Arduino - a Review of the Open-source Embedded Platform

So, what is Arduino?

I'm sure that if you are reading this article, the first question you will have is 'what is Arduino?'.

Well, to quote the developers, 'Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It is intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.'

What this means in reality, is that Arduino is a tool for making projects that can sense and control the physical world. It's based on a simple Arduino microcontroller board, and the 'Arduino development environment' for writing software for the board.

The Arduino microcontroller board can be used to accomplish virtually whatever task you may want to us it for. The board is almost like a mini computer, and, the way it reacts and controls the sensors and output device that you connect to it, is determined by the software that you develop and program the board with. The software could be very simple (e.g. flash an LED), or very complex, depending on what is required for your design. If you would like to get some idea of what can be achieved, take a look at the community links at the bottom of this article.

What do you need to get started?

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The software.

It is the software that you write, that controls the function of the hardware. The software is written in a 'C' type language. This is very simple for beginners to use, but, is also powerful enough to develop complex systems if required.

It is the ideal next step for students or hobbyists that have only previously used flow chart based software. Included within the environment are a collection of example pieces of code that can be used to get you started.

Once you have written your software, it is downloaded into an Arduino board by connecting a USB cable to the hardware.

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The hardware

Even though you can design your own hardware, most people will want to start with one of the Arduino reference boards. The most popular of these is the Arduino Uno board, shown to the left. This board has connectors on the edge that can be used to connect 'shield' boards or wires that are attached to sensors, switches, LEDs etc.

Shields are boards that are designed to fit on top of the main Arduino board. They are normally designed to do specific jobs, for example, there is a shield for motor driving, and others for tasks like saving data to an SD memory card. These shields will typically come with software examples, allowing them to be quickly integrated into your design.

What are the benefits of being open-source?

  • Low cost due to the FREE development environment in which you can write your own software.
  • Many pre-written example software modules, that you can use free of charge, meaning that a lot of the harder software tasks (like writing to displays) are already done for you.
  • A range of hardware boards, which have been proven in thousands of projects, to get you started. The designs for these boards can be downloaded, and used as a basis around which you can create your own designs, if you want to take things a step further.
  • A fantastic community of other users posting ideas and examples for you to use.

Arduino invertors kit

One of the easiest ways to get started with Arduino, is by using the inventor's kit for Arduino from SparkFun. This kit contains an Arduino Uno as well as all of the other parts required to build twelve different circuits. The circuits teach you how to master many of the basic tasks you will need to build and create your own circuits. There is 36 page guide that can be downloaded to accompany the kit. The guide explains how to get started, and, how to complete the twelve circuits.

Resources and links

Arduino software development environment:

Arduino hardware:

Community links:

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