The other day my friend called me up. He told me how much he missed building circuits and wanted to start again with the Arduino.
So he asked me “which Arduino starter kit is the best to buy?” At which point, I drew a long breath. Easy question, not always an easy answer.
Picking out an electronics kit depends on a number of factors. You should consider:
- Your budget
- What you already have
- What you want to do
#1 and #2 are probably pretty easy to figure out. For many beginners, it’s “not much” and “nothing.” When you don’t know #3, what you want to do, then it gets trickier. Coming back to my friend, what did I do? Well, I went out and bought each one of the kits in this post. I put myself in his shoes and maybe these are your shoes as well.
Assuming you have about $100 to spend, have no components on-hand now and just want to “get started” consider one of these 4 Arduino starter kits.
What part is the most important part in building a project? All of them! Okay, bad joke. Selecting the right parts or components for a design is an area where both new hobbyist and veteran engineers struggle. The wide variety of devices make it almost impossible to know if you are selecting the right one.
Looking at a curated List, using component search engines and browsing DIY shops are how I tend to find parts for my projects.
You might want to bookmark these some of these sites so you can use them next time you’re stuck on how to find parts for your project.
4 keys to getting electronics help for your project
When describing a person, do you ever use the phrase “their strength is their weakness?” That’s how I feel about Internet forums. The strength of forums is the collective knowledge of like-minded people, some with more experience than others. Sadly, that is also the weakness of Internet forums… Whether it is a topic-specific site like the EEVBlog Forum or an almost anything site like Reddit the strength/weakness holds true.
Lucky for us, most engineering-focus forums are a positive place to ask question and get electronics help.
If you ask better questions, you can get better answers. So, here are 4 proven tips to help ask better questions, when looking for electronics help.
Tutorial on schematics basics
The funny thing about schematics is that they are much easier to draw than they are to read. There are many common circuits. When an experienced engineer looks at them, it’s like a second language. When someone less experienced looks at them, it looks like random lines and symbols thrown together at the last-minute. (Or maybe that’s just the schematics *I* draw.)
Other than reading Schematic Symbols themselves, one of the basic skill necessary to read a schematic is recognizing series and parallel circuits.
In short if the same current flows through all the parts, they are in series. While if current has different paths, they are in parallel. Keep reading to dive into this tutorial on how ohm’s law applies to series and parallel circuits.
How to blink (or flash) a LED without delay() and detect button pushes
One of the limitations of the delay() function is that nothing else can really be done. This presents a problem when you want to flash a LED while waiting for a pushbutton to be pressed.
Flashing the LED with millis() and using a flag variable to find if the LED should be flashing solves this problem.
Consider this another example to my virtual millis() cookbook.
Learning to a breadboard is critical when adding electronics to a project. A skill often overlooked is how to use breadboard jumper wires correctly. For example, when I breadboard a circuit I only use Red, Green, or Blue for positive voltages and Black for ground. Other colors, it depends on the functions of the wire. The idea is to keep it clear when I look at the board, what each wire is doing.
This video from Make is a great overview of how to develop a skill, or habit, around using breadboard jumper wires in your circuit.
For more information, there is a short writeup on their web site as well.
Engineers make a schematic to explain their circuits.
One time I was looking for a non-tourist pub in Japan. I asked someone for help. She said, “I’m sorry, but I do not speak good English. I will bring my friend and she will draw you a map.” (Exact quote!) The map her friend drew, gave directions to a bar with a “Neon Yellow Sing.” She meant sign…
The map was the method we used to communicate with each other, even though we didn’t both speak English. With this crude but effective map, I could find my next
drinking place destination.
Schematics are the same as this map. Even if you don’t speak the same language, you can communicate how a circuit works when you make a schematic.
Use one of these five tools, when you need to a document a circuit or when you need to ask for help.
When learning to use an Arduino, you have two things to learn: programming and hardware. In the past, I’ve taught some classes on how to program the Arduino. These are the slides I used to explain what the Arduino “Language” is, basic debugging concepts, how to use variables, and basic structures.
An Open Source IDE for TI’s line of MSP430-based boards. Based on the same software as the Arduino project, Energia brings easy of use to an awesome family of microcontrollers.
Does Energia stack up as one of the Arduino alternatives?
Previously I wrote it off because of the Windows-centric software. In fact, I made my first “review” video based on it. (I’m a Mac / Linux guy.)