden score as highly in every area except breadth of product line. There are other good sources... and there are the sources where there is a reason for the bargain you may be getting, if you have patience.
To program your Arduino, you need a way for your big computer to talk to the Arduino. The free development software for your big computer sends the program out via one of it's ports. Typically, people plug in a USB device for these comms. Often people use an Arduino with the USB interface "built in". There are pros and cons to that. I've done a separate page about your choices for connecting the Arduino for programming.
N.B.: There are 5v Arduinos and 3.3 volt Arduinos. (Sometimes written "3v3". Same thing.) The differences matter. If you are just getting started, I'd recommend a 5v Arduino with the interface "built in"... so you only need a simple, "dumb" cable. A mere physical connection between PC and Arduino. There's more on this at the page cited above. Perhaps the Sparkfun Pro Micro, in the 5v variant. (Not the Mini, note. (Also good... but doesn't have the interface built in.)
(In everyday life, lots of things get called "an Arduino". I've put Arduinos in quotes to respect some understandably sensitive "toes". There are "real" Arduinos, and clones. And things that aren't really even clones, but still can be programmed the way an Arduino is, with the Arduino IDE ("Integrated Development Environment") (Software! Free! Multi platform (Linux, Mac, Windoze.))
For many years, the RBBB from Modern Device.com (Not Modern Device**S**, note.) was my favorite "Arduino". It remains at the heart of several systems which "just work", 24x7, in my life. ($11 in kit form at 6/08... and still $11 at 2/16, but you now have a choice of 3v3 or 5v. PayPal accepted. See: Easy! I told you!) My first Arduino was an assembled "Diecimilo": $40 when I bought mine. (There are much less expensive alternatives... see below.)
By the way: When you first fire up your Arduino IDE, two little "gotchas" to watch out for are: You need to set it to expect the sort of Arduino you have. Do this BEFORE you connect the Arduino. And you need to tell the software what port the Arduino is on. (You do this AFTER connecting the Arduino.) You "tell it" via the IDE's Tools | Settings, or some such. (The "IDE" is the free software that you download. It is high quality. Don't be fooled by the price.)
In a similar vein: If you have a new Arduino on the way, or have just started with one, read my cables page for a warning about reversing a connection. It is at the bottom of the page, under "Whichever you use...".
As promised... other "Arduinos"....
I first came across the Teensy in October 2014. It is a splendid "super Arduino". If you are one for jumping in at the deep end (not a great deal deeper), you might want to glance at my short page about the Teensy... but if you are completely new to Arduino, perhaps better to learn to "walk" before you try to "run". There will be little wasted money or effort. Beginners can just stay here, instead of going off to the Teensy page.
At March 2017, I'm all excited about a "new to me" kid on the block: The ESP8266. There are many ESP8266 "Arduinos in the marketplace. For us beginners, I like the care in design, and the depth of support, that you get from Sparkfun. Not the cheapest ESP8266, but you can go to a cheapie when you know what you're doing?
Further my endorsement of the ModernDevice "Arduino"s: Look at documentation links on their page for the RBBB.
Other good instructions relating to the RBBB (and other Wulfden products) can be found at their downloads page. (You proably want the manuals folder for most things.), and a photo guide at Instructables. If using the guide: Be careful when you install the resistors. R1 (the board is clearly marked) is 1k: brn-blk-RED. R2 is 10k: brn-blk-ORANGE.
There are good prices and all sorts of Neat Stuff at the Wulfden site. The mini-prototyping breadboards are great for use with RBBBs. And, besides Things To Buy, you will also find useful tutorial material.
I've written a little page about my first steps with my Arduino. My hope is that it will answer questions you may have, and encourage you to try one.
Even before I had explored the Arduino in depth, having looked at a number of such devices over the years, I was very enthusiastic... and experience has only increased my enthusiasm. They seem to have got many things "right". Long ago, they said they've produced 10,000 of them, so this isn't a limited product with a bleak future. The hardware and essential software is open source; you'll find legal clones available. (The "BoArdino" is one that appealed to me before I became "hooked" on the ModernDevice design. I liked the fact that, like the RBBB, it looked like it would be easy to use with prototyping boards. It is another of the designs that doesn't have the USB onboard... good, in my opinion.
There's also the Modern Device BBB, for people who like their pins all on one side, so that breadboard space isn't lost under the Arduino. (Another alternative is to use TWO breadboards, one on each side of the DIL footprint Arduinos, like the Mini Pro.)
Originally what came next was just "I'd tell you more... but I'd rather go play with my Arduino!"
I've now played with Arduinos for many years. Still loving them.
My first serious project was a prototype "client/server" system which lets me put the overheads of looking at a 16 key matrix keyboard into a separate device (a BasicStamp at the moment, eventually an ad hoc PIC), using just two lines of the Arduino to "talk" to the keyboard as necessary. I told you the beast was capable! (Other people have done similar things to simplify interfacing an Arduino to an LCD display.
I've also worked up an access control device driven by an Arduino. It has two switches, two LEDs, and must be connected to an electro-mechanical strikeplate for actual use... but you can use an LED just to see the device in action. It presents the person wanting entry to some premises a "challenge" in the form of a pattern of "ons" and "offs" on the LEDs. If the user gives the right "response", by pressing one or both of the buttons, the door will open for 10 seconds. (That "open" time can be adjusted.) Just a little example of what an Arduino can do. The program only used a tenth of the available memory, and a piffling number of the available I/O pins. (For "real world" use, I would add at least another LED and another switch, making the "code" harder to crack.)
A I first came across the Arduino at the start of 2008, quite by accident, thanks to the enthusiastic mention on Peter Anderson's microcontroller page. (I'm sorry to say that Peter passed away some time ago, but his page lives on.)
I hope you'll give the Arduino a try. It is a great, inexpensive, microcontroller development environment. If I haven't, please let me know where my "pitch" is lacking? No, Virginia, I don't get any commission... I just have had a lot of fun, and expect you.. or your kids... could have similar fun! (How many things are kids allowed to do today which give them such opportunities to be hard working and creative and self-directed?)
See my general microcontroller systems page for the "Basic Stamp" from Parallax and other sources. For years, the page you are reading also suggested considering the Control Plus "Pascalite" and various Microchip PIC based kits... but the Pascalite "died" a while ago. Early 2016 I had trouble finding active hobbyist forums for the PIC... but this must just be bad use of the search engines. The PIC line is thriving, according to the share price of the parent company. The chips have a lot to offer. But there's no difficulty finding active Arduino forums. It seems that at least in this race, I backed the right horse all those years ago! (There's also bit more about the Pascalite and the PIC at the general microcontroller systems page.
A different way to control things with a computer: If you can find a Windows PC with a parallel port(!), at my shareware site there are two freeware programs there... one for toggling bits, the other for using the computer as a timer via the parallel port.
Page tested for compliance with INDUSTRY (not MS-only) standards, using the free, publicly accessible validator at validator.w3.org. Mostly passes, only problem some stuff in Google Plus code.
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