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Review: Arduino Uno… Another thing I love.!

This is something that I really love to mess with in my spare time. I bought the sparkfun Arduino Uno Inventor’s kit about 10 months ago and still get hours of enjoyment trying to come up with ideas for little circuits.   I really wish I was more interested in this kind of thing when I was younger. Well let me rephrase that. I wish I would have stayed interested in electronics and learning about circuits when I first had the spark as a young teenager. I wish there was a product like this easily available 18 years ago when I did first get interested in how electronics worked. By now I would be an electrical engineer.!

I think the Arduino is the perfect platform for anyone interested in learning about Integrated circuits. If you have any experience programming with the C or the C++ language, then it will be very easy to start writing code that can take input from a large variety of sensors and potentiometers and then use those values to display information on an LCD or led matrix or do just about anything you can imagine. You can “hack” your older electronics to make them get triggered to turn on when a sensor receives a certain input so you can add automation to things that never had it in the first place. There are so many different applications an Arduino can be used for. What is really cool is that you can buy a number of much smaller Micro controllers that can be programmed to use the code that you come up with on the larger Uno board, and then miniaturize whatever circuit you prototyped. There are some limitations to this, and I won’t go into them in this mini review, but a quick google of “using arduino to program atTiny85” should send you in the right direction.

 

ard-1550You can see how tiny these micro controller chips are. That is a standard 5mm red led and the chips fill about the same volume.! The above chips are the atTiny85 chip. These can be purchased for less than $1.50 from electronics vendors and once you write some code to run a little project, you can transfer the code to one of these tiny little chips and do a lot of what the full size arduino Uno board is capable of. (Again there are some restrictions and one big one is the amount of memory the chip has to store your program, about 8,192 bytes, 8K, for an atTiney85 chip).

The concept of the Arduino platform is great. It is an open source piece of hardware, which means anybody can produce an Arduino compatible board and this opens up so many possibilities. You don’t have to only rely on the original creators to make new, innovative versions of hardware for the Arduino platform. And anything that is Arduino compatible will be able to be used and/or programmed the same way as your other Arduino devices. There are minor differences between specific Arduino boards that may have a few more or few less features, but a comparison of these board models is beyond the scope of this mini review.

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The above little device uses an atTiny84 micro controller which is very similar to the 85 version except the 84 has double the useable pins for inputs or outputs. I used this chip for this project because I wanted to have an RGB Led that I could use PWM(pulse width modulation) on to vary the colors on a per color basis. I wanted to have on pot(potentiometer) be able to control the overall brightness of whatever color I set(the left blue cylindrical think), and another pot that could be used to set the value of the individual color channels(the right blue cylinder). The 2 little push buttons are for cycling through which color you are currently setting, and for setting the mode of operation. By default the light is just solid on, if you press the upper right button then it goes into pulsate mode that fades from off to full bright and back to off again, and the last mode blinks the light.

My next project is a 4×8 32 blue led battery powered matrix that has pre programmed designs to display. I can’t wait to finish it but need to learn more about shift registers and multiplexing.!

If you have any interest in these sorts of projects or just are interested in learning how many of the electronic devices function that we all take so easily for granted everyday, then I would recommend buying one of these Arduino Uno kits. You don’t have to buy it in the inventor’s kit, but that does give you a bunch of components and a nice manual that gives you 15 circuits to start out with and then you can go from there. The other micro controllers I mentioned above, the atTiny84 and 85 do NOT come with the sparkfun Inventor’s kit. These were purchased by me separately.

Below is text directly from the description of what circuits you will learn from the Inventor’s Kit and what components come with the kit.

Circuit Examples:
Blinking an LED
Reading a Potentiometer
Driving and RGB LED
Driving Multiple LEDs
Push Buttons
Reading a Photo Resistor
Reading a Temperature Sensor
Driving a Servo Motor
Using a Flex Sensor
Reading a Soft Potentiometer
Using a Buzzer
Driving a Motor
Using Relays
Using a Shift Register
Using an LCD

Kit Includes:
SparkFun RedBoard
RedBoard and Breadboard Holder
SparkFun Inventor’s Kit Guidebook
Translucent Red Bread Board
Carrying Case
16×2 White on Black LCD
74HC595 Shift Register
2N2222 Transistors
1N4148 Diodes
DC Motor with Gear
Small Servo
SPDT 5V Relay
TMP36 Temp Sensor
Flex sensor
Softpot
6′ SparkFun USB Cable
Jumper Wires
Photocell

Tri-color LED
Red and Yellow LEDs
10K Trimpot
Piezo Buzzer
Big 12mm Buttons
330 and 10K Resistors

In no way am I an electrical engineer, and I don’t have a deep knowledge of the Arduino and its many many uses, but it is fun, fairly easy, and I think would make a fun hobby for any adult that is a “gadget” lover, because with this you can make your own gadgets.! Also any kid interested in electronics would love getting one of these for a gift. I think the recommended age is 10 and up.