Last weekend MadFabLab was filled with the sound of the Imperial March from Star Wars courtesy of our Introduction to Arduino course. Participants were welcomed into the exciting world of micro computing. It may be small in size, but this bit of kit certainly has a lot to offer!
One of the participants was Gary Pickup, facilitator of our weekend Code Club and all-round great person. Gary has documented his experience in the following super-digestible review.
If you’d like to get started with Arduino, the course will be running again on Saturday 16 May.
Over to you Gary:
“In 2014 I wanted to explore the world of microtechnology and had to make a call between a Raspberry Pi 2 or an Arduino. I chose the Pi (and have since also purchased a Raspberry Pi 3), however at the back of my mind I’ve always wondered what an Arduino could be used for. Fast forward to today and I’ve attended an “Introduction to Arduino” course at MadLab’s MadFabLab and hosted by Kevin Ingham.
The day started with an overview of the difference between a microcomputer and a microcontroller, FOSH (Free Open Source Hardware) and FOSS (Free Open Source Software) and then the handing out of the ARDX Arduino Starter Kits. The kit contains an Arduino UNO board, a breadboard, loads of jumper cables and LEDs – full contents available at https://oomlout.co.uk/products/arduino-starter-kit-ardx.
After firing up the Arduino IDE and making sure that the IDE (via Tools>Port menu) was talking to the Arduino UNO connected to my Apple Macbook’s USB port I was ready to try (in my opinion) the “Hello World” of electronics, lighting up an LED. The Arduino IDE contains several sample scripts (via File>Examples menu) making it easy to jump straight into the electronics/breadboarding of an example rather than getting caught up on the coding side. The Examples also contain comments, explaining what the various lines of code are doing.
I’ve generally stuck to the software side of computing, feeling more at home with functions, loops and arrays rather than the hardware side of resisters, ohms law and components. Thankfully the course introduced the electronics in a fun way that soon had the class creating blinking LEDs, producing music / a melody via a speaker, making a theremin and creating traffic lights (including a pedestrian crossing).
So what is an Arduino? It is a micro-controller that uses sketches (think scripts or small programs) written in a simplified version of C/C++. The Arduino board allows for inputs (both digital and analogue) and outputs (digital) so that it can be used with other electronics to carry out tasks like lighting LEDs, controlling motors and sensing light.
My favourite term of the day: Potentiometer. It sounds like something out of Futurama but it is actually an adjustable type of resistor.
My favourite part of the day: Using a piezo speaker to play the Imperial March from Star Wars, whilst LEDs blink in time to the music. The sketch for this is up on Nicksort’s GitHub.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to spend the rest of Saturday evening playing with my Arduino UNO and trying to come up with some projects I can use it in.”