arduino

Custom Electronics – Introduction

Ever curious about how different types of electronics work?  Or wanted a device that doesn’t exist yet?  With low cost open source hardware like Arduino and Rapsberry Pi you can build anything you can think of! To give you an idea of some interesting things people have created check out projects like skittle color sorting machine, automated plant watering system, retro-gaming arcade or Alexa controlled smart mirror. Let’s take a look at how to get started with making your own projects.

Learning the Basics

One of the best parts about the custom Arduino/Rapsberry Pi  hardware is the large community following.  There are thousands of free tutorials based around this hardware.  If you ever have trouble figuring out where to start with a project, there is a good chance someone online has created something similar and shared a tutorial online for you to follow.  If you prefer to learn the basics in a more formal way you can check out the website Udemy. Udemy offers very inexpensive (less than $20) online courses that can cover a lot of great content.  One of the main benefits of taking a course to learn the basics is that the same instructor will be delivering all of the content making things more consistent and easier to build on the previous lesson.   There is also a lot of free great content on youtube however it can sometimes be difficult to find what your looking for in incremental step by step videos.

When looking at larger projects, some can seem a bit overwhelming at first but don’t let that discourage you.  A helpful strategy for these projects is to break  them down into smaller pieces.  For example, if you know you will need to use a stepper motor to move something you could find a motor, lookup tutorials on how to control that stepper motor using Arduino and then after gaining a deeper understanding of how it works, try to integrate it into the larger project.  This strategy is extremely helpful when trying to troubleshoot something.  Since you were able to get the component to function on its own, if it does not work as expected once in the project you can always go back to your individual component test to figure out what has changed.

Components

Every project is going to require different components however most components fall into a few key categories which make them easier to understand:

Arduino/Rapsberry Pi

  These boards are the brains of your project.  They are programmable boards which allow you to control all of the different components in your project.  Arduino and Raspberry Pi boards are significantly different and the one you need really depends on your project.

    Arduino

Arduino boards are microprocessors which are great for quickly controlling inputs/outputs precisely in real-time. They  are not as powerful as the raspberry pi boards and cannot run custom operating systems like the raspberry pi.  They are however much cheaper the raspberry pi boards and in many applications are all that are needed. 

    Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi boards are single-board computers.  It packs all components of a basic computer into this board and can even be run as computer if desired.  The board is much more powerful than an Arduino and is typically used for applications that require a lot more computing power or complex tasks.

Sensors

Whenever you need to detect something you will need some form of sensor.  There are hundreds of sensor modules available but to list a few common types of sensors there are light, sound, fire, humidity, temperature and distance sensors.

Motors

Motors come in all types and sizes. Popular hobby types are  typically servo  or stepper motors.   Each motor will also require some form of motor driver so ensure that you find the right motor driver if it does not come with the motor you are looking at.  There are a lot of articles such as this one at robotshop.com which are helpful for describing the different types of motors.

Shields

Shields are boards which plug into the top of an Arduino or Raspberry Pi board to provide additional functions.  These can include things like wi-fi modules or motor drivers. Shields can be a convenient way to add new capabilities to your project without having to add a lot of extra space.

Component Kits

There are many different electronic kits online which have a lot of great components to kickstart your collection.  These are usually a lot cheaper than trying to buy components individually. If you don’t have any parts or tools yet you might want to consider an Arduino kit like this from amazon to get started.

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